Sunday, June 07, 2009

Law Professor "Outed" as Anonymous Blogger

A South Texas College of Law professor's identity has been "outed" by lawyer and National Review commentator, Ed Whelan, in apparent retaliation for a garden-variety, blogospheric row over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's views on judicial policy-making.

John F. Blevens, no longer the anonymous 'Publius' at progressive blog Obsidian Wings, discusses his reasons for remaining anonymous over previous five years:

...I have blogged under a pseudonym largely for private and professional reasons. Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible – and I don’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. So I don’t tell them about this blog. Also, I write and research on telecom policy – and I consider blogging and academic research separate endeavors. This, frankly, is a hobby.

Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons. I’m from a conservative Southern family – and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again).

All of these things I would have told Ed, if he had asked. Instead, I told him that I have family and professional reasons for not publishing under my own name, and he wrote back and called me an “idiot” and a “coward.” (I’ve posted the email exchange below).

So there you have it – I’ve been successfully pseudonymous since the Iowa caucuses in 2004. During that time, I’ve criticized hundreds of people – and been criticized myself by hundreds more. But this has never happened.

And yes – I criticized Whelan rather harshly. But that’s what the blogosphere is about. Blogging is not for the thin-skinned. And you would think that someone who spends their days trying to destroy other people’s reputations in dishonest and inflammatory ways wouldn’t be so childish and thin-skinned.

Anyway, I’m not sure whether I’ll start posting under my own name or not. And there were several people who already knew – it’s not like this is a state secret. But still, if I wanted my name out on this blog, I would have done so. It should have been my choice.

Professor Blevins' official biography is here.

Wikipedia has Mr. Whelan's background:
M. Edward Whelan III is an American lawyer and a prominent conservative legal analyst. He currently serves as President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

Formerly, Whelan served as a legal clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He has also served in various roles in government, including in the Department of Justice. Previously, he worked as a lawyer in private practice and as Senior Vice President and Counselor to the General Counsel for Verizon Corporation.

Nasty stuff - blogging as blood-sport.

For what it's worth, even some of Mr. Whelan's conservative friends are unhappy with him over this:
Had Publius published Ed’s personal information, or had slandered him factually, I could understand the need to make his identity public and force him to bear responsibility for such attacks. However, as Rick says, calling someone a “know-nothing demagogue” doesn’t qualify. It may be annoying, and I think it reflects very poorly on Publius, but that’s the kind of ad hominem attack bloggers get from Day One. Truman’s Axiom comes into play here — if a blogger can’t take that kind of heat, he ought to reconsider blogging.
Ed’s a great blogger, but I think he let Publius get too far under his skin, and he reacted poorly in outing someone and risking their professional career. Outing Publius didn’t do anything to advance Ed’s argument, but made him look vindictive and petty instead. Bloggers should worry less about the anonymity of bloggers (which isn’t a “bane” at all) and respond to the arguments instead — or ignore them.

But Mr. Whelan does have at least one supporter in Canada's own Professor Michael Krauss of George Mason University School of Law. See his comments today at Point of Law:

On the propriety of hiding behind a pseudonym while sniping at a critic who is out in the open, I see no redeeming argument. I hope the South Texas tenure committee is watching and taking note.

"Off with his head..."

Freedom of speech, neocon style.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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