Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When The "Convene A Blogger Ethics Panel" Schtick Gets Really Old and Tedious

I don't remember once calling the owner of Eschaton by his name before last weekend.  Though he'd been outed, largely through his own efforts, for almost a decade, I'd always respected his privacy to the extent that he was always "Atrios" when I talked about him.  And, also, for most of that time I avoided public criticism of him.  He'd hosted my comments on his blog, after all.  You don't just ignore that someone has hosted you.
I have also made it a point to not know much about him, not even reading his Wiki bio (assuming he cares enough about that to insure its accuracy) before last Friday.  It seemed like a violation of his privacy. On his blog, he revealed some things about himself and his educational and historical history but everything else was conjecture.  Was he the trust-fund-baby that some of his critics alleged?  I don't know.  Was he one of those very rare bloggers who managed to make a living off of it during the brief period when that seemed to be a possibility?  I don't know.  It's obvious that he makes money from it, he's always had advertising, a donations system, fund raising periods and an Amazon Wish List.  And, on occasion, he used to post thanks to people who bought stuff for him.  It would seem to be a justified conclusion that, for him, Eschaton was a cash cow for most if not all of its history.

While the Supreme Court would seem to have protected bloggers from legal responsibility for things posted by their commentators, mere invulnerability to legal and civil risk doesn't seem to be an especially high standard, considering the pretensions of bloggers.  What responsibility does a blogger have for allowing definitely untrue statements about named people to remain on their comment threads?  Is the length of those and the tedium of monitoring them an excuse?   How about a reluctance to ban people from their comments when they're documented as doing that?   As I pointed out, Duncan Black has banned people from his blog, I know that I wasn't banned for lying about people.   As far as chronology seems to indicate, I was banned for saying that Penn Jillette's stupidly disgusting movie The Aristocrats was stupid and disgusting and boring. For which I was declared to be boring by his commentators.   Perhaps in his set an accusation of being boooorrrrringg! is the ultimate slander, being booorrrinng, the ultimate offense.  Perhaps if I'd left it at calling Jillette and his movie stupid and disgusting it wouldn't have offended.

What legal obligations or liabilities come with even that minimal level of moderation of blog comments, I don't know.   But I'm interested in something beyond mere legalities.

One of Duncan Black's standing jokes on Eschaton has been his periodic declarations that it was time to "Convene A Blogger Ethics Panel."  Which, apparently,  is a real hoot if you haven't been being lied about on his comment threads and had reports posted on it bragging that you were trolled on other blogs by his regulars.

But,  just maybe,  it's time for him to explain just what ethics he operates under, what ethical considerations he follows in what he hosts as content on his blog.   He has removed comments, I am almost certain, and he has banned people so he does have some limits on content.   Does he do that according to some unstated ethical consideration or on the basis of whimsy?   If he doesn't have any ethical standards regarding the honesty of the content he hosts, on what basis does he criticize the corporate media?   That, as another commentator here the other day, seems to have been the original motivation of his blogging, it was what he was writing about even before he started Eschaton, his famous "Hunting of the Snitch" series at Media Whores Online.

Back when he wrote full length posts for his blog about public policy and the such,  the excuse that he didn't have time to monitor the content threads might have had at least an understandable reason.  But he doesn't do anything like that these days and hasn't for a good long time.  From reports going back years he's derived a not inconsiderable income from his blogging, if he's got a real job doesn't seem to be at issue, considering the posting schedule.   How long does he get to benefit by being given some slack in the matter of the basic honesty of his content - for years now, most of that has been provided on his comment threads.

If blogging was supposed to develop into a more honest, more dependable form of media with more integrity than the corporate media,  what does it say that one of its most prominent professionals not only rejects ethical standards but mocks the concept?   From what I've observed over more than a decade is that blogging can be a real source of reliable information free from corrupt motives but not if there is no hard ethical standard followed.  Though, usually, it's on small, obscure blogs that that is kept up.   It's devolved into talk radio in pixels in too many cases, the hate-talk blogs seem to be the most successful ones.  It's looking more like the deregulated radio market.  Perhaps that Duncan Black is reported to be an opponent of the Fairness Doctrine and other requirements for pubic service by broadcasters reveals more than his generally libertarian tendencies in media matters.   Perhaps more about media matters in a later post.


  1. IIRC, Atrios himself, besides publishing a lot of posts in the "early days" (when I was there, which was not from the beginning of the blog) on news and how it was reported, wrote a post sometime later (after he got on Media Matters payroll) about how the blog started with his concerns/problems over how media reported political stories.

    The "early days" were when "The Daily Howler" was still relevant; such things were in the air. I've never connected him with MWO, but what you say here seems consistent with that. It also explains why MM was interested in him, and hopefully they are both still happy together.

    he hate-talk blogs seem to be the most successful ones.

    I'm sorry to have to agree with you completely here. Blogging is more about bitching and moaning than it is about constructive information. Or it's highly personal, a public diary of sorts.

    But the most popular blogs are about how everybody else is screwed up except me and thee. Not that there isn't a distinction between critique/observation and "hate-talk." But hate-talk, like talk radio, is driving everyone else to other fora, like Facebook (where you can control things tightly, I understand) and Twitter (which seems to be mostly for twits, but there you go, I'm a Luddite by nature.)

  2. I'm unfashionable enough that I think trying to raise the level of discourse is so crazy an idea it just might work.

    I don't get twitter at all and can't understand how anyone can find any content in it. It's not being done by an infinite number of Bashos or, more to the point, Issas. You don't say something in that short a space without having something to say and being unusually good at saying it. And even then you leave out enough so scholars can give hours long lectures on one fifteen syllable verse, disagreeing with each other.