During the runup to Obama’s announcement of his pick for the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Rosen wrote a piece for the New Republic’s website, passing on anonymous slurs against Sonia Sotomayor, amounting to a characterization of her as a cartoonish loose cannon: “not that smart and kind of a bully,” in the words of one of Rosen’s anonymous sources. In retrospect the piece looks not only irresponsible but plain wrong.
What’s most interesting to me is Rosen’s attempt to wriggle out of responsibility for his poor judgment by dismissing his piece as mere “blogging”:
its author, the noted legal writer Jeffrey Rosen, says he’s been burned by the episode, too — enough that he’s swearing off blogging for good.
“It was a short Web piece,” Rosen says now, sounding a little shell-shocked. “I basically thought of it as a blog entry.”…
Rosen says he’s drawn a lesson from how his initial essay was treated by people of both ideological stripes. He won’t be blogging any more. He wants to spend more time with the material before hitting “send.”
So Rosen had written a 1000-word article for the New Republic website. But somehow he was seduced into lowering his standards by the nature of the medium!
In this ludicrous excuse Rosen resembles another New Republic scribe, that titan of responsibility-evasion Lee Siegel. Siegel, you’ll recall, was the hard-charging cultural critic who got caught in “sockpuppetry”: adopting a pseudonym in comment threads on his own writing so he could sing his own praises and slam his detractors. Then he wrote an angry book attacking the entire Web for its “thuggish anonymity,” and dismissed his own ethical lapse in one paragraph as a harmless little joke, a mere bagatelle. (I deal with Siegel’s case at greater length in Say Everything.)
Both these writers’ behavior displays a simple lack of respect for the form of blogging and for its practitioners. Instead of admitting, “I dropped my professional standards” or “I goofed,” their stance becomes “I visited the wrong part of town — hung out with the wrong crowd — I won’t be lowering myself again!”
In the Rosen-Siegel continuum, apparently, simply writing for the Web is a dangerous undertaking than can force otherwise high-minded and punctilious scribes to lose their ethical bearings. To blog is to slum, and risk staining your shirt. As Greenwald points out: “Countless people who write blogs every day — all year long — give ample thought before ‘hitting the send button,’ and do so without descending into irresponsible gossip-mongering and what The New York Times Editorial Page called ‘character assassination’ and ‘uninformed and mean-spirited chattering’ driven by ‘anonymous detractors’ that was ‘beyond the pale of reasonable debate.’ ”