Last Sunday, reporter Josh Brodesky wrote in his Arizona Daily Star column that he believes political blogs in general, and my blog in particular (BlogForArizona.com), have little redeeming value, merely trafficking in innuendo and name-calling. He also asserted that the use of a pseudonym in posting strong political opinions, including satire and criticism of public figures, is unethical.
Brodesky fails to recognize that many political bloggers have special knowledge or unique insight into public affairs and are a useful complement to the professional media. They break stories, highlight journalists' best work for the public, act as a check on media biases, and warn the media against manipulation by professional propagandists.
At their best, bloggers serve as watchdogs, closely monitoring those in power, including politicians and the professional media. Of course, it is understandable that some journalists and politicians might resent being watched and criticized to a greater degree than ever before. On the other hand, many media professionals follow political blogs closely and find them useful and entertaining.
Largely freed from marketing constraints, the best political blogs are both honest and irreverent, characteristics that can offend some readers. Most bloggers are private citizens who love the democratic process and want to participate, but some, out of concern that their controversial or political views might offend their families, employers, or clients, seek the protection of a pseudonym. In fact, the anonymous publication of political opinion is a rich and time-honored tradition in the U.S. - our own founding fathers wrote anonymous tracts such as the Federalist Papers, which were published under the pseudonyms Publius, Americanus and others.
Pseudonymous writing is ethical as long as the purpose of the pseudonym is to prevent retaliation, interpersonal conflict, or financial harm, and is not to deceive readers as to the blogger's true interests or motives. The best tool for judging the ethics of anonymous bloggers is to examine their posts. Although Brodesky questioned the ethics of BlogForArizona.com for publishing posts written by the pseudonymous AZBlueMeanie, no one using that pseudonym has ever misrepresented their intent or hidden their biases, and the body of work written under that name acquits itself honorably.
Brodesky also attempted to "out" AZBlueMeanie by publishing the name of the person he believes "is" AZBlueMeanie, despite the fact that this person is a private citizen who requested that his name not be linked publicly with the AZBlueMeanie pseudonym for fear of grave personal and professional consequences. Presented without any offer of proof, Brodesky's reckless action smacks of retaliation and personal animus, as the point he sought to make was not strengthened by the inclusion of the citizen's name.
I urge the Star to adopt a policy of respecting citizen privacy by not identifying pseudonymous authors unless there is a compelling, legitimate news interest that requires use of a name. There certainly was no such interest in this case.
I am immensely proud of what BlogForArizona.com's excellent writers have accomplished over our seven years of publication. I haven't the space here to cite the many instances in which their volunteer efforts enriched the public discourse in Arizona. My bloggers will be reflecting on our work and exploring their own thoughts about Mr. Brodesky's column in the coming days. Please drop in and decide for yourself whether political blogs have value.