March 24, 2006

Right Wing Blog Etiquette

This blog is coming up on it's second anniversary. I can't speak for binky or armand, but I got into blogging as a way of expanding the circle of people to argue and debate with. I had read blogs for maybe a year before beginning the process of making one of my own, and thought I understood the general norms of the environment.

For me, the exchange of ideas was critical to blogs: the ability to have a comments section where people could offer praise and rebuttal to your argument is a fundamental part of blogs. Open exchange of ideas is also a fundamental part of education and learning (the scientific method, the original reason for tenure) and was codified into the First Amendment because free speech allows for open debate, which is critical to preventing authoritarianism.

Thus, the choice of many right wing blogs to avoid open comments (Insty, Malkin, Hewitt, etc.) struck me as both against the norm of the blogosphere, and arguably against the norm of open political discourse. If you can't stand other people pointing out the flaws in your argument, how good is your argument?

The whole Domenech/Plagiarism thing (good roundup here) isn't my central point (if you care my opinion is that Domenech should be fired by the WaPo; great newspapers - ones with their eye on Pulitzers and real journalism - don't employ proven plagiarists, no matter how much a youthful indiscretion). It did, however, allow me to discover the following exchange at Redstate.

I will reproduce this exchange from RedState verbatim, but with formatting changes (they use a different system then we, so it won't look the same). I will provide links to the specific comments I'm posting. However, Redstate has a policy of (sometimes) denying links; in other words, if they don't like the site that links them, any attempt to move directly from this site to Redstate causes an error message along the lines of " has refused a connection. Try again later" (or some such; I'm paraphrasing). Redstate is somewhat unusual in the RightWingBlogoSphere, in that they allow comments. However, they "police" the comments by disallowing links from sites they disagree with (described above) and banning commenters whose views they do not like.

With that being said, the following comments are from a Redstate thread on the link between home schooling and the Domenech controversy (one of the founders of Redstate, Josh Trevino - Tacitus, in an older time - argues that the left wing is using the plagiarism charges to attack home schooling; the actual issue under discussion is irrelevant to the following exchange, however). The exchange begins when a (clearly left-wing) commenter named "thoughtful" attempts to demonstrate Domenech's plagiarism with some side-by-side comparisons:

thoughtful: Some Substantiation:

Cribbed from a posting by "Oregon Guy", and a followup posting by "silence" at DailyKos:

From a Ben Domenech review of Bringing Out the Dead in "FlatHat", which appears to be a student publication at Ben's alma mater of William and Mary:

Instead of allowing for the incredible nuances that Cage always brings to his performances, the character of Frank sews it all up for him.

But there are those moments that allow Cage to do what he does best. When he's trying to revive Mary's father, the man's family fanned out around him in the living room in frozen semi-circle, he blurts out, "Do you have any music?"

From a review posted on, published about a week earlier:

Instead of allowing for the incredible nuance that Cage always brings to his performances, the character of Frank sews it all up for him. ...

But there are those moments that allow Cage to do what he does best. When he's trying to revive Mary's father, the man's family fanned out around him in the living room in frozen semi-circle, he blurts out, "Do you have any music?"

or this one:

From PJ O'Rourke in his book "Modern Manners" (p 176):

Small Parties

Small parties are very easy to plan. An old Supremes tape, a gram of cocaine, a fifth of Stolichnaya, and some copies of Penthouse from the 70s when it was really dirty make for a perfect small party without the bother and complication of guests.

Large Parties

Large parties require much more than a gram of cocaine and, usually, other people besides yourself.

From Ben's editorial contributions at William and Mary:

Small parties are very easy to plan. An old Supremes tape, a case of beer, a fifth of Stolichnaya and a pack of cigarettes make for a perfect small party without the bother and complication of guests.

Large parties require much more than a gram of cocaine and, usually, other people besides yourself.

Great minds think alike, I suppose. I notice he deleted the dated "Penthouse" reference. Does that make it his work?

Honestly folks, this tendency of the right to favoring ideology over competence doesn't help your cause any.

I'm guessing Ben's probably gone before the weekend is out.

For what it's worth, that evidence looks pretty damning on the charge of plagiarism. The idea that someone would find almost exactly the same text as a previous author is unlikely, and the idea that it could happen multiple times is "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, Domenech's problems are not the focus here. The focus is on the response to "thoughtful's" attempt to provide actual evidence that Domenech had transgressed. Notice what happens when someone responds to "thoughtful"; the next post (not chronologically, but in reply to "thoughtful") is a reply by "Nick Danger", presumably one of the Redstate founders/owners:

Nick Danger: Plonk:

I'm guessing Ben's probably gone before the weekend is out.

You beat him by three days.

In other words (to translate), "thoughtful" was banned ("thoughtful": Ben...gone before...weekend. "Nick Danger": You beat him by three days.) for his attempt to provide actual evidence that Domenech had plagiarized (on a thread about Domenech's plagiarism). Websites are owned by people; they are private property in the sense that people can be banned by the "owners" of a domain name/address from participating - I'm certainly not arguing that Redstate/"Nick Danger" didn't have the right to ban "thoughtful". I'm arguing that it is a clear violation of the norms of thoughtful political speech (which is critical to democracy) to ban (curtail the free speech)of people just for (rationally and reasonably) stating an opposing position. Just for the record, Redstate's Posting Rules are very vague (people can be banned for "disruptive behavior" among other things), but nothing "thoughtful" did seemed to violate any of the stated posting rules.

However, the story doesn't end there. A different commenter jumps in to argue, essentially, what I'm arguing here - that banning "thoughtful" for what seemed to be NOT violating the posting rules was the wrong thing to do:

bpalmer: Banning:

And, as is so often the case, I wonder if the redstate editors uphold their own stated policy regarding banning. thoughtful did as asked, the bulk of his post providing the evidence that plagiarism took place (with apparent links to the original items, so that Redstate people don't even have to deal with the DailyKos diaries & comments).

One non-substantive comment at the end, which was in an ideological sense identifiably only "non right",  which acknowledged that this was a conservative community, which avoided profanity, personal attacks, or harassment -- and apparently was banned by an editor.

The editors here sure seem trigger-happy -- it's not surprising that echo chambers build, if people who provide evidence to support their claims are immediately banned.

This reasonable (to me) request to think about the instant ban of "thoughtful" (which, by the Redstate posting rules, was supposed to be preceded by a warning to "thoughtful" about the violation of the posting rules that was done) resulted in the immediate banning of "bpalmer":

thomas: I'm so, so sorry:

  1. The proprietors of this site are the sole and final judges and enforcers of this policy.
  2. Your problem is now fixed. Hope you feel better.

Thus, in the space of two consecutive (and rational and reasonable) comments, two different editors/owners/founders (I have no idea who "thomas" or "Nick Danger" are, or what their role/position in Redstate is) banned commenters. Again, I find nothing "bannable" in what either of the two commenters did to be worthy of the response.

Why is it that the right-wing blogosphere finds it necessary to curtail free speech? Most don't allow comments (which certainly solves this problem), but I applauded Redstate for doing so. However, this aspect seems worse. Moreover, it fosters a continuing split between the left and the right - if the right won't argue with the left at the left's websites, and the left isn't allowed to argue with the right (no comments or banning) at their websites, the polarization of American political discourse continues. Which harms everybody.

As I argued above, free speech is critical to democracy. The phrase "echo chamber" is bandied about far too easily these days, yet what else does one call Redstate? If all opposing viewpoints (even the reasonable and rational ones) are banned, and if people are banned for even suggesting that people shouldn't be banned, then all that will remain is a collection of people who already agree with each other. Thus "groupthink", and associated other problems (for example, one aspect of a closed group is that they self-reinforce each others views, become avoid outsiders, and the group becomes more aggressive than any individual member might; one could argue that these qualities are seen in the management and content at Redstate). Echo chamber isn't a stretch, at this point.

I honestly don't care about Domenech; he's a triviality at best and a non-issue at worst. I'm more concerned with the failure of the bright lights of the right wing to accept political discourse as natural, or even to encourage it. Instead, most seem fearful. If you don't like someone's post - ignore it. If you find their comment uncomfortable - consider it. Perhaps you might learn something. At least consider the possibility of replying to a thoughtful critic - you might convince them of your position.

The death of discourse is a slow process, but painful.

Posted by baltar at March 24, 2006 03:15 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Blogorama | Extremism | Free Speech | Shine the Light on It


Events catch up with me while writing this White Whale: Domenech Resigns. If anyone cares, that was the right thing for him to do. In any event, that doesn't change the central thrust of the post.

Posted by: baltar at March 24, 2006 04:42 PM | PERMALINK

I know I said I didn't want to talk about Domenech, but this quote from him (from the WaPo story linked above) is just priceless:

He said most of the allegations of plagiarism, from the William & Mary student paper, were from his freshman year, and that while he believes the unattributed material was inserted by his editor, he cannot prove it. "When I was 17, I was certainly sloppy," Domenech said. "If I had paid more attention, none of these problems would have happened."

His editor changed his review by adding some stuff the editor found somewhere else? And he never noticed (he never read his own articles when they came out in the paper)?

Ohhhh, Kay.

Posted by: baltar at March 24, 2006 04:45 PM | PERMALINK

Having been a features editor (in name only) and contributing writer to a college newspaper for a couple years, it may surprise you to realize that the magic wears off and you stop reading every single thing you've contributed, it's not so beyond grasp that this guy did the same thing (although I don't remember plagiarizing any of my student papers to begin with). And I have had editors insert a paragraph here and there to make it fit. It's not beyond possibility, just unlikely.

I would have to agree that it reeks of fear for them to exorcise liberals from their websites. I certainly am not saying all speech should be allowed all the time, but if they go into the arena, it's cowardly to slam the gate if they see an opponent who may be stronger.

Posted by: Morris at March 25, 2006 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Which, say what you like about us in other regards, Morris, you know we do not do.

Posted by: binky at March 25, 2006 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Charles Johnson and Scott Koenig are major righty blogs with open comments, though I admit they're exceptions. Reynolds used to have an occasional open thread, but the kossacks and DU types tended to overrun 'em (with invective, not substance) pretty quickly.

Imagine if, say, mounted an overt, ongoing campaign to shout you guys down via your comment threads. The notoriety might be fun but it'd get old in short order, I suspect.

Posted by: jacflash at March 25, 2006 03:13 PM | PERMALINK

Er,, not "". I plead lack of sleep and insufficient caffiene.

Posted by: jacflash at March 25, 2006 03:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not arguing (and I thought I was careful to avoid it) that all right-wing blogs avoid comments, just that many do (and most of the "big" ones). I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that about equal numbers of left and right blogs have open comments. If you'll grant that, the curious question is "why"?

You'll note, by the way, that I wasn't arguing that the comment threads are always (or even mostly) useful. They can often be overrun by trolls, invective and spam. That being said, they remain important for the reasons I outlined above.

Posted by: baltar at March 25, 2006 03:22 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and the other foot is the Redstate practice of banning. If you follow the threads at Redstate on this, in addition to the two bannings I pointed out above, I found several more. It's a very odd mindset to me that (given an open comment policy) that you would then ban people who are offering reasonable and rational (though opposing) viewpoints.

Posted by: baltar at March 25, 2006 03:23 PM | PERMALINK

The other one I love is the re-direct, so that if you try to follow a link to right-blogger-Y from left-blogger-B, you can't. They don't even want you looking at their sight with your commie pinko eyes. Or, if they aren't commie pinko eyes, eyes that have been tainted with commie pinko -ness from looking at some commine pinko site. Like Pandagon. Which offended LaShawn Barber so, that she made it so anyone following the link from Pandagon ended up at the Teletubbies.

Posted by: binky at March 25, 2006 03:31 PM | PERMALINK

I confess I've actually never read Redstate, and if this Domenech fellow is their leading light I'm unlikely to start.

I can think of three explanations for the comment gap: 1) righties are less able to take criticism, for whatever reason; 2) righties feel that their blog is for their views and if you want to express your views, you can (for free!) get your own damn blog (which is a not-unreasonable position for a libertarian, at least); and 3) the pool of lefties who are interested in commenting on rightie blogs is, on average, significantly more prone to obnoxious behavior than the population at large. I suspect the truth contains sizeable measures of (1) and (3) with a spritz of (2), but I dunno.

Posted by: jacflash at March 25, 2006 05:16 PM | PERMALINK

My dear, are you really suggesting that the lefties commenting on righty blogs are more obnoxious than the righties commenting on the lefty ones? it wasn't the left that gave us the verb "to freep."

Posted by: binky at March 25, 2006 05:44 PM | PERMALINK

I said population at large, not their opposites, but I suspect we'd find that the pool of lefties willing to go leave nastygrams on right blogs is larger and more actively coordinated than their ideological counterparts, which would make them collectively more obnoxious. This is somewhat ex recto, of course -- the sum of my blog-reading experience over the last eight or nine years hasn't been evenly split between right and left, so my personal data pool is surely skewed.

Posted by: jacflash at March 25, 2006 06:11 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I'll take your word for organized lefties, but the freepers and their brethren try to wreak havoc on the left too. The trolling of the feminists is especially pernicious.

Posted by: binky at March 25, 2006 06:27 PM | PERMALINK
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