In my business, we use anonymous sources all the time, in order to get at information that might otherwise not be available regarding crime, corporate behavior, and the actions of public officials and public figures. It is a different business than opining on politics. Reporters and editors who do this in the course of newsgathering should be applying some standards. Allowing gratuitous anonymous attacks on one’s adversaries is not one of them. The sources often have good reasons for remaining anonymous, and they also sometimes have their own axe to grind. The dimes they drop may be self-serving. Weeding out the personal from the information that is relevant and stands on it own is a critical part of this process. Reporters and editors who allow anonymity also face the prospect of criticism and consequences for the decisions they make.
But back to the business of public bloviation, particularly that which is as superfluous as much of this on the Internet is. The value of any opinion is automatically devalued by an individual’s unwillingness to attach his name to it. Attacking individuals and attempting to get a rise or start something under a false name is low. Anyone who blogs is subjected to it sooner or later, if not regularly. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of it, from commenters to lefty bloggers, and while no one likes to be attacked, I always consider the source: Nobody. Some gutless wonder with a fake, usually self-aggrandizing name. No little irony in South Texas College of Law Professor John F. Blevins decision to pseudonumize himself as “Publius,” a self-aggrandizing rip off from the Federalist Papers that is also the origin of the word “public” or “open to all.”
Unfortunately, as the law prof who aggrandizes himself as Publius reportedly states, identity-masking pseudonymity is an accepted norm on the blogosphere, and given how much of our lives is being conducted in cyberspace, it is in danger of becoming a societal norm. That raises the prospect of our (accelerated) evolution into a nation of seventh graders, making prank hangup calls and writing things on walls. For all my mockery of Glenn Greenwald’s sockpuppetry, I admire the fact that the vast majority … I think … of his poor logic and handwringing is conducted openly, under his own name. It takes a brave man, of some principles, to attach his name to some of the things that Greenwald has. Same thing with Andrew Sullivan, whose opinions I have no respect for, but whose willingness to associate himself with such absurdities, seeing that he appears to actually believe them, is laudable.
Read the whole thing, as a prominent non-anonymous blogger likes to say. On the left, anonymity is rarely respected, of course, as the goal of advancing agendas trumps all. Supporters of Proposition 8 in California have been targeted for a variety of attacks, and similarly, as Eric Scheie paraphrased in 2006, “Outing closeted gays is good. But outing anonymous accusers is despicable!”