Friday, June 3, 2011

My Response to Tommy Christopher's Response on #Weinergate

Tommy Christopher has kindly emailed a response to my earlier criticisms of his coverage of Daily Kos and Breitbart. Some of what he said was already addressed in my update, but he wouldn't have had any reason to have know that. My understanding of his defense is that (1) he was already highly critical of Breitbart earlier, (2) that he specifically restricted his criticisms to focus on the "publications" of Breitbart, rather than other communications, and (3) he stands by his original criticisms of Markos for several reasons.

So I'll start first with his response about restricting his argument to "publications," or as Christopher puts it: "the publication of factual evidence." Christopher notes this restriction and then points out a number of tweets where he's been critical of Breitbart's behavior on Twitter in recent days, writing things like:
Drawing conclusions from an ambiguous fact pattern is yellow. Publicly claiming "we have more"=yellow. @AndrewBreitbart
First thing to note: it's ironic that Christopher himself was critical, just two days ago, of the idea that it's acceptable to be dishonest on Twitter yet claim that one's "publishing" has been honest:

So, by his own standards, it seems weird to argue that it's OK to differentiate Breitbart's behavior on Twitter from that on his web site. And the fact that he criticized Breitbart's tweets just bolsters my point that the target article presented an inaccurate piture of Breitbart's role in his mess. What we want to know is whether Breitbart behaved honestly and ethically, not just whether he was somewhat-honest-and-ethical-on-his-websites-but-not-necessarily-anywhere-else. So it's true that Tommy Christopher circumscribed his arguments to focus only on the Big websites, but by doing so it ceases to be a helpful evaluation of Breitbart's role in the controversy.

The reality, however, is that Breitbart did not even meet the lowered bar of "somewhat-honest-and-ethical-on-his-websites-but-not-necessarily-anywhere-else." As I pointed out, he allowed Jim Hoft to post links to the pictures and personal information of high school girls during his smear campaign.

Christopher's response to this criticism of Breitbart was twofold. One, he pointed out that he was critical of Hoft on Twitter. That's admirable, but not really relevant to my point that Breitbart allowed the filth on his site. Second, Christopher wrote the following:
If I am guilty of something, it is not noticing this link in Hoft's BG article, but once I did, I emailed Breitbart to alert him to it. If he sends me back an email saying he's leaving it up because she was asking for it, and I do nothing, then you will have a point. And what are you doing linking to it?
He later added, via email:
Since I alerted Andrew Breitbart to the presence of that link in Hoft's story, it has been deleted.
Well, that sounds just dandy that Breitbart decided to delete the link only a mere four days later, after everyone has already looked at it, and while he's trying to smear Markos as someone who publishes information about high schoolers. Just dandy, except for the fact that Media Matters' Eric Boehlert was criticizing Breitbart over Hoft's post four days ago, and the link has remained up until today. Here's Boehlert's criticism, which was retweeted by Breitbart:

And this was Breitbart's response:

So forgive me if I don't take Breitbart deleting the link four days later as strong evidence of the high quality of his moral character.

Finally, in my post I defended Markos's decision to not edit a recommended diary on his site:
I had found the photo myself several days ago, and chose to redact the personal information on the yfrog image I posted because one of the people was in high school. I agree with Tommy to the extent that I personally did not want to share that information. However, that is a different context entirely from what Markos is being accused of. Christopher is attacking Markos because Markos owns a site that allows community diaries and has a policy that is biased very heavily against censorship of the community part of the site. The diary in question was not written by one of the paid front page authors: it was written by one of the community members. Thus, while I personally did not want to share the full information, I don't think it's "reprehensible" for Markos to choose not to censor the content choices of diarists except under extreme circumstances (which is what he said was his policy in an email to Christopher).
And Christopher responded as follows:
3 problems with this: 1. redacting the names would have had no effect on the content's news value. 2. This was an extreme circumstance. Two minor children and their parents feared for their safety. 3. There is no "policy" against it, made clear by his offer to consider a "counter-argument" that he deemed worthy. He never argued the girls weren't being endangered, he just didn't care.
My thoughts. I agree that redacting the names wouldn't have decreased the "news value:" however, I think that a site owner making a decision to edit content of a user is a serious decision that some would have objected to. What actually happened, the author of the diary deciding to change the content, is preferable. As I said before, I personally would not divulge the girls' information, even though I previously saw the image, since I saw what happened to the women subjected to harassment after neanderthals like Hoft posted their personal information and Breitbart's site linked to it. My only point was that there is a difference between deciding what you personally write about and what is allowed to appear in a community that values free expression and investigation. Thus, though I don't agree with Markos's decision, I can see why he would (perhaps mistakenly) lean against the idea of censoring his community. And again, this is different from Breitbart's site hand-picking an article from Hoft that links to pictures and personal information of high school students. In the later case, the people who run the web site are directly responsible.

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