In defense of the blog

by Pete Talbot

Over at Dark Acres, writer Bill Vaughn takes 4&20 to task on a few different subjects — some of them valid and some of them not.

First, though, I admire Vaughn’s take-no-prisoners writing style, and his oft times dark and twisted posts. It’s a different format over there. There are no other contributors and he allows no comments. It’s pure Vaughn.

I should also mention that he and I share a common goal: our desire to boot Bill Nooney (GOP, HD 100) from the Montana Legislature. We’ve exchanged information and insights into Nooney’s race, which is probably why Vaughn ended up cruising the 4&20 site.

But here’s Vaughn’s first criticism: the anonymous handles used by those who post and comment on various blogs. Some folks have to remain anonymous. I don’t because, like Vaughn, I’m self-employed. Nobody is going to fire my ass for the pithy prose I use when attacking misguided people or policy.

But there are some out there with real jobs who share facts and offer opinions that would get them fired (sort of like whistle blowers within government or big corporations). I believe it is more important to hear from these folks on their subjects than to know their true identities.

Bloggers aren’t reporters in the traditional sense, Mr. Vaughn, and anyone visiting a website should be aware that different standards apply to the blogs than to, say, the New York Times. I like to think that people know the difference.

Let’s take the Dark Acres site for example. Though not a political blog, per se, it does touch on political issues from time-to-time. However, you probably won’t find the headline “Circle Jerk” (used in the 4&20 critique) in the Washington Post. Again, viva la difference.

I will grant you this, Mr. Vaughn, there are some folks who stay anonymous because their writing is so vitriolic and obtuse that they don’t dare expose themselves. These folks are scum-sucking dogs but there isn’t a lot that one can do about them except ban them from a site; and unless they’re racist, obscene or libelous, I tend to let them stay.

Which brings up another criticism from the Dark Acres author. What’s libelous and what isn’t, and how do you sue someone who goes by the name of, for example, Ayn Rand? Damn good question. From Dark Acres:

“I wonder: If one of these anonyms libeled one of the others could anyone be sued? If a tree fell in the forest . . . ? Probably not. Who’s the victim? What’s the damage?

However, if one of them libeled me, for example, I’d immediately file suit against Jay Stevens, who’s apparently a real person claiming to be the “founder” of the site.

If I were Mr. Stevens I’d rethink my ideas about anonymous posts.”

Please don’t sue Jay. What we try to do here at 4&20 is apply the same standards of libel that the daily rags use:

Public figures like Tiger Woods or Conrad Burns or Angelina Jolie don’t have the same protection as John and Jane Citizen. These celebrities and politicians have chosen careers that put them in the public eye, for better or worse, and shy of unfounded charges of pedophilia or bestiality, we’ll run posts and comments about them.

For the average citizen, though, we try to keep references like deadbeat, addict, criminal, pimp and whore from appearing on these pages.

The fact that people offer their opinions on blogs also allows for some rebuttal, just like letters to the editor, and it can be hard to ascertain what’s a civil and appropriate response.

Of course truth is the ultimate defense in a libel case but I, and the other contributors to 4&20, would prefer to stay out of the court system. We’ll even moderate nasty comments directed at anonymous writers if we think they’re libelous, just to play it safe.

Finally, Vaughn asserts:

“ … no one at these blogs apparently does any actual reporting.”

I beg to differ. Often, for the benefit of our readers, we publish stories not found in the mainstream media and ask for comments. But I’ve also seen a number of breaking stories here at 4&20 and on other Montana blogs. For example, jhwygirl will watch committee meetings on MCAT and glean important stories from the proceedings. You can bet there aren’t any local reporters at these events. I’ve seen political, environmental and human interest stories on the blogs that never appear on local TV, radio or print.

This is grassroots, Mr. Vaughn, and it comes with some leafy spurge and Dalmation Toadflax. Cut us some slack but stay in touch.

  1. goof houlihan

    I read it. It was very uninteresting ad hominem. Not an idea in the whole diatribe, just the usual blog-cabulary phrases used when a blogger is trying to be cute for the team.

  2. qbert55

    How do we know his name is Bill Vaughn? How does he know my name isn’t qbert55?

  3. Jim Lang

    I looked at that site when you first published the link but a ‘blog’ that has no comments….. yawn.

  4. qbert55

    Has anyone seen his passport?

  5. Rimrock

    I enjoy Vaughn’s site, and he’s a very good writer. There’s more to this “alias” matter than anonymity, though.
    Yes, in some cases it’s about that, and I can see both sides.
    But in my case, I’ve used Rimrock as an internet nom de plume since the DOS days, and since I grew up on the Kevin Rims I like it on multiple levels and plan to keep using it. Besides, it has these great double-entendre qualities on music boards.
    It’s still kind of a small world, though, and in my experience regular participants soon learn who each other are, and it’s more just part of the “culture”.
    So as I’ve posted other places before, Rimrock and Bill O’Connell are one and the same, and only having two identities is hardly grounds for counseling these days.
    And now the Beatles are my mental soundtrack. How’s that go again? I am he and he is me and we are all together…

  6. blogging is worth about 1/10000th of a face to face conversation and about 1/1000th of a phone call but at least it is something. as far as anonymity goes, i am quite certain that common knowledge about most of our identities is or soon becomes apparent. i suppose jobs might be an issue, pete for some folks but i learned a long time ago that most people grant each other the right to express our opinions without interference as long as civil behavior and a modicum of decency is adhered to. as far as news being reported….i think it occurs rarely. it is mostly a forum for trying out ideas with each other.i am sure when the water becomes less turbulent in the rivers around here that my blogging will decrease at least on weekends. until then it has been interesting.

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