Mr Cohen, who writes an ethics column for The New York Times, has a column today on anonymous blogging and commenting. A hat tip to Professor Ann Althouse for this article. Here is the issue:
Last week Judge Joan Madden ordered Google to identify the anonymous blogger whose site, “Skanks in NYC,” hosted by a Google subsidiary and now removed, slammed the fashion model Liskula Cohen.♠♥Jumping down to Reporter Cohen's "bottom line" we find this:
Here is a guideline. The effects of anonymous posting have become so baleful that it should be forsworn unless there is a reasonable fear of retribution. By posting openly, we support the conditions in which honest conversation can flourish.Maybe OK on the surface, but I see two problems with this.
The first problem is that he has carved out a hugh exception for reporters. Personally, I think anonymous sources is ruining Washington. Forget fashion model Liskula Cohen, what about Leon Penetta, the Director of the CIA and the rumor he is going to step down? What about "Deep Throat," a disgruntled FBI senior manager who thought he should have been made the Director after the passing of J Edgar Hoover?♦ Going to the ethical question, did the ends justify the means? Or, from a legal point of view, does the Cohen case set a precident that would allow a future President to sue a future Woodward and Bernstein for the name of "Deep Throat"? In for a penny, in for a pound.
Secondly, notwithstanding Reporter Cohen's argument that "times have changed," they haven't. If it was good enough for Ben Franklin, why isn't it good enough for Rosemary Port?
Then we have this item:
But conditions change, and what was benign in one setting can be malignant in another; that’s why we no longer allow people to wander the streets of our cities carrying guns. (O.K., we do allow that. But we have a good reason: to protect ourselves from marauding dinosaurs.)The fact is we do allow people to wander the streets of our cities carrying guns. It is just that New York City hasn't heard about the Heller Case. Some man even showed up at President Obama's Health Care Town Hall in Portsmouth, NH, with an "assault rifle" and a pistol.♣ No harm, no foul. No law broken.
I believe report Randy Cohen is currently off the beam and needs to start listening for the "A" and the "N" and then make a course correction.
Regards — Cliff
♠ Please note that my link is different from the one in The New York Times. I think that is ethical in that (1) I did identify it and (2) by going to the article you can find the original link.
♥ One wonders if Reporter Cohen is related to fashion model Cohen. Reporter Cohen notes that he was once married to Katha Pollitt. He notes that the Model Liskula Cohen, who went to court to force Google to out blogger Rosemary Port, is an acquaintance of the previously anonymous blogger.
♦ I am not saying that Richard Nixon was a good President or that he shouldn't have resigned. I am saying that "Deep Throat" played a dirty game out of personal animosity.
♣ This is a long clip, but the interesting part about the "gun totter" is from about 1:56 to about 2:56. Note that there is a 15 second advert in the beginning, before the clock restarts.