The L.A. Times puts the smackdown on the puppet master*

So, LAT columnist Michael Hiltzik’s unveiled antics have given way to the term “sock puppets.” And the puppet master has been given the smackdown – the LAT is killing the blog, his column and suspending him for a couple of days without pay. But they’re not firing him. Which is good, but I do have some mixed feelings about this whole situation, especially since I’ve had my blog shut down before by the LAT lawyers before.

I wanted to write about this last night, but didn’t have a chance because it was so busy and exhausting at work. And even now, I don’t have much time because I have to go to Fullerton in a little bit. But I’ll revisit the issue later, when I get a chance.

For now, read the memo, check out how Patterico (who essentially started this brouhaha) feels and read his roundup of blogosphere reaction, and check out what a blogger and now LAT editor says about the whole affair.

Update: OK. I’m glad Hiltzik didn’t get fired, simply because I’m loathe to see anyone lose their job. But I must say, I’m surprised he didn’t get fired, considering his history of ethical lapses – like hacking into his co-workers email.

But if you think about it – the trust is gone. For many conservative readers and bloggers, the LAT never had their trust anyway. But for everyone else, the trust is gone. For those who trusted Hiltzik’s word in the past, the trust is gone for his future stories, when he gets past his unpaid suspension. For those who trusted in the LAT to protect their employees, that trust is gone, too – there are many out there who believe the LAT went overboard. This was sort of a lose-lose situation, when you think about it.

I think the main issue seems to be that, as an institution, the LAT doesn’t seem to quite understand blogging just yet. Sure, they have Channel Island, which I like, and in my opinion, they ought to give guys like Chris Erskine a blog, or at least give him an RSS feed for his column. But maybe they’re just beginning to learn what everyone else entrenched in the blogosphere and certainly everyone who’s ever been dooced has known for years – if you’re careful with what you do in real life, you must be quadruple careful with things online. I mean, in real life, there are no mindless search algorithms catching the stupid things you do, right?

Maybe this was more a common sense question – why in the world would you trust someone who in the past has gotten in trouble for an electronic indiscretion and give him free rein in the blogosphere? Horrifying! That’s like putting a drug addict in charge of the pharmacy.

When I was ordered by my editor (and by extension, LAT management and Tribune lawyers) to shut my blog down in 2005, the reason was because 1) I had not notified my supervisors about it, 2) It was evident that I was looking for a new job, thereby showing that I wasn’t happy there (duh) and 3) It showed bias. Well, of course I’m biased – everyone is, and any journalist who denies it is a liar. But at least I put it out there for anyone who wants to know, and my proclivities don’t affect my work. My supervisor had found out about my blog from a teacher angry with his union and school district. Yep – he was biased against the district he worked for and the union he was a member of, and in his bias, he searched for mine and got me in trouble. Plus, the reason why my supervisor didn’t know about my blog was because of the huge turnover of management (six editors in two years) at my old paper – my first couple of editors knew about my blog (which I called my online journal then), but after a while I couldn’t keep up.

So, what was the real reason for my blog being shut down? Because they couldn’t control what I was writing after hours. I didn’t get shut down for any ethical lapses, like creating identities online or snooping into other people’s stuff or even overexaggerating. I mean, if I had been making things up, sure – shut it down. But I happen to remember that you are who you are online and offline. I’m hoping its a lesson that Hiltzik will learn well.