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Netiquette Debate Erupts over Law Prof’s Outing as ‘Publius’ Blogger

Posted Jun 9, 2009 8:06 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Conservative blogger Ed Whelan decided he had had enough after a pseudonymous critic known as Publius called him a “legal hitman” who was distorting the record of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Writing this weekend on the Bench Memos blog published by the National Review Online, Whelan revealed he had been “reliably informed” that the blogger Publius was actually South Texas law professor John Blevins. In a later post, Whelan, a former Justice Department official, explained that he decided to identify Blevins because he thinks law professors should be held to a higher standard and bloggers who engage in "smears and misrepresentations" should not be allowed to hide under the cover of a pseudonym.

The outing has spurred “a widespread Internet debate about netiquette, the ethics of outing and anonymous blogging,” the Washington Times blog, Inside Blogotics, reports. The New York Times blog, the Opinionator, also had an earlier account of the controversy.

Blevins responded to Whelan in a post at his blog, Obsidian Wings, explaining that he wrote under a pseudonym for both private and professional reasons. On the professional side, he said he doesn’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable in his classroom, and he has heard that blogging can cause problems for profs seeking tenure.

“Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons,” Blevins wrote. “I’m from a conservative Southern family—and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again).”

Whelan later thought better of his disclosure. “I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius,” he wrote yesterday. “Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.”

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