Putting a Blogger's Identity on the Record

Network World blogger Paul McNamara covers the St. Augustine Record's attempt to out a local blogger, calling me a "former newspaperman ... who appears to have forgotten a lot about the journalism business."

The Record, believing Padgett to be part of an organized political group out to unseat Rich, not merely a lonely pamphleteer voicing his displeasure with a public official, decided that making public Padgett's identity was the right to do.

They were correct. While there may be a long-held and cherished right to publish anonymously in this country, it isn't any more absolute than other First Amendment rights and should never be confused with a right to remain anonymous. After all, there was never anything stopping the lonely pamphleteer's neighbors from saying, "Hey, that looks a lot like farmer Ben's handwriting."

Truth be told, the Record didn't need a high-minded rational for outing Padgett. The mere fact that the man had kicked up public attention -- made himself a person of public interest -- makes him fair game for being identified (if not the video treatment).

I don't object to the Record seeking to identify Lee Padgett, whose LocalSafety blog came back online yesterday. I object to the paper treating him like a criminal by releasing video surveillance footage, not even explaining that his activities at its office were innocuous.

Although Record Editor Peter Ellis continues to tell people that Padgett's a front for an organized group, he has yet to feel confident enough in this fact to report it to his readers. No story has run about him since a Feb. 6 article in which Peter Guinta, its most experienced reporter, couldn't find his identity.

Ellis and McNamara appear to believe that if the press suspects a person of something, it's OK to call on the public to send in tips that might confirm its suspicions. Since when does reporting involve tossing out rumors in the hopes they'll be proven true by the public? If they want to do that, they should become bloggers.


"Since when does reporting involve tossing out rumors in the hopes they'll be proven true by the public? If they want to do that, they should become bloggers."

That's funny.

I was taken by this comment:

The mere fact that the man had kicked up public attention - made himself a person of public interest - makes him fair game for being identified ...

Is this true? How about this person's family? Is making a "public interest" of oneself reason enough to delve into another's personal life? For example, outing this person's children as this-or-that in a pejorative way ...?

The real money paragraph in McNamara's Network World post comes in the form of a quote from St. Augustine Record editor Peter Ellis:

Would I do (the video posting) again? No. First, it raises questions about lines we draw, and, in hindsight, I shouldn't have done it. And second, we got the information by using more standard reporting techniques.

"We got the information ... "? Really? That's interesting since, as Rogers notes above, the paper still hasn't seen fit to share its information with the public--the folks whose "right to know" Mr. Ellis purports to defend.

As a side note to the controversy, it's interesting to see the gratitude the Record has earned for its travails from Commissioner Ben Rich (whose megalomania helped inspire the Record's ill-considered quest to unmask the "political committee").

From a comment posted by Ben Rich last Saturday on the website of another local paper, the St. Johns Sun:

Well, I see that an apology is not good enough for the Times Union, the St. Augustine Record or you. Now you want my blood (That is also figurative speech. I am trying to teach all of you in the press not the difference between it and literal speech).You and your employer are not interested in unbiased press, are paid heavily in advertising revenue by my political enemies in the mega-development community and have acted totally irresponsibly regarding this entire non-issue. Shame on you and everyone at your rag connected with the deliberate political assassination of my character. What you are doing is totally out of context with my remarks which, when heard in context, are not even newsworthy. I hope that my supporters cancel their subscriptions in protest to your actions. I canceled mine at the Record! Print this piece if you have the guts along with the names and addresses of those that set up and fund the Web site. You do know who they are don't you? You must because Margo Pope [reporter for the Record], Jim Ellis [reporter for the Record] and Derek May [publisher of the Record] are recommending it to everyone. Like your editorials, those Web site creators have no names or faces. In dealing with you and those you protect, once more cowardice comes to mind. Endless paper and barrels of ink are dangerous weapons in the hands of irresponsible people. You and your colleagues tread on thin ice when you temper the responsibilities granted you by our constitution with large doses of arrogance and obvious malice. I have asked to be forgiven for my choice of words and you have proven yourself unworthy of that gesture.

With Rich and his legion of supporters cancelling their subscriptions and the Record's advertisers branded as criminals, it's looking like tough times for the newspaper business in Northeastern Florida.

No reply, but I guess my question was rhetorical, anyway. Yes, it is to be expected that if you make a public display of yourself, the privacy you previously enjoyed is the price paid for "going public." Unfortunately, that also includes members of the "figure's" family. Rich brought his troubles on himself, and as did the newspaper by revealing its methods of investigation - not that they did anything incorrect in that regard, except to make a public display of it.

Another prime example of this is the Wilson and Plame issue. The man "outed" his own wife by going public, and of course the CIA knew that would happen, or that that possibility was a reality if they gave Wilson permission to reveal the details of a CIA operation.

Honest individuals would acknowledge that -- those with basically dishonest characters never will ... they are slaves to party over nation ...

Reporters like McNamara (and me) always think that people have done something to merit public scrutiny. It's a necessary conceit to being a journalist. You don't go into the business looking for ways not to cover stuff.

"You don't go into the business looking for ways not to cover stuff."

Then, you acknowledge that Wilson was responsible for his wife becoming known as a CIA employee, and because those who make public displays of themselves earn the scrutiny which results?

The journalists-are-watching attitude is why the CIA does not have any covert agents working there at Langley, HQ. So of course, Plame was not any such 'classified' employee (and since there is no such designation for intelligence workers.)

Which means? The CIA lied about Plame's status, and Fitzgerald assisted that lie by questioning over-and-over again until he got a discrepency to use to pillory a Republican. All helped every step of the way by journalists. Which term is obviously synonymous with the meaning of 'ostrich.'

Aren't you glad you're not one of those blinkered partisan liars, assisting the CIA to subvert domestic politics, anymore?

That is an interesting story...

Fully one week after Record editor Peter Ellis claims to have learned the blogger's identity, the paper has still hasn't shared this information with his readers. Could Ellis be blowing smoke about what he does or doesn't know, or does he have some reason for sitting on what is obviously Pulitzer-prize-winning material?

As they say: We report, you decide.

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