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100 responses to “Grog’s Gamut outed by The Australian

  1. Jacques Chester

    Ah yes, one of life’s important lessons. Journalists are lazy, self-serving, two-faced scum with deadlines and an urge to get a front page byline.

    OK, that’s unfair. But that’s how it seems to the ordinary person. Why? Because journalists consciously flout the social conventions surrounding confidence. That’s just the way they are.

    Politicians know this and regard all journalists as ‘live’ in all situations.

    Ordinary people do not and feel betrayed when the journalist who gave every impression of being ‘normal’ turns around and publishes what they said in what seemed to be a confidential situation.

  2. akn

    Coppers and journalists are never “off the rcord”.

  3. Paul Burns

    An interesting situation. I comment here under my own name, (though that’d mainly to do with the fact that when I started commenting on line I really didn’t understand about monikers. On my own blog I use my own name and that blog is almost entirely about history and 18C history at that. My practice of history,and blog posts on history, whether its 18C or Australian 20C political history, are (I hope) as objective and apolitical as it is possible to be. I’m an independent historian and no longer directly associated with a uni and haven’t been for many years. So I don’t have to worry about that side of it. (Besides, I’m a very small fish.)
    OTOH, my comments on various sites, but mostly LP, when not to do with history or fun, but politics, are clearly partisan left.
    The reason I’ve gone into this long preamble, is that I think most readers are quite capable of distinguishing between personal opinion and professional opinion. Grog’s Gamut’s case, and to a lesser extent, Tobias Ziegler’s, raise intriguing questions about freedom of speech in our society, especially freedom of political speech. Surely every Australian hads the right to express his/her political opinion regardless opf occupation. Gamut’s exposure seems to be purely personal revenge on the part of an inadequate media that resents its authority, ethics and practice being questioned.
    (The Australian NEVER publishes any of my comments on line to them pointing out their political bias – not that I ever expect them to, but I keep trying.

  4. Katz

    What is the public interest in knowing Grog’s Gamut’s real name?

    Presumably, the Australian hoped and believed that divulging that information would land the author in trouble, and/or undermine his credibility, and/or convince/compel the author to cease blogging.

    Clearly, Grog’s Gamut is not infringing upon the impartiality of the Public Service. Every public servant is free to have and to express whatever opinion he wants so long as he does not pretend that he is speaking for the executive government.

    Grog’s Gamut distanced himself doubly from his employer by using a pseudonym.

    If anyone, including Mark Scott was induced to change his behaviour as a result of the opinions of an anonymous blog, that change is the result of the force of the argument rather than the power of the institution it may represent. This persuasiveness is Athenian democracy at its best.

    This act of revenge of the OO has simply exploded in its own increasingly irrelevant face. I suppose that is a matter of public interest in itself.

    It’s your foot Massola. Yum yum! Keep munching!

  5. Incurious and Unread

    Every public servant is free to have and to express whatever opinion he wants

    I’m not sure I agree with this. I would be concerned about a public servant that had strongly partisan views one way or another (I’m not suggesting that Grog’s Gamut falls into this category). That would seem to me likely to interfere with their ability to do their job properly.

    For example, suppose that a senior public servant in the Education Dept was the anonymous author of a creationist blog. Would it be in the public interest for this information to be revealed?

  6. Helen

    This is sheer bullying. “Disagree with us and show up our incompetence and we’ll have your job!” Pathetic and disgraceful. Massola et al would be better off taking note of what Grog and others have said about the woeful standard of journalistic commentary during the election. Oh, wait, that’s a feature of their job, not a bug.

  7. patrickg

    A disgusting act of petty bastardry. The Oz at least is aknowledging the true threat to its existence: informed and free opinion.

    Amazing how swiftly it acted to move against it.

  8. patrickg

    For example, suppose that a senior public servant in the Education Dept was the anonymous author of a creationist blog. Would it be in the public interest for this information to be revealed?

    No, it wouldn’t. Because how a private citizen acts and thinks on their own time is no concern of anybody else unless they break the law. This is a cornerstone of secular democracy. If said servant’s creationism was effecting their job then let’s have a discussion, but people are allowed to think whatever they want, there are still no laws against that.

    Said servant would be just as creationist if they thought that way, and didn’t have a blog. Thus, blogging becomes the true crime and we see how dangerous thinking along these lines can be.

  9. Ken Lovell

    I think it’s reasonable for a journalist to report the true identity of anyone who does anything in the public sphere under a pseudonym. Or to put it another way, I don’t see any ethical consideration that should prevent it, if the journalist thinks it’s newsworthy (as this one obviously is).

    By and large I think people blogging anonymously is a bad thing. Uninformed opinion is rarely worth reading, so it is relevant to consider how informed a writer is about the matters they write about. Moreover it offers untold scope for trolling, mischief-making, dissemination of misinformation and so on. I often smile at the number of commenters here who claim to know public figures personally when they comment about them. Well perhaps, but since you choose to remain anonymous, I choose to disbelieve you …

    One very intriguing point is that someone like Grog’s Gamut, who has no insider knowledge, could become so widely read. I suspect that’s what really pissed off the professional journalists – they were being criticised by a rank amateur and people were taking notice just because of the strengths of his argument. Why if that kind of thing were to become widespread who knows where it might lead!

  10. The Feral Abacus

    “Every public servant is free to have and to express whatever opinion he wants so long as he does not pretend that he is speaking for the executive government.”

    In theory, yes. But in practise, and in my own personal experience, at least one state government will lean heavily on any of their public servants commenting on issues that are exclusively the domain of federal government.

  11. Kim

    @Ken – The general argument you make obviously crowds out the particular – in this instance, Grog certainly didn’t use his blog for mischief-making, trolling, etc. Indeed, some journos who blog under their own names – cf. Andrew Bolt – might well be thought to be in that business.

    I’d also question how “newsworthy” this disclosure is outside the small number of people involved in blogging and tweeting Australian politics and the media itself.

  12. Brett

    It’s good for the Australian. And what’s good for the Australian is good for the country.

    Obvious, really.

  13. Incurious and Unread

    PatrickG @8,

    If said servant’s creationism was affecting their job then let’s have a discussion

    That is my point. If Grog Gamut’s views do not impinge on his ability to do his job, then I don’t think that there is an issue. I would hope, in that case, that he is allowed to continue blogging, anonymously or otherwise.

    That hope may be forlorn. But any blame for that must fall upon his employer, not the OO.

  14. sg

    It’s bullying plain and simple. Scumbags.

  15. Ken Lovell

    Kim @ 11 given the tiny and diminishing readership of ‘The Australian’, I surmise that any story that provokes posts at LP and several other blogs is a journalistic triumph. I’m sure James Massola, whoever he is, is getting hearty congratulations from colleagues. But ultimately it’s a matter of editorial judgement whether something is newsworthy or not.

    The petty motivation for the story is pretty self-evident, but that’s a different issue altogether to whether it was ethical.

  16. Katz

    In theory, yes. But in practise, and in my own personal experience, at least one state government will lean heavily on any of their public servants commenting on issues that are exclusively the domain of federal government.

    But presumably this applies only if the state public servant purports to speak as a state public servant, not a private citizen or resident of Australia.

  17. Bilko

    re ken [email protected] [The petty motivation for the story is pretty self-evident, but that’s a different issue altogether to whether it was ethical.] What would the Oz know about ethics, Grog is doing a fine no correct that a great Job. He has hit a nerve with the MSM and if only like the ABC, worth caps today, the other media lift their game, not that I expect the Murdoch media to, then he has by his comments raised not only standards but the profile of the 5th estate.
    He deserves a medal and I am hanging on waiting with baited breath for his first QT report of the new parliament this week. Keep on blogging Grog we are all firmly support you.

  18. moz

    @Ken, that’s the finest defence of the argument from authority that I’ve read for a long time. Forget about the substance, feel the quality! Take a look at the label!
    Meanwhile, those who care about what’s being said can read whatever they like.
    (amusingly, I was once kicked off a no-anonymous-posts mailing list because the owner refused to believe that my name was real. It’s a slippery slope you’re starting down when you need to know someone’s “real name” before you’re willing to listen to them).

  19. The Feral Abacus

    Katz @ 17, that was not the case. There was nothing in my comments linking me to my then employer, and my comments were on a matter entirely unrelated to my work activities.

    Governments are highly averse to any form of potential criticism. They are utilising the services of media monitoring firms to cross-check the identities of commenters with employee list, and acting on any matches they identify.

  20. Fran Barlow

    [email protected]

    Here I am going to disagree. While it is fair enough for someone readiong the remarks of an anonymous blogger with caveats on the reliability or standing of the person, the reality is that blogging in your own name carries serious risks, and not just to yourself.

    I blog anonymously, in part because I want the freedom to comment on things that might reflect poorly on my employer, the DET, or my partner’s employer, a university in NSW. I may wish to speak of a student or fellow staffmember without prejudicing her or his privacy. And I certainly don’t want ewither my school or the DET to be deemed responsible for any claim I might make.

    It’s a wacky world out there and if only takes one unhinged nutbag to make a mess of the personal space of people who are in your mileue. If you say controversial things — and to paraphrase — I say six controversial things before breakfast — that is key.

    Just the other day over in twitter, I had a number of people demanding to know where I worked so they could “withdraw their kids” from the remit of the radical teacher and presmuably harass my principal.

    People may rely less on what I say because I hide my true name, but all in all, I regard that as a fair trade in risk.

  21. Katz

    FA, I understand that any employer may heavy any employee, not necessarily with any legal authority, but on the contrary with illegal bullying tactics.

    An employee in your situation would have to be brave, and perhaps foolhardy, to face down his employer in the circumstances under discussion.

    Nevertheless, from a strictly legal point of view, an employer in the case under discussion would not have a leg to stand on were they challenged for attempting to silence an employee.

    Unfortunately, however, the law affords only token protection in such cases.

  22. Ken Lovell

    Kim I don’t believe it was pointless. It might provoke a wide-ranging discussion in the community about two important issues: the obligation or otherwise to honour a writer’s preferred anonymity, and the duty employees owe to their employer, if any, when writing online. The latter issue was also involved in the recent QUT incident.

    I suggest these are important issues worth serious discussion, although I doubt that was ‘The Australian’s’ purpose in publishing the story. But it’s the media’s job to just put stuff out there, it’s up to the community to talk about the implications. Reacting emotionally to individual incidents doesn’t make for sound principles.

  23. Helen

    Ken, this has been extensively discussed on the internuts before. Google “Kathy Sierra” and “Jill Filipovic”. People aren’t from the dominant social group, people who fear a stalkery ex… there are quite a few categories of people who just won’t or can’t speak up under their own name for fear of retribution. And how can I be sure your real name is Ken Lovell, anyway?

  24. The Feral Abacus

    Thanks Katz – I thought that was probably the case. The other consideration is that many people in similar situations are contract employees. So the employer holds a big stick with a 1-2 year time delay.

  25. joe2

    “And how can I be sure your real name is Ken Lovell, anyway?”

    Well he looks just like what a Ken Lovell would look like.

  26. Ken Lovell

    Fran @ 22 I don’t pretend the arguments are all one way. They aren’t. But anonymous blogging also gives you licence, should you care to take it, to make reckless, untrue or wilfully malicious assertions about the DET without any fear of personal repercussions. Please note I am not suggesting you do this, only that there is nothing to stop you.

    The MSM is riddled with stories based on nothing more substantial than sources-who-declined-to-be-named. I would have hoped that blogging could give us more transparent sources of information, not more of the same.

    Moz @ 20 you might have misunderstood my argument. I’m not arguing in favour of accepting something without question on the basis of the person who said it. I’m arguing that “Kevin Rudd is an unhinged control freak” for example is more persuasive if I read it from a named staffer than from an anonymous source who claims they used to work in his office.

  27. Sam

    Fran 22, if you’ve revealed about yourself is true, it shouldn’t be hard to identify you, should anyone be inclined. You’re an ex Spart IT teacher in her early 50s who lives in the electorate of Bennelong and has two children.

    Of course, for all anyone knows, you might be an 85 year old ex army major who blogs from his room in a nursing home at Townsville.

  28. Ken Lovell

    Heh Helen @ 26 you could do it without any trouble at all if it’s important to you. The question of course is whether it’s worth the trouble, and in most cases it’s not.

    I’ve never taken much interest in the identity of the people who post here for example. But should someone reveal one day that the Libs have a secret deal with Sarah Palin to take all America’s nuclear waste when she becomes president, the community should be very concerned to verify the poster’s identity without delay. Otherwise we end up chasing endless fabrications of the Gordon Gretch and Haneef Mahomed variety.

  29. moz

    [email protected]: I still see it as the argument from authority – you’re saying that an argument has more or less force based purely on who makes it. Not based on anything they’ve actually done or said in the past, but purely on whether they are willing (or able) to prove their identity to you.
    My second point was that the whole “prove their identity” is a can of worms that perhaps have not thought through. What counts as a “real name” on the internet, and how do you verify it?

    Your latest example is IMO very poor. In that specific case you’re setting the bar very high – you’re asking someone to step up and risk being victimised by a powerful and unhinged control freak just to validate your unwillingness to accept reports from people who want to remain anonymous. Wow. Even the courts would generally allow anonyimity in that case.
    I don’t have the ability to verify the identity of most sources, which makes that condition moot. So I’m left with reading critically and checking facts when they seem odd. Otherwise I’m in the odd position of regarding someone like “Ken Lovell” as more reliable than “Fran Barlow”, purely because she claims that is not her real name but you claim the former is yours. It’s entirely possible that both of you are lying.

  30. 85 year old ex army major who blogs from his room in a nursing home at Townsville

    Gah!!

    Outed!!!

  31. Mr Denmore

    The integrity of someone’s observations is usually clear from the context and manner in which they write, whether or not their work is in their own name.

    I have participated in forums like this and set up my own blog on the media The Failed Estate, but like Fran Barlow I chose to do it under an assumed name because I need to keep it separate from my professional life and do not want to give the impression that my views reflect those of my employer.

    That seems entirely appropriate. The bigger issue, as I see it, is in abusing the power of anonymity to abuse, defame or slander people or to peddle deliberate misinformation in pursuit of a cause. Then again, the mainstream media journalists, using their own names, frequently do this themselves, so there is no magic power of integrity from writing under your own name.

    The other issue not being mentioned is blogging and posting on blogs such as this on one’s employer’s time, which is why it might be a good opportunity to duck out for a sandwich.

  32. silkworm

    According to the lone comment @ Tim Dunlop:

    @annabelcrabb, @bennpackham and other Journalist’s have already been out defending @jamesmassola piece.

    I’d like to hear Crabb’s justification of Massola’s piece.

    What Massola has done is unforgivable. As Patrickg has said, it is simply an act of petty bastardry. It is vindictive. It is also partisan, confirming what we already know about the Murdoch press. Massola’s piece brings News Ltd into further disrepute.

  33. Liam

    I think it’s reasonable for a journalist to report the true identity of anyone who does anything in the public sphere under a pseudonym

    What if, however, you’re a senior public figure, let’s say, the NSW Minister for Transport, and you (once again, let’s say) make a visit to a sex club, and don’t bother to avoid the clandestine surveillance you didn’t know about and (once again, purely for argument’s sake) your Government pissed off the network’s senior political journalist by sacking him several months before.
    Reasonable?

  34. joe2

    Have some sympathy for James Massola. When he is outed as a writer for The Australian, at a party, it must be like being sprung for letting loose one the most deadly of farts in a room full of strangers.

  35. Ken Lovell

    Moz @ 33 I must be expressing myself very badly. I am not ‘saying that an argument has more or less force based purely on who makes it’ at all. Arguments should be weighed on their intrinsic merits, but one of the relevant factors is the validity and reliability of the information that someone was drawing on to inform their argument.

    It would be very tedious and impracticable if we had to set out all the facts we were relying on every time we expressed an opinion and their sources and of course we don’t even try when blogging (as opposed to academic discourse). Someone’s identity however tells us a lot about the information they have access to and we use it as a rough guide for whether they indeed ‘know what they are talking about’.

    This doesn’t mean their arguments should be accepted at face value; quite the contrary. It merely provides a useful filter to decide whether their arguments are even worth reading.

    But this is all getting beside the point. The key issue is whether someone who elects to enter a public discussion anonymously can thereby impose an ethical obligation on third parties to respect their preference. I don’t see how they can or why they should be able to.

  36. Ken Lovell

    Liam @ 36 can we stick to the topic of the post for once?

  37. kuke

    @37 Gold Joe2.

    I’ll simply add some pearls of encouragement: “So do not be afraid of them [Greg]. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” – Matt 10:26

    So to continue on from Paul’s comments @3, he should continue to blog in a personal fashion, with all necessary disclaimers and avoid stuff directly related to his own job (as I do).

  38. Fran Barlow

    Sam said:

    Of course, for all anyone knows, you might be an 85 year old ex army major who blogs from his room in a nursing home at Townsville.

    Man you’re good! Excuse me, have to go as the nurse is coming …

  39. hannah's dad

    Once again the OO has shown itself to be capable of pure unmitigated bastardry.

    Does anyone here doubt their base motivation?
    Revenge, arrogance, petty vindictiveness.

    On the issues of ethics, honesty, integrity, logic, political nous grog is far superior to the OO.

    I read his stuff every day.
    I never read the OO or its ilk.

    Add jealousy to the list of their motivations.

    Somebody has gptta do somethin’ about the mass media in this country.
    Its toxic.

  40. Robert Merkel

    But should someone reveal one day that the Libs have a secret deal with Sarah Palin to take all America’s nuclear waste when she becomes president, the community should be very concerned to verify the poster’s identity without delay.

    But that’s precisely not what Grog has done, in my experience.

    Pretty much everything he writes about is based on publicly available information.

    As such, the credibility of his public writings has nothing to do with his real name.

  41. Ken Lovell

    Robert @ 43 that might well be true – I wouldn’t know, I have never read his blog – but I don’t see how his credibility is related to his right to anonymity. Now if you are arguing that ‘The Australian’ should not have published this particular story for reasons of good taste or whatever I have no opinion. I’m trying, obviously with limited success, to make points about the general principles associated with anonymous blogging.

    To re-state: IMHO anyone can blog anonymously if they choose but they cannot thereby impose a unilateral obligation on anyone else to respect their anonymity. As Helen says @ 26 it’s not the first time bloggers have had this discussion but clearly there is as yet no consensus. As a matter of practicality, the more people read an anonymous blog, the more likely it is that someone will reveal the author’s identity. On balance, I believe this is a good thing, accepting that there are circumstances where disclosing a blogger’s identity can cause harm without sufficient (or any) countervailing benefit.

  42. silkworm

    Kim, I see nothing in his article that justifies the statement that “Grog will stop blogging.” Grog only says:

    So what now? Well we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted. I hope I can keep blogging even if it is just on sport, films, books and the media (geez, there’s some ample material).

  43. Joe Public

    I would be interested to see a list of Public Servants who hold Liberal party membership and am expecting said list to soon appear in The Australian in the name of public interest.

  44. Liam

    85 year old ex army major who blogs from his room in a nursing home at Townsville

    I should have guessed, Helen.
    “When the drums begin to roll, boys
    The drums begin to roll…” etc.

  45. moz

    Robert, it’s actually worse than that – he has a consistent history of being conservative about the claims he makes, and of backing them up with reference to publicly available information (he even links to much of it!). Which makes the claim that he’s been hiding information that would have a critical effect on his credibility somewhat hard to accept.

  46. Craig Thomler

    Hi Kim,

    I have a fuller list of posts on this topic over at my blog: http://egovau.blogspot.com/2010/09/when-traditional-media-exposes-public.html

    Cheers,

    Craig

  47. hannah's dad

    As is usual with media generated brouhahas the discussion runs round and round in circles and spirals with the essential core of the issue being, perhaps deliberately, avoided or missed or obfuscated.

    The cental issue is that of power.
    Political power.

    The OO has it.
    Grog threatened their power [miniscule of course but nevertheless a threat].
    Therefore he must be destroyed.

    Should the OO, and its ilk, be allowed to exercise this power?

  48. Razor

    The Noddy went to a public conference??

    I thought everyone learned as a kid that of you wanted to keep a secret then you didn’t tell anyone.

  49. moz

    Ken, I think you’re mistaking “identity” for “history”. What lets us shortcut the process of evaluating the credibility of an opinion is what we know about the opinionator. If I give you a random “real name” you know nothing about the person that you didn’t know before (although you may apply new prejudices). As we read pieces by a given commentator we build a picture of them and that flavours our response to their latest piece. The names on their various identity documents aren’t a useful part of that except insofar as they assist continuity of the history. Arguably we might speed up this process if the disclosure goes beyond a name and into “Dr Fred, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Ancient Runes, Central Tilba TAFE” but that’s not what you’re asking for.

    When it comes to the reality of insecure employment and the blurry lines between private lives and work that our society is currently struggling with, I think an obligation to respect anonymity is actually justifiable. Allowing the privileged to dictate the terms of engagement is rarely egalitarian – in this case just because some people are in a position where having everyone they know link them to their blog posts doesn’t mean that everyone is so fortunate.

    While it would be a shame if Grog’s Gamut had to stop blogging, that’s actually fairly cheap in the bigger scheme of things. People have lost their jobs, been made bankrupt and there’s one well-publicised case in Iran right now where someone stands to be executed. Just how far up that cost scale should we go to make you comfortable?

  50. Incurious and Unread

    What is to stop Grog’s Gamut starting up a new blog under a new pseudonym?

    He will lose his audience, of course.

    But how about if he posted on another, existing blog, with a similar audience? Only the blog owner need know his previous identity.

    Since, as we have heard upthread, his identity is quite unrelated to the power of his argument, he should be just as effective as before.

    Any takers?

  51. Ken Lovell

    Yeah OK moz my argument is all about my comfort and Iranians being executed. Whatever you say dude.

  52. borisN

    So Grog’s Gamut had an excellent blog with lots of followers. I did not read it because I did not know about it, I hope he keeps writing, he will certainly have even more readers now.

    I would be grateful if people posted the names of other good political blogs, so those of us that don’t know them can follow them (before the oz outs them and they stop writing). How do people find those blogs?

  53. Lefty E

    Id just point out tnat cotnrary to the OO’s implication – there’s nothing at all wrong with a public servant anonymously running a private blog, irrespective of whether it is ‘partisan’ or not.

    The only problem would be if he was making partisan commentary openly from his public position as a servant of the crown.

    Which he wasnt.

  54. Ken Lovell

    Let me pose a hypothetical. Say there’s a gay rights rally in Brisbane. I want to attend and say a few words but for my own private reasons, I prefer to do so anonymously. I put on a wig and a false nose and motor up to the rally. I get the microphone eventually and I’m halfway through my impassioned speech when someone pipes up “Hey that’s Ken Lovell, he teaches at Griffith University”.

    I’m mortified. I’m angry. I worry that my students might find out. I’m worried that my employer might find out. I really wish I hadn’t been outed.

    But in all good conscience I couldn’t go and confront the person who recognised me and accuse them of acting badly. What am I supposed to say, “Hey you could see I was in disguise, you were therefore under an obligation not to reveal my identity.” S/he would justifiably respond “Why?”, to which I would have no reasonable answer.

    If you participate in a public discussion, one of the risks you run is that people will want to know who you are. You can’t unilaterally impose a condition that everyone else has to play by your rules. None of which, as I’ve said already, is to excuse malicious or immature or irresponsible behaviour in individual situations.

  55. Helen

    But in all good conscience I couldn’t go and confront the person who recognised me and accuse them of acting badly. What am I supposed to say, “Hey you could see I was in disguise, you were therefore under an obligation not to reveal my identity.” S/he would justifiably respond “Why?”, to which I would have no reasonable answer.

    I suppose the concept of “not being a complete asshole” has no resonance here?

  56. Brett

    I’m mortified. I’m angry. I worry that my students might find out. I’m worried that my employer might find out. I really wish I hadn’t been outed.

    But in all good conscience I couldn’t go and confront the person who recognised me and accuse them of acting badly. What am I supposed to say, “Hey you could see I was in disguise, you were therefore under an obligation not to reveal my identity.” S/he would justifiably respond “Why?”, to which I would have no reasonable answer.

    Why would you not say to them, ‘I worry that my students might find out. I’m worried that my employer might find out’, and explain why you’re worried? Is that not a reasonable — if not necessarily compelling — answer?

    And it’s one thing for them to recognise you and utter your name to bystanders, and another entirely to print it in a national newspaper and make a song and dance about how it’s in the public interest to do so.

  57. moz

    Ken, if “someone piped up” that you’re the famed anti-gay agitator Ken Lovell in disguise, then yes, questions should be asked (about the truth of the statement as well as how we perceive your speech if the claim is true). I’d probably defend your right to make the address in disguise, but would probably suggest doing so via recording or remote transmission (I’ve seen both used at rallies).
    In this case, The Australian has piped up with an equally vacuous attack based on a misunderstanding of the PSA rules (let’s assume incompetance rather than malice), and doesn’t seem to have a good reason to do so. “we don’t like what you say but don’t have a good argument against it” is not a good reason in my opinion.
    As far as If you participate in a public discussion, one of the risks you run is that people will want to know who you are, we’ve got pretty solid rules about that in some places already (the current Demi Moore lawsuit is an example of social rules about privacy being formailised, for example). Why those rules shouldn’t cover anonymous blogging I do not know. If you have concrete reasons why not I’d still like to hear them.

  58. Ken Lovell

    Possibly Helen but it’s irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make, obviously with no success, so I won’t keep on about it … now what was the PC comment? Oh yeah I remember.

    The OO’s journos are all bastards! Yeah damn right, shoot them all.

  59. hannah's dad

    Pretty lousy hypo analogy Ken.

    For starters the person, and the corporation, who ‘exposed’ Grog did so with malicious forethought in an attempt to discredit him because as one commenter at Grog’s Gamut put it, they are scared of him.
    He makes them look bad by comparison.
    You omitted these essential elements from your hypo.

    Its actually a different ball game altogether.

  60. silkworm

    I’m interested to know what changes Mark Scott made at the ABC as a result of Grog’s comments, and why such changes were deemed undesirable by the right-wing commentariat.

  61. dylan agh

    they are scared and are starting to panic. they miss people like me and my 15+ newspaper a week habit, down to one or two a week thank you very much. linkbait is not working as well as it used to and the cheer squads, esp some of the murdochracy ones are feral and unpleasant.

    I chose a moniker ’cause i’ve spent most of the last 25 years working with violent young men with little impulse control and righteous grudge bearing capabilities. it seemed sensible. i can think of a bunch of other sensible reasons. i’ve put it aside now for reasons expressed elsewhere, but it seems a good day for it.

    Sure the OO had a right to out Grog, JM may even have heard someone else was going to do so and wanted it for himself, but it is hugely disrespectful and given some of their behaviour lately more than a little hypocritical.

  62. Katz
  63. WD40

    “Say there’s a gay rights rally in Brisbane. I want to attend and say a few words but for my own private reasons, I prefer to do so anonymously. I put on a wig and a false nose and motor up to the rally.”

    That is probably too much information, thanks Ken.

  64. AdamTucker

    Incurious & Unread @5 – it is quite standard and not difficult for a public servant to hold and express strong political views and still perform their job impartially. In the same way that a barrister will professionally represent and fight for an odious client, or a doctor treat a war criminal.

  65. Ken Lovell

    Hannah’s dad @ 63 the question I asked was why the outer was ‘under an obligation not to reveal my identity’, as a hypothetical supporting the question of why people have any kind of general obligation to respect the anonymity of people participating in public forums just because those people want to be anonymous. It wasn’t an attempted analogy to this case, as you suggest. I explicitly recognised that in individual instances, there might be ‘malicious or immature or irresponsible behaviour’. That doesn’t affect the general point I was making.

    Similarly Brett @ 60 I don’t see how describing my distress explains why my outer was under an obligation not to identify me. “You’d better get a proper disguise next time then” would be a sensible response. If Grog’s Gamut was genuinely concerned to maintain his anonymity, he went about it in a strange way. It’s not like the reporter bribed his ISP or hired private detectives to tap his connection.

    I find the thread eerily reminiscent of attempts to lead discussions of ethical reasoning in the classroom. Nobody wants to talk in terms of general principles that are capable of guiding behaviour in all times and places; everyone insists on reducing the discussion to the facts of particular cases and analysing ethical behaviour mainly in terms of the perceived motives of the actors and/or whether they are likeable. It’s quite depressing.

  66. joe2

    “I’m interested to know what changes Mark Scott made at the ABC as a result of Grog’s comments, and why such changes were deemed undesirable by the right-wing commentariat.”

    It sure beats me [email protected] I read the Scott Report, on election coverage a number of times for my sins, and it seems to be the bit where he mentions “candidate following”, obsessing “with the transient” and the constant “scandal of the day” loving.

    To which, “quite a bit of beard stroking”, he offered, was the only thing done.

    I suppose, in answer to your question, the right-wing commentariat has a direct objection to the beard because it is imagined to be a mark of the modern leftist. They clearly have no objection to stroking.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/09/03/3001302.htm

  67. Brett

    Similarly Brett @ 60 I don’t see how describing my distress explains why my outer was under an obligation not to identify me. “You’d better get a proper disguise next time then” would be a sensible response.

    Sure. But it’s a reasonable answer which they could weigh against all the other, no doubt excellent, reasons they have for outing you. Isn’t it possible that your fear of discrimination would (should) outweigh whatever reasons those might be?

    Perhaps everyone insists on reducing everything to the facts of particular cases because, in this particular case, we are talking about a particular case. To put it another way, how would you apply your general principles to this particular case?

  68. Ken Lovell

    Brett @ 69 this is becoming tiresome and circular and I won’t pursue it any more. I’ve stated the general principle a number of times; applying it in this particular case means that Massola and ‘The Australian’ had no obligation to respect Grog’s Gamut’s anonymity. Their behaviour may well be open to criticism on other grounds but I have no wish to enter that discussion.

  69. Incurious and Unread

    Adam @67,

    can you give me some examples?

  70. Kaf

    Surely every Australian hads the right to express his/her political opinion regardless opf occupation.

    Depends where you work. At many companies, especially multi-nat’s, signing away that right is part of the employment agreement.

    An Australian working for IBM can’t attend an anti-IBM rally without violating their employment contract. A Telstra worker is in the same situation. It’s quite common.

  71. Helen

    The thing I find cheering in this whole mess is that checking Massola’s stupid article (no, they never post my comments – heh) I see the majority of comments are along the lines of

    journalists would do well to read his stuff and lift their game…

    …a blog, by the way, worth reading by leaps and bounds compared to the Australian..

    …Thank you guys at the Oz. I had not heard of this blog. However I am going to go out of my way to read it from now on…

    …What about instead of outing this guy and gunning for him to lose his job for writing well reasoned and researched commentary you give him a blog on this newspaper?..

    etc.

    For once, defenders of better political writing are drowning out the usual News Ltd dittohead commentary.

  72. Peter Wood

    An Onymous Lefty makes a really good point that this behaviour from The Australian is a form of bullying. It makes me wonder how much other bullying goes on in that organisation.

  73. Fiona Reynolds

    Peter Wood, surely the powers-that-wannabe at the OO would all endorse Mr Abbott’s espousal of a “kinder, gentler” media?

  74. Michael

    So all Editorials at The Oz will now have a name attached to them – in the public interest of course.

  75. Lefty E

    Hang on, let me get this straight: the OO is criticizing someone for pushing a political barrow at their workplace?

    Irony is deadburiedcremated.

  76. Andrew E

    This could well be the most important thing James Massola has ever done, and will do. He can look back on this and say: I was a real journalist.

  77. Chris

    In general I think whether or not revealing the real identity of someone reporting/blogging is in the public interest depends on the influence of the reporter/blogger both as a reporter/blogger and in their other life. The more influence and power they have, the more it is in the public interested for it to be public knowledge. We expect to know who owns the newspapers and television stations for example.

    From Grog Gamut’s blog:

    As for others at the conference, I didn’t out myself at all to any journalists – a few people asked at the post event drinks (by which time all the journalists had left) if I was Grog’s Gamut, I said I was. Strangely none of them gave a stuff what my real name was.

    That doesn’t sound like someone, who at least before being outed, who was greatly concerned about remaining anonymous.

    He admits that he wrote about things his own department had worked on, though without any reference to anything that was not already public. Say during the time when latest safety problems at Toyota were in the news someone who worked for Toyota was publicly, but anonymously defending Toyota’s car safety record using only publicly available information. I think many people would believe that knowing who they worked for was actually in the public interest.

    Kaf @ 76 – is that really true? industrial action at large companies is not uncommon and that could be considered an anti-company rally.

  78. j_p_z

    It’s an interesting issue, and an interesting thread. Ken Lovell raises some questions that are well worth pondering. My suspicion is that he’s got the wrong end of the stick on this one, but a hunch is not an argument, so let’s see if I can tease out some actual reasons for thinking so.

    A couple of general thoughts, before I address Ken’s hypothetical…

    In a fictional democratic society which faithfully respected the full spectrum of all its citizens’ rights, and had, as it were, a universally upheld code of honor for so doing, we would all be able to to speak with confidence, openly in the public sphere, on any issue we desired, with no fear of retaliation.

    But we all know that this is an ideal, and is not the actual case. Retaliation for publicly holding a proscribed opinion, even in ostensibly free societies, happens all the time whether we like it or not, whether we think so or not. A few recent examples in the US from all over the political and professional spectrum: James Watson, Van Jones, Larry Summers, Molly Norris, Derek Fenton.

    Now granted that a strict interpretation of “freedom of speech” can be taken to mean only “freedom from retaliation by the State.” But if the State inserts itself into our lives at all levels, on an increasing basis, and claims prerogatives by inference, by whim, or by ommission (for example, Molly Norris has been driven into hiding at least in part by the State’s assertion that it could not and would not protect her despite its clear duty to do so; this is a State action by ommission) then we increasingly must be on our guard about everything, the famous “chilling effect”. This is not even taking into account the practical aspects of private retaliation, things like job loss, which though not State actions, certainly represent a chilling effect all the same (and which therefore have a civic relevance).

    Now many courageous individuals will still be willing to stake their turf publicly and damn the consequences; but a quick review of human nature reminds us that we are not a society comprised of lions only. It would appear that pseudonymity in many matters would be a reasonable precaution taken by those who wish to be heard but are not so keen to made examples over it.

    In other words, the general acceptance of pseudonymity has the practical net effect of expanding and increasing the overall sphere of speech, as it encourages the inclusion of the opinionated but risk-averse.

    So then it becomes a question of priorities. And all societies do prioritize, in one way or another. In Western societies we place a very high value on individual liberty, of which open speech is a prime index. In my view, expanding and enhancing the sphere of public speech is a very high public good; it may on rare occasions be trumped by other concerns, but arguments in favor of limiting it would have to be grave, detailed, and extremely well argued. I wonder if Ken can state clearly what principle it is, what public good, which he thinks overrides this fundamental concern.

    In other words, when Ken argues that a pseudonymous speaker cannot impose a pact unilaterally with his audience to respect his wishes, he may be correct on narrow legal grounds, but whether his principle will stand, depends on its place in a hierarchy of priorities.

    In Ken’s hypothetical, he appears speaking in public, on a controversial matter, but in disguise. To my mind, the very fact that he has chosen to wear a disguise is (or should be) a clear indicator: he is saying, in effect, “I have reasonable grounds to fear retaliation for my speech act.” It makes him, in a way, a kind of intellectual asylum seeker. (Let’s stay in the realm of speaking civilly on public matters, and leave aside for the moment the trickier issues like slander.) By wearing the disguise, he has in effect made a sort of human-rights claim to sanctuary. Whether the law as it currently stands is obliged to respect this I don’t know; but I think the ethical argument in favor of respecting his claim is at least solid. I’d like to hear the counter-argument though.

    More to say but this is getting long.

  79. Tom R

    I’m with those who call this an act of bastardry. Grog was a private citizen, not a public figure (at least not before his outing). His identity was of no interest to the general public. His name means nothing and even learning of his job is a big “So what?” [*]

    Different if, say, it turned out that, oh I dunno, a hamfistedly “pro-Gillard” blog were actually a false flag operation ghosted by Jessica Rudd.

    Ken: it’s not just your own privacy you would be waiving. Your spouse, too, your children and your relatives might not appreciate being linked with your views. I know people who got picked on at school because they had a parent who got letters to the editor published.

    News.Ltd’s motive seems to be primarily vindictive. I’d call this worse than Plamegate, because at least there there was some shred of public interest in outing Wilson’s spouse’s job, if not her identity (“The CIA didn’t just pick Joe Wilson from some worldwide list of Wise Men: they picked him because his wife works for The Company”).

    As for Mr Massmedia, just wondering if maybe Anonymous/4chan might… No, scrub that. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    ___________________________

    [*] Except to a lot of Bolt comboxers who seem to assume anything a public servant ever writes must be done at work using Commonwealth-funded computers. Like no one in the private sector ever used (a) their corporate boss’s equipment, or (b) equipment they’d told the taxman was strictly for their home business, for non-work purposes… I wonder how many of these “if you’re a public employee, everything you do is presumptively misappropriation of MY TAXES” purists used to vote for Bjelke-Petersen?

  80. Tom R

    J_p_z’s mention @88 of Molly Norris also raises the question: Surely the Bolt peanut gallery must stop and think: Hey, this could bite me one day. A lot of crazy Islamic extremists out there, for example (in absolute numbers: 0.01% of 1.57 billion is still 150,000+ people). Plenty of Tim Blair followers post under obvious pseudonyms and, like the Boltsheviks, these guys are keenly aware of what happened to Theo Van Gogh…

  81. Ken Lovell

    J_p_z @ 88 I’ve already contributed more than my fair share to the discussion and I won’t respond to everything you wrote. Your introduction of legal obligations is a furphy – clearly I did not refer to them and I don’t intend to. Conflating legal obligations with ethical or moral ones is, interestingly, another very common feature of classroom discussions of ethics, and managers frequently adopt an ‘if it’s not illegal then it’s ethical’ attitude. Leaving ethics to lawyers is the ultimate form of outsourcing.

    Much of your argument depends on the belief that anonymous voices are an intrinsic public good; I don’t agree.

    If the only reason people sought anonymity was reasonable fear of victimisation then you would have a point but of course it is far from the only reason. People also like the cloak of anonymity because it relieves them of personal accountability for the consequences of what they write. It lets them publish persuasive-sounding nonsense concerning matters of which they are wholly ignorant, without readers being able to verify their expertise or lack thereof. More sinisterly, it lets them conceal the fact that they have a vested interest in an issue and are concerned only to distort the truth and tell outright lies for the purpose of misleading readers. None of these kinds of publications add to the public good; quite the contrary.

    As I said earlier I accept that the arguments are not all one way. However whenever one wants to argue that somebody is obliged NOT to do something, which of course is a restriction on their liberty, the onus is on the person making the argument to justify it. I’m not convinced.

    By the way there is a hint in your comment that I would like somehow to restrict anonymous blogging. I favour nothing of the kind. People have every right to blog anonymously. I used to do it myself – much more successfully than Mr Jericho. I just don’t believe on balance that anyone is obliged to help them do it.

  82. anonymous

    I regard your case not to be a very strong one, Ken.

  83. Jacques de Molay

    For all his faults I think Stephen Conroy made a reasonable point on Q&A tonight. News Ltd went nuts (rightly) about Michael Atkinson trying to stop people from commenting anonymously on The Advertiser’s website during the SA election yet they “out” this guy (don’t know who he is or care) on the supposed basis the public have a right to know who he is.

  84. ewe2

    It’s true this could just be controversy for cash, but it’s extraordinarily short-sighted. After all, chilling effects are two-way: they may have their desired effect, but it also shuts down communication, as Tim Dunlop argues. Bloggers aren’t just being cannibalized for analysis, they’re being attacked for their success. I guess that means bloggers are winning.

    BTW I’m not really a penguin. And that photo is a bit dated.

  85. Tom R

    Eg, this:

    “The issue of continued anonymity has been Nekschot’s biggest worry all along. A public trial would have forced him to show his face, and that would have been tantamount to a death sentence. He remembers all too well what happened to two other Dutchmen who dared to offend the tender sensibilities of the religion of peace, the politician Pym Fortuyn and the film-maker Theo van Gogh, who were murdered in 2002 and 2004.”

    http://www.internationalfreepresssociety.org/2010/09/prosecutor-drops-case-against-dutch-cartoonist/

    Found via a right-wing blog. This Dutch cartoonist is a bigger political playa than G Jericho, public servant, is or was.

  86. Katz

    In Ken’s hypothetical, he appears speaking in public, on a controversial matter, but in disguise. To my mind, the very fact that he has chosen to wear a disguise is (or should be) a clear indicator: he is saying, in effect, “I have reasonable grounds to fear retaliation for my speech act.” It makes him, in a way, a kind of intellectual asylum seeker. (Let’s stay in the realm of speaking civilly on public matters, and leave aside for the moment the trickier issues like slander.) By wearing the disguise, he has in effect made a sort of human-rights claim to sanctuary. Whether the law as it currently stands is obliged to respect this I don’t know; but I think the ethical argument in favor of respecting his claim is at least solid. I’d like to hear the counter-argument though.

    Not quite Japerz (though let me say how impressed I was by your argument up to this point).

    The hypothetical proposed by KL is more problematic than you allow for. The disguise that you refer to was not any disguise. It was a particular and stipulated disguise, to wit: a wig and a false nose. Unless the wig was of the nature of a hairpiece that rendered KL into a replica of Cousin It and/or unless the false nose was of such a magnitude as to wander all over KL’s face, then it cannot be argued that these devices served the function of “disguise” at all.

    This observation raises two possibilities. Either the disguise adopted by KL failed at the level of execution, or the disguise was actually intended to excite curiosity as to the identity of the person so inadequately disguised.

    Now, imagine yourself in a position of a person in the audience listening to the speech made by the imperfectly disguised KL. What is that person expected to deduce from what s/he observes?

    Again there are two possibilities: the observer could conclude that KL really did not care enough to disguise himself adequately, or that KL was making some gesture to excite interest in his identity. In either case, it appears to me, that the observer has every reason to blurt out “Why, it’s KL!”

    But consider another hypothetical. Let us say that KL arrived at the event dressed in a burqa, and instead of speaking, evidently fearing that he may be identified by voice, he delivered his speech in sign language. In those circumstances he has clearly sought the sanctuary of which you speak.

    Which, of course, returns us to the interesting question of the function of the burqa…

  87. terangeree

    Katz @ 98:

    Thanks.

    Now I have an image of KL, disguised as Harpo Marx, standing on a platform and giving his speech by way of whistles, a lit candle in his trench-coat pocket, and a bicycle horn.

  88. Lefty E

    In case no one has linked: excellent piece by Mr Denmore here

    http://thefailedestate.blogspot.com/2010/09/empire-strikes-back.html