LAT Columnist Suspended for Fake Blog Commenting

The Los Angeles Times announced Thursday that it is suspending the blog of a columnist after another blogger exposed him for posting comments under various pseudonyms defending both himself and the newspaper.

The columnist, Michael Hiltzik, had used at least three aliases on a number of sites (including his own blog), occasionally using them to converse with each other. Hiltzik was exposed by long-time LAT watcher Patrick Frey who blogs at Patterico's Pontifications.

"The Times has suspended Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State blog on latimes.com," the paper said in a posting. "Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper’s website, and on other websites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of The Times ethics guidelines, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public. The policy applies to both the print and online editions of the newspaper. The Times is investigating the postings."

Although supportive of Hiltzik's suspension, Frey is hesitant to declare total victory:

Another part of me is sad to see the blog suspended, even temporarily — not because it is (was?) a great blog (it’s not), but because I am afraid that this may mark the end of The Times’s experimentation with the Internet for quite some time. And that would be a very bad thing.

There is no better way to interact with readers than by using the Internet. And last year, when Michael Kinsley began an experiment with interactive editorials, or “wikitorials,” I supported the effort. When the first one was defaced by pornography, many declared the experiment a failure — but I believed that it had been a success, just because the paper had the guts to undertake it. [...]

What I wanted to see was blogs manned by honest reporters and columnists of all political persuasions, who would be willing to engage their reading audience on a personal level.

I still want to see that. But I’m afraid that this incident may have ensured that we won’t see any such blogs on the Times’s web site for a long time to come.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Times editors realize that their mistake was not the decision to allow a staff writer to operate a blog — it was the choice of Michael Hiltzik as that blogger. I hope that this is not the end of the paper’s experiment in using the Internet to interact with its readers. It is a noble experiment, and I want to see it continue.

Other responses: Howard Kurtz, Ed Morrisey, Jeff Goldstein, Darleeneisms. For a contrary pov, see Riehl World View.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013