Blogging and the Ethics of Contact Information

A blogstorm erupted last evening over Michelle Malkin‘s decision to publish a press release from the Students Against War, the group who chased military recruiters off the UC Santa Cruz campus last week, including the contact information for the student organizers. Ezra Klein has the most reasonable of the critiques:

Rather than calling and speaking to them herself, which is what members of the press are supposed to use such releases for, Malkin published their personal information on her website, prompting her hordes of orcish mouth-breathers to brandish their pitchforks and inundate the unsuspecting students with death threats (some of which you can read here). When the students frantically called on Malkin to remove their numbers, she posted their contact information again.

The invaluable John Amato, who’s got some video from the scene, gets it right. Malkin, he writes, “crosse[d] the line of decency..the death threats are emanating from her blog and she knows it. Malkin understands the nature of the fear and outrage she causes. Will she take responsibility when somebody gets hurt?”

[…]

A skilled and experienced rhetorical warrior, she saw the pale, white flesh of their throats and lunged. The vicious always seek out the weak. Rather than forgive their poorly-written, too-revealing press release, she published their oversight, opening them to danger and harm. If any of these students are hurt by a crazed Malkinite, the blood will drip from her hands, the guilt will burden her shoulders. But forgive her just the same, for there is nought else she can do.

The problem, though, is that Malkin got the press release from the IndyMedia website and merely reproduced it. Indeed, the release and offending contact information are still there. SAW’s site prominently links IndyMedia, suggesting a collaborative relationship.

Dan Riehl argues that publishing the information nonetheless violates journalistic principles: “having written numerous press releases for one organization some time ago – the contact information is understood to not be for publication, but for press inquiries. That’s a fact of the trade. At least, it was.” In a Web world, though, I would argue that the ethics are somewhat different. The nature of blogging, in particular, is to provide as much background information as possible so that readers can delve into it if they chose.

I would think, too, that we would differentiate those who dig up and publicize the private information of people in the news, whether public officials or otherwise, from those who reprint press releases. The former is, in my view, clearly wrong. The latter? Not so much.

My own (until now, unstated) policy with regard to publishing contact information from emailers and press releases is that I do for public officials but not for private citizens. Thus, when I post on a press release from, say, a congressional office or a political campaign, I often make the entire contents of the press release, including the contact information, available, unless I have specifically been asked not to.

Responding to the criticism, Malkin herself notes that “the disclaimer on my contact page makes clear, ‘All e-mail is subject to print, including your name. If you don’t want me to publish your e-mail, or if you would like to remain anonymous, just let me know.’)” Further, despite claims made elsewhere, “not one of the three SAW students whose contact information is still publicly accessible across several websites has e-mailed me as of 12:30am EDT 4/18 to request that I remove anything.”

Malkin prints some of the hate mail she received in response to this flap, including the email addresses of the senders, and comments, “All this because I think the punks at UC Santa Cruz who ran our military recruiters off their campus should be held accountable.” So, clearly, she intended that readers would use that contact information to voice their opinions about the protests. Did she intend that idiots would make death threats, real or otherwise? Certainly not.

Malkin also found support from several DailyKos commenters, mostly in the spirit of all’s fair in love and war. More on that in a future post.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    No doubt she would feel ill used if someone published her phone number and she was on the receiving end of the same equation.

  2. ICallMasICM says:

    It’s a f’ing PRESS RELEASE. Sorry but the faux outrage is a joke.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Rick: I suspect that if she sent out a press release with her contact information on it, she would expect it to be published. Again, it’s not as if she hired a private detective to find those numbers–they were on the press release.

  4. Brian says:

    Is Malkin really naive enough to think that all of her readers would just “voice their opinions about the protests?” Come on! She knew exactly what would happen. Yes, it is true that the phone numbers are available elsewhere on the web. But you would think that somebody who was as traumatized as she was due to all of the death threats she received would be extra careful about putting others in that position.

    Malkin now knows about the horrible things being written to them. I really hope she doesn’t expect any sympathy the next time people write that crap to her.

  5. LJD says:

    She should have just posted the following:

    Looking to lynch a dirtbag hippie? Swing by Indymedia, your one-stop shop for crusty moonbat contact information…

    I have to say though, it’s nice to see all the concern about how our troops were treated by these imbeciles, and the violation of their right to do their job.

  6. Steven Plunk says:

    The children at UC Santa Cruz should heed the lesson. You are responsible for the things you do and say. If you make enough people angry you can expect a few of the more extreme to make threats. Welcome to the real world you spoiled brats.

    Now most of us know those threats are hollow and meant to scare. Most of us also know the kids have probably done the same kind of threatening during their political activism. So what’s the gripe again? College kids should get a pass for abusive behavior? Dissidents should remain anonymous?

    More should be exposed rather than letting them continue to operate in the shadows while they undermine our country and culture. Sunshine can’t hurt.

  7. Brian says:

    The gripe is:

    1) Nobody deserves this kind of treatment. It doesn’t matter if we all disagree with their actions. It doesn’t matter if they are liberal or conservative. Nobody deserves death threats. (This one has less to do with Malkin and is more a comment on the general situation)

    2) Malkin is very fond of complaining about the liberal moonbats when she receives threats (and she doesn’t deserve them, as I mentioned earlier). Therefore, she is an incredible hypocrite if she isn’t extra careful about her role in others being threatened.

  8. Andy Vance says:

    Malkin’s decision to publish the numbers can’t be taken out of the context of her oeuvre. Obviously, the risk to one’s health and safety would be greatly increased if Michael Savage broadcast a phone number as opposed to Terry Gross. Which reminds me of a description of talk radio I came across recently that fits bloggers like Malkin perfectly:

    They represent the pornography and violence of political discourseâ??a combination of exhibitionism and voyeurism intended to entertain us with opportunities to act out suppressed desires and to glimpse what we might be like if we allowed ourselves more leeway from what it means to be a well-socialized adult.

  9. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘But you would think that somebody who was as traumatized as she was due to all of the death threats she received would be extra careful about putting others in that position.’

    ‘she is an incredible hypocrite if she isnâ??t extra careful about her role in others being threatened.’

    Sorry but you’re full of sh#t. I guess she’s so traumatized that she routinely posts the eMails she gets from ‘progressives’ calling her a slant eyed C@nt. The faux outrage is even better when you see how many of the commenters on the Ezra crackpot hateblog are so upset with the threats of violence against the UCSC protesters that they want to kill her. Hypocrisy?

  10. Gawaine says:

    I supported her right up until the point where the release was taken out of the cache, and off the website, and she had to resort to a screen print to show it.

    If the point of the screen print was to prove (contrary to her detractor’s statements) that the info was from them, she could have photoshop burned the number, so it wouldn’t be viewable. By that point, though, I think it should have been clear that they weren’t interested.

  11. Brian says:

    Sorry but you�re full of sh#t. I guess she�s so traumatized that she routinely posts the eMails she gets from �progressives� calling her a slant eyed C@nt. The faux outrage is even better when you see how many of the commenters on the Ezra crackpot hateblog are so upset with the threats of violence against the UCSC protesters that they want to kill her. Hypocrisy?

    Hypocrisy? Yes. Believe it or not, it is possible that people on both sides of the political spectrum are being hypocritical at the same time. You’ll notice that I’m not threatening her, because then I would be a hypocrite.

    Have you ever seen her on the O’Reilly Factor? She does claim she is traumatized by the name calling and threats. And she probably is, as it is truly sick. That’s why she should be more careful when it comes to others.

    Just because I’m on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you does not mean my outrage is fake. Generally, death threats and name calling get me riled up no matter who is doing it.

  12. Back when I wrote unpleasant things about a certain anti-war protester at the President’s ranch, a group of lefty bloggers dug up my employer information and my home information then published it on the internet encouraging people to have me fired. I received lots and lots of death threats via email and lots of phone calls. I did not put my information in a press release.

    That these students have put their contact information in a press release, which is displayed at Indymedia too, makes me less sympathetic. I think the outrage is well overblown. Private information unreleased is one thing. Publicizing the information is a whole different ball of wax.

  13. ICallMasICM says:

    I guess she’s not really all that ‘traumatized’ because she pretty much continues along with her job. Maybe she’s just not a crybaby unlike the losers lying about how ‘outraged’ they are?

  14. Dan says:

    James,

    When I posted I hadn’t seen the Indymedia pages, which I found from commenting at CQ to Ed. Yes, that puts it in the public domain. Still, I have gotten crap for simply posting the email addy from a nasty email from a dead tree type.

    Perhaps it is a judgment call. But it’s difficult to believe Michele couldn’t predict what would happen with those numbers on her site, particularly given her own unfair experiences on the receiving end.

    While perhaps not “wrong” to have published them, it would have been the bigger thing. If I had done it, I do think I would have regretted it and taken them down – especially after the fall out. And I never would have published them, again.

    Michele has complained fairly often about being harrassed simply in email. I’ve no desire to see anyone bothered like that. But it will appear incredibly hypocritcal when she complains about her own email, again.

    You can’t deny her significant success. But I’m not willing to overlook the tone of her blog, either. Everything is Moonbat this, unhinged that. Given her visibility, I don’t know that it puts the best face on blogging unless the epitomy of American media is Fox. But that and her excellent blogging do draw traffic. Which, I believe more than anything, will keep many on the right from criticizing her, anyway. And we may never know how many read her for her quality blogging, or how many for the heat.

    Maybe it’s my diet, but a few less food fights works for me right now. ; ) But, then, to each their own. I certainly can have my rants at times, too.