Paul Mirengoff Leaves Power Line After Yaqui Indian Post

Power Line founder Paul Mirengoff has left the blog, after a controversial posting about the Tucson funeral service got him in hot water with his law firm.

William Jacobson has the details but the short version is that Mirengoff took issue with a Yaqui Indian tribal prayer at the memorial service, contending that a Christian prayer would have been more appropriate given the victims and the audience.  This caused one of Mirengoff’s fellow partners at Akin Gump, who’s a member of the Yaqui tribe, to issue an outraged statement, which in turn caused the firm to demand Mirengoff take down the post and issue an apology.

Presumably, Mirengoff decided at this point that continuing to express controversial opinions on a personal blog wasn’t worth the risk to a highly successful and lucrative legal career.  (It should be noted that the Power Line gang posted under rather silly pseudonyms in the early years of the site, so one imagines they’d considered that previously.)

Jacobson muses, “I can’t help but think that Mirengoff being a well-known conservative blogger contributed to the fauxtroversy and that there was a double standard.  If Mirengoff were a liberal blogger, and had made exactly the same comments but about having only a Christian preacher opening the memorial service for non-Christians, Mirengoff still would be blogging at Power Line.”

Stacy McCain concurs that this is “political correctness run amok” but thinks the more likely explanation is that Akin Gump has a number of major tribal and aboriginal lobbying clients and can’t afford to risk losing their business.

On the surface, it strikes me that Akin Gump overreacted to a minor incident.  But I don’t know enough about the firm’s clientele and business model to really evaluate. And, certainly, it has every right to control its public image, to include ensuring the partners don’t write embarrassing things in public fora.  Mirengoff is a labor law specialist with a distinguished record in the field and knows that.

Jeff Goldstein thinks the problem is more fundamental:  “If we’re going to pretend that language works in a way that it clearly doesn’t — and to institutionalize that idea into our very epistemology — what we will end up with is the slow erosion of our speech, as more and more of it becomes subject to ‘interpretations’ motivated by cynicism and a will to power.”   But I’m afraid that ship has long since sailed.  Language is subject to interpretation, and people will often come away with a different impression than the author/speaker intended.   That possibility has a chilling effect on our conversation about some subjects but it’s not at all clear how to prevent it happening.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. Matt says:

    James wrote:
    On the surface, it strikes me that Akin Gump overreacted to a minor incident. But I don’t know enough about the firm’s clientele and business model to really evaluate.

    If the comments had been made in private or over email, then this would might be true. We don’t know the personal history between the partner and Jacobson. But if Akin Gump does a significant amount of Tribal work, then this isn’t about insensitivity, it’s about flat out stupidity on Jacobson’s part (or one might say insensitivity to the lived realities of the firm). The threat of lost revenue to something that is on Google, or could be used by your competitors to steal businesses, is not something that most firms would accept.

    Those are th facts of being a part-time pundit. If punditry was Jacobson’s job, this type of controversy would largely help (there’s a quote, attributed to Rush Limbaugh that the fastest way to make a million dollars is get half the country to love your and half to hate you). However, when someone else is signing your paychecks, you have to be concerned about what they think about your content.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Matt: Right. I don’t think Mirengoff’s post was legitimately offensive but it could be misconstrued. And, certainly, there’s little advantage to the firm in him writing that sort of thing and posting it for all to see.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    This is why I fastidiously avoid talking about any topic that might touch my work in any way.

  4. Goldstein is also missing (or dismissing) the fact that the language in question was being interpreted in the context of personal and business relationships. Not only is it unavoidably the case language is open to interpretation, but context affects that interpretation.

  5. jpe says:

    The correct interpretation is that it was – and was intended to be – offensive. Let’s roll tape:

    It apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to ‘the creator’ but no mention of God.

    The only correct interpretation of this is that it conveys the sentiment “those wacky Indians and their godless ways.” Finding it more dumb than anything, it doesn’t bother me terribly, but I’d think a Yaqui would find it both dumb and offensive.

  6. PJ says:

    This isn’t something new. Employees get in trouble all the time because their employer object to something they write on their blog, facebook, etc. The difference here would be that Mirengoff is well known and that he got a choice, most other employees are just told to find work elsewhere.

    Now, I don’t regularly read Instapundit, so I can’t say that I’m familiar with their stance, but I would be surprised if they had, previously, written about the right of an employee to publically write about things that their employer would take offense to. So yeah, until someone actually can show me anything like that, I’m not going to cry for him. He still has his job.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Hey, this is a huge win-win for conservatives! Not only does it illustrate how important the “free market” is, certainly more important than free speech, but it also allows Mirengoff to play the victim, something that some of his fellow travelers already do very well…

  8. TG Chicago says:

    Yeah, it’s generally not a good idea to say that your clients’ faith is “ugly”. It’s actually not very enlightened to say that about other people’s faith even if they’re not your clients.

    And as far as Jacobson’s claim of a double-standard goes, I have a funny feeling that if a prominent left-leaning blogger called a Christian prayer “ugly” — not for its content, but just because it is a Christian prayer — the blogs on the right would be all over it.

    And of course, God *was* mentioned at the service. But it was Obama who made the mention, so in rightwingland, I guess that doesn’t count.

  9. nitpicker says:

    Yes, how could Native Americans not understand that Mirengoff didn’t intend offense by saying their faith was ugly and “the creator” (Mirengoff’s quotes) is somehow less than God. Oh why can’t they understand it’s only a cynical interpretation that could take offense to that?!

    Also, if a liberal blogger “had made exactly the same comments but about having only a Christian preacher opening the memorial service for non-Christians,” right wing bloggers most assuredly would have called for his drawing and quartering, he likely would have lost his job and that would have gone double for a liberal blogger whose firm represented, say, a major Christian organization.

  10. anirprof says:

    The Mirengoff post came up in a conversation I had with some DC attorneys I know soon after it first appeared, before the controversy became public. One of the guys was a former Akin-Gump associate himself and back then he predicted this would be a big deal internally because A-G does indeed have a very large Native American practice (representing tribes lobbying for casinos, litigation over mineral/energy royalties, etc).

    The others were generally astonished that A-G let him have such a public blog on political issues in the first place, given the potential to say something that could annoy clients — most of their firms explicitly prohibit activities akin to Mirengoff’s blogging.