April 21, 2006,
Every once in a while, I wake up to a media buffoonery story so delicious it feels like it’s Christmas in July and Santa’s just left me a big plate of bonbons for breakfast. But since I’m in Los Angeles, this is typically followed by the usual feeling that I’m constantly being seated in Siberia. Why oh why, I found myself thinking sadly the other week, can’t we have a disgraced, monocle-wearing gossip columnist like Jared Paul Stern?
The last scandal that even approached such a level of pure wonderfulness was the Hollywood Reporter’s freebie-loving George Christy, but that was five years ago. Why do all the tabloid-worthy tales have to be in New York?
Well, not this week, they’re not. Because on Thursday morning Patterico, a blogger and L.A city prosecutor obsessed with the liberal bias of the Los Angeles Times, revealed the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik to be an Internet “sock puppet” who regularly sings the praises of Hiltzik and blasts critics of Hiltzik’s employer or lefty politics under two assumed identities. The L.A. Times has now suspended Hiltzik’s blog, Golden State, on the paper’s website.
Hiltzik’s favorite blog-comments doppelganger is Mikekoshi, who Patterico noticed regularly “lobbed rude insults at folks known to be disliked by Hiltzik, such as Cathy Seipp, Hugh Hewitt and myself... Mikekoshi described Cathy Seipp as ‘a tool’ and as someone ‘hampered by her own ignorance.’” Hewitt, according to Mikekoshi, shouldn’t be allowed “loose in public without a muzzle,” and Patterico’s criticism of the Times is “dopey.”
Earlier this week, Patterico questioned Hiltzik’s suggestion that Hugh Hewitt’s blog traffic has been declining. Hiltzik, whose blog has no Sitemeter, noted that Hewitt’s Sitemeter recorded traffic on one day in April of just over 30,000 visitors, while on another day in February he’d drawn more than 40,000. (The blog Independent Sources effectively demolished Hiltzik’s selective stats via a rather convincing graph.) Hiltzik speculated that Hewitt’s “reactionary conservatism has become increasingly marginalized on the fringes of American political life.” Then on Patterico’s blog entry doubting that notion, a commenter called Nofanofcablecos insisted that “Hewitt’s losing readers because he’s a conservative crackpot.”
Apparently Hiltzik doesn’t realize that the IP addresses of Internet commenters are easily checked. After Googling Hiltzik and Mikekoshi and discovering that they both showed up on some sumo wrestling mailing list, Patterico noticed that Hiltzik clearly identified himself there as a Times financial writer with the message-board moniker of Mikekoshi. Patterico then saw that they also posted from the same IP addresses in his blog comments, and that Nofanofcablecos shares one of these with Mikekoshi.
“This just isn’t the way bloggers do things,” laments Patterico. Well, not if they think they’re going to get caught. But Hiltzik has something of a self-destructive history when it comes to online embarrassment.
As I noted in a January column here, Hiltzik lost his Times position as Moscow correspondent a dozen years ago, after he was discovered hacking into co-workers’ e-mail. That’s what brought him to the paper’s business section. I also wrote that he’s such a knee-jerk case he actually thinks the Left only criticizes newspapers for not doing their job well enough; the Right, he insists, complain when papers are trying to do their job at all. I first wrote about Hiltzik’s e-mail disgrace years ago for Buzz magazine, which I guess is why he thinks I’m hampered by my own ignorance.
Is there any defense at all for Hiltzik’s astonishingly narcisstic and embarrassing behavior? So far, three theories have emerged:
One: Hiltzik argued that because Patterico allows anonymous commenting on his blog, he is honor-bound not to reveal true identities even of dopplegangers who regularly and mysteriously praise the insights of Times business columnists. “Otherwise, he’s telling all his site visitors and commenters that they visit and post at their peril,” insisted Hiltzik. “If he doesn’t like what they say, he’ll invade their privacy (and concoct a ‘principled’ pretext for doing so).” Patterico is sensitive to criticism and therefore his “real goal” is to “quash debate on his blog,” added Hiltzik. “I hope his remaining readers are happy together.”
Two: One of Patterico’s commenters suggested that because Hiltzik used the online name Mikekoshi in that sumo-wrestling-group message board, he wasn’t hiding it when he wrote those Hiltzik-praising posts on blogs years later.
Three: Another Patterico commenter thought that perhaps Hiltzik’s kids, if he has kids, could have been defending their dad’s honor by posting from his home computer under pseudonyms when he wasn’t looking. This is credible only if you think that teenagers can easily mimic the writing style of boring middle-aged business columnists.
As it happens, I have some experience when it comes to teens posting in defense of their parents. A few years ago, my friend Luke Ford who’s featured this week in the L.A. Weekly’s 100 Most Interesting People in L.A. wrote a long piece about me on his site. My daughter Maia, using the pseudonym Cecile DuBois, wrote him to comment. (I made her use a pseudonym then because I thought she was too young to have her real name appear online, especially since Luke is not just a media junkie but also a porn-industry reporter.)
“Cecile” wrote: “Cathy Seipp is perhaps one of the wittiest writers in America... She harms no one and cracks the funny bones of all the educated people in America...”
She also praised my friend and colleague Jill Stewart, who has angered many on the Left for her contrarian column in the defunct alt-weekly New Times L.A.: “I would pick up New Times weekly as I would tread out of shops in L.A. With her fiery red hair and pale pallor over her humorous wit, I am fond of Jill Stewart.”
An anonymous commenter responded to this by e-mailing Luke with suspicions that Cecile must be me: “Cecile du Bois is just the kind of pompous nom de plume that would come from Ms. Seipp, who, if I recall correctly, had a brief career writing wildly inaccurate gossip about the L.A. Times under the ridiculous alias of Margo Magee.”
Now it’s true that I originally wrote my old Buzz column under the alias Margo Magee before I relaxed about it, just as Patterico used not to acknowledge his real name is Patrick Frey. But so what? I was shocked that anyone could have such a tin ear to think that Cecile could be me or in fact any adult, as at the time she was just 13 years old.
Back to Hiltzik. I noticed he’s picked up a new commenter named Cathysushi, who took issue with his conclusion that Patterico is actually going to lose readership for making him the laughingstock of media circles. She added: “I'm sorry that you don't appreciate Cathy Seipp, because in my unbiased opinion she is absolutely brilliant about everything in the entire universe.”
Really, this Cathysushi is awfully perceptive, and I hope she’ll start commenting on other blogs so her smart insights can be more widely shared. Anyone who disagrees is obviously just a dopey tool of those with opposing viewpoints.
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.