September 22, 2007

Something to Be Said for Bluebook Style Sourcing

by PG

I have complained about how the Bluebook's Rule 18 deals with blogs, but I must give the Evil Quadrumvirate credit in one respect: they recognize the potential for multiple authorship on a single blog. And people seem to be following Bluebook style at least in this respect, as the citations to De Novo in the aforementioned law reviews all noted which author had written the particular post being cited.

Contrast with Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) of Virginia, who cited the Democratic diary site as a source for his attack advertisement on his Democratic opponent, Rex Simmons. Del. Hugo sourced the negative remarks to the site as a whole, rather than to the particular commentator, leaving viewers with the false impression that the site's owners/ management -- who began the website in order to support now-Gov. Kaine, and have expanded it to cover progressive Virginia politics generally -- were opposed to Simmons. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. From the Washington Post article:

In an interview, Hugo defended the ad and said he will not pull it. He said the posting on Raising Kaine was not anonymous because it is widely known that "Pitin" is a Democratic activist who supported Simmons's opponent, Morris Meyer, in the Democratic primary. "It is not anonymous to me," Hugo said. "A lot of Democrats have said that Rex Simmons runs an appalling, negative campaign."
However, instead of sourcing the comments to "Nate de la Piedra, executive director of Next Generation Democrats," Hugo chose to source the comments to the site as a whole. His defense? "Hugo campaign advisers stressed that Pitin's entry is fair game because blogs are ultimately responsible for the comments that are posted on them."

Er, in what sense are blogs "ultimately responsible for the comments that are posted on them"? This isn't clearly true as a matter of, say, defamation law, particularly for a heavily trafficked site where no one is checking every post and comment. Diary sites like Raising Kaine have set up as quasi-newsstands; while the owner of the stand has his own opinions, they may not be reflected in everything purveyed there, and though he has no legal obligation to offer publications with which he disagrees, he also has no legal obligation to offer only publications with which he agrees. Even if Raising Kaine could be held legally liable for every word on the site, that still doesn't excuse the failure to source a statement to its known speaker.

"[Hugo campaign advisors] also said that much of future political advertising, especially in local races, probably will be sourced to blogs because that is where candidates and their supporters are migrating."

Their attitude is a good way to kill that trend. If the people who host websites have to fear that they will be held "ultimately responsible" for every comment made there, they have no incentive to allow anyone except themselves to speak. That reduces the ability to build a useful political community; candidates won't be hearing from their supporters (or opponents), and supporters are less likely to visit the site repeatedly if it offers no opportunity for stating their own opinions through diaries or comments.

September 22, 2007 06:16 PM | TrackBack
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