Harris/Jarvis email exchange

Hi, John,

We haven’t had the pleasure to meet yet. I hope you’ll be at PDF and we
can meet there. I blog at Buzzmachine.com, write a media column for the
Guardian, and teach journalism at CUNY in New York.

I want to draw your attention to something that just happened in my blog
involving a Politico staffer and also get your views for a post I’m
writing now about the ethic of identity online.

In this post —
http://buzzmachine.com/2008/06/05/breaking-journalisms-barrier/ — I
parenthetically criticized Michael Calderone’s criticism, in turn, of
Mayhill Fowler’s criticism, in turn, of Todd Purdum’s Vanity Fair
“hatchet job” — Fowler’s words — on Bill Clinton. Michael and I
disagree on a few points. In short order yesterday, he emailed me twice
and then called my mobile phone (good reporting to get my number). We
agree to disagree.

Moments after these exchanges, I returned home and found a comment on my
post from a “Mary.” I looked up the IP address and found it came from an
Allbritton domain. I responded to the comment and also pointed out that
it came from inside the company, noting the irony, given Calderone’s
allegation in Politico that Fowler had misrepresented herself to
Clinton. “Mary” was misrepresenting herself. I did not say that
Calderone had left the comment. After I posted, he emailed me saying
that he had not written it and I take him at his word. He said that a
colleague had and I asked the identity of that colleague. He would not
tell me. He then posted a comment on the post — by the way, I wish this
entire exchange had happened in public, where I prefer it to take place.
I noted that the two comments, by Mary and Calderone, came from the same
IP address. I then asked him point blank whether he had written the
original comment; he said he did not and, again, I take him at his word.
I suppose the address I see is a firewall.

This is a minor case of sockpuppetry done on behalf of Politico and I do
think you should know about. I would like the author of the “Mary”
comment to just step forward and take authorship; I think that is the
proper thing to do.

Given the convenient irony of this juxtaposition, I am going to take the
opportunity to write a post and perhaps a column on the ethic of
identity online, addressing topics from Fowler to witness-reporters to
anonymous comments and sockpuppetry.

So in that context, I’d like to know your policies and views. Are
staffers told not to speak publicly in response to comments on Politico?
If so, do you think that might lead to cases of people trying to cloak
their identities? That is, do you think is it better in general to free
staffers to speak as individuals associated with news organizations or
not? What is your policy about staffers who speak anonymously in public
exchanges? Do you tell them to reveal their identities and affiliations?
Again given the context, what would you have done if Mayhill Fowler had
been a blogger for Politico? Or in a different case, what if she were
not a blogger but used comments at Politico to report her scoops on
Obama and Clinton? Do you agree with the standard Calderone set out in
his post and would you have enforced it?

Obviously, please say anything else you’d like on the topic.

I’ll be in and out all day with kid events but I’d like to get this
posted soon so I’d very much appreciate your help.

I’ve CCed Michael here.

Thanks much,


– jeff jarvis

* * *


I followed this discussion out of the corner of my eye yesterday. I think I know the main facts, but have not plunged in sufficiently to be sure.

In any event, I think you find the issues here to be more ripe for interesting debate than I do. But here’s a quick answer to some of your points…Because I too am juggling outings with kids today this my thoughts here may be a little free form and not in the order you raised them:

*At Politico I expect reporters to identify themselves clearly as journalists when asking questions of public officials or average citizens alike. If there were exceptions to this, I would want as editor to be closely consulted about the reasons.

*I don’t believe that reporting is some kind of exclusive guild and I recognize the way that blogs have democatized journalism and in the process blurred lines. But when reporting on assignment and for publication I think self-identification is sound practice both as a professional matter and personal courtesy.

*I can understand why Michael Calderone and some of his newsroom colleagues took strong exception to your implication (if I understood the point correctly) that his discomfort with the Fowler-Clinton exchange was akin to the discrimination that once kept blacks out of journalism.

*My preference is that if Politico staff are going to engage in debates about journalism they do so with name attached. But the case of leaving comments on a blog or submitting a question to an on-line chat strikes me as not exactly involving sacred principles. When I was at the Post I would frequently send in questions under various to colleagues for their on-line chats, just to be mischievous. These days with a new publication I’m too busy for that nonsense. In any event, have you never done something similar?

*I don’t get the fuss about the identity of the blog commenter. My understanding is that your site asks people directly for their e-mail address when leaving a comment. My understanding is that the Politico staffer left an accurate e-mail address but not her real first name. Can’t you just hit reply and ask who she is? At your request, I’ll ask the author of the comment to send you an e-mail.

In any event, my understanding is Michael engaged you directly and courteously about what he sees as the journalistic and personal issues involved. Isn’t this episode (to the questionable extent it qualifed as an episode in the first place) over?

Off to Little League.



* * *


Thanks so much for the quick response.

Just for the record, Michael et al read an analogy to racism that most certainly is not there. As I told him when he called, I was making a point about the clubbiness of journalism.

And, no, I would never leave comments under a pseudonym. Transparency is transparency. I would expect you to hold your employees to the same standard two which Michael held Fowler — especially given other, more notorious episodes of journalists engaging in sockpuppetry lately. But that’s my opinion.

Enjoy the Little League. I just returned from the middle school car wash (which means I now must head to the car wash) and then ballet.