Salon.Com’s Low Ethical Standards

Salon.Com displays an inexcusable ethics lapse in this story about Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson’s taken a beating the past few days after the 9/11 Commission’s report on intelligence failings suggests that Wilson lied on a number of key points about his mission to Niger to investigate whether or not Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from that country.

The Salon.Com article basically defends Wilson, saying the attacks on him are part of choreographed Republican campaign (got that — if Wilson lies, those lies are made public, and then a bunch of conservatives point it out, that’s a new vast right wing conspiracy). The article certainly lives up to Salon’s usual standards, but it also represents an inexcusable ethical lapse on the part of Salon.Com.

Nowhere in the article defending Wilson is it disclosed that Salon.Com has a business relationship with Wilson. He is the featured speaker at a Salon’s “1st seminar cruise” scheduled for September 4-11. It’s just inconceivable that no one at Salon.Com thinks that such an obvious conflict of interest doesn’t need to be disclosed in the article itself (well, okay, this is Salon.Com after all, so no I guess it’s not inconceivable, but it certainly marks a new low).

Salon.Com Managing Editor: U.S. Would Have Been Better if Reagan Had Never Been President

Salon.Com managing editor has a factually challenged blog post about Reagan’s 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter inaugurating a “dark age” in America,

I was a senior in college when Reagan was elected — in a very close election which he’d probably have lost had it not been for the participation of a third party candidate (John Anderson) — and that moment was like the start of a dark age. As a fiery young writer of editorials for my college paper I’d railed against Carter for his compromises with conservatism, and proudly chose to cast my first vote for an American president not for Carter against Reagan but for Barry Commoner.

It was a stubborn gesture, and in retrospect a dumb one. Too much was at stake to throw my vote away just so I could feel consistent. (Naderites, take heed.) America would have been a lot better off if Ronald Reagan had never been president. This was true while he was alive, and it is no less true now that he is gone.

The dark age comment is just silly, but his analysis of the 1980 election is a typical example of Salon.Com’s dedication to the facts.

The 1980 election was hardly close. Reagan earned 51 percent of the popular vote to Carter’s 41.1 percent and John Anderson’s 6.6 percent. The electoral college was a landslide with Reagan defeating Carter 489-49. Carter carried only Georgia, Minnesota and West Virginia.

Apparently, Rosenberg paid as much attention in college as he does as Salon.Com’s Managing Editor.

Source:

Scott Rosenberg Blog Post. June 6, 2004.

Radio Userland Comment Problems

The other day I mentioned the problems that Scott Rosenberg was having at his Salon.Com blog with some folks who filled up the comments section of his site with posts that were hundreds of kilobytes long. The person(s) in question were posting so much text so quickly that according to Rosenberg it was bringing the server to a crawl. Because of the way the Radio Community Server is configured, Rosenberg and other users aren’t given the ability to delete such irritating and pointless posts, or IP block them, etc.

Userland appears to have responded with two interim solutions.

The first is pointless but harmless,

UserLand has implemented a maximum limit on the length of a comments thread. The good news is that this deals with the problem. The bad news is that this limits the length of comments threads.

Okay, that might help maintain the server performance, but it simply means that this spammer’s efforts will result in all of the threads on Rosenberg’s weblog being closed so no discussion can take place — not much better than simply turning off the feature in the first place.

The second solution (for Manila) is a personal pet peeve of mind that I’ve seen elsewhere and really gets my blood boiling — publicly displaying the IP address of people who post.

Jake Savin describes this new feature,

Today we released a new feature for Manila — IP address tracking. This feature helps to prevent spammers from attacking your site.

Whenever a new discussion group message or comment is posted, Manila now records the IP address along with the discussion group message.

People who might abuse public comment systems and discussion groups will be discouraged to do so if their IP address is made public.

I think publicly displaying IP addresses is behavior that is even worse than the spammers. Sites that implement this are making public a good deal of information about the person posting — information which, when combined with other things, could get people in a lot of trouble.

VegSource is a site that displays the IP addresses and illustrates the danger of posting this. For example, I once read a rather pro-animal rights post in the middle of the day on VegSource. Doing a DNS lookup it turned out that she was posting from a computer at a pharmaceutical company. Based on the things the person said, it was likely she worked in some sort of accounting department.

Somehow I don’t think this company would have been happy to find out that one of their employees as an activist posting to activist sites on company time.

In some cases you can get even more information. I’ll never understand why some libraries don’t use dynamic IP addresses for their public machines. Giving a public machine a static IP address is just asking for trouble (for example, one of my more irritating posters used to post from the same machine at a library in Cleveland — if I lived in the area, it wouldn’t have been too hard to track him down if I was so motivated).

Certainly site administrators have valid uses for tracking IPs, such as IP-blocking people who abuse their systems. But broadcasting the IP address of everyone who posts to the entire Internet? A Very Bad Idea (TM).

Scott Rosenberg Held Hostage by Radio Userland’s Limitations

I use Radio Userland as a news aggregator, but have never really investigated its feasibility as a weblog tool. I was very surprised to see how easily Scott Rosenberg’s Salon.Com blog has been hijacked by spammers thanks to the extremely limited nature of Radio Userland’s Comments feature,

Speaking of comments, those of you who pay attention to the comments on this blog will have noticed a marked increase in the strange practice of spam-posting comments — reposting the same verbiage multiple times. (Sometimes this happens as a result of slow response time from the server, but those cases usually lead to 2, 3 or 4 reposts, not ten and 20.) This is a waste of bandwidth and, more important, a waste of this blog’s readers’ time. So cut it out. If necessary I’ll just turn off comments here, but I’d rather not do that. I’ve got no problem with endless vocal disagreement with me. There’s been lots of good, smart dialogue in there. But I have no patience for juvenile spam tactics.

And yes, I know that Radio UserLand’s comments feature is pretty rudimentary — it should offer the ability to delete posts, ban posters and otherwise moderate those comments boards. I’m sorry it’s not better. Since we don’t develop the software here at Salon, I can’t take this on myself, but will continue to communicate this kind of feedback to the UserLand team.

I disagree with Rosenberg about pretty much everything, but now it’s pointless to even post such disagreements on his comments section because some idiot goes in and posts hundreds of kilobytes worth of junk text precisely to sabotage his comments section.

Userland announced the comments feature for Radio back in February of 2002, so it’s a bit surprising they haven’t added even basic features like the ability to delete a post. Maybe someone could put together a checklist for Userland on how to get there, because it’s got to be embarassing to have such a prominent user of their software have these sorts of problems.

Salon.Com – Bush Is Like a Klansman

Whatever will we do once Salon.Com finally shutters its site (after the requisite party at my place that is). I mean, how will journalism go on without rambling nonsense by Anne Lamott like this,

I am going to pray for George Bush’s heart to change, so that he begins to want to be a part of the human family. . . . He’s family. I hate this, because he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman.

Apparently Salon.Com’s goal is to make Al Sharpton’s anti-Bush rhetoric look moderate in comparison.

Source:

Good Friday world. Anne Lamott, Salon.Com, March 28, 2003.

Salon.Com Impressed by 9/11 Push Poll

This Salon.Com article attempts to draw all sorts of lessons over what is, to my mind, an obvious push poll. In January, Princeton Survey Research Associates asked 1,200 Americans this question,

To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?

Only 17 percent of respondents answered correctly that none of the hijackers were Iraqi. From this, the Salon writer concludes that the Bush administration’s plot to association with Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda has been so effective, that less than two years after the most devestating terrorist attack in American history, Americans are confused about the basic facts of the attack.

This is ridiculous. The problem with this question is that many people who are asked it will simply assume that they are being told that Iraqi citizens were among the hijackers, and that they are simply being asked to supply the correct numbers of Iraqis.

I would be very surprised if the following two questions didn’t result in similar levels of misidentification,

To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Libyan citizens?

To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Palestinians?

To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Afghanistan Citizens?

In fact, I’d guess that very large numbers would answer that at least one of the hijackers were Palestinian or Afghanistan citizens.

Salon.Com seems shocked that large numbers of Americans have not committed to memory the nationality of the 19 hijackers. But is it so surprising that 17 months later most people likely just remember that all of the hijackers were Middle Eastern men?

And from this poll we get a rehash of Marxist false consciousness,

It was Marx who described religion as the opiate of the people. Twentieth-first century Americans have television as a general anesthetic. Our collective attention deficit disorder — a disease of morbid intellectual laziness — has permitted the careful packaging of pseudo-information by Madison Avenue to assume an illusion of reality.

To the behavioral psychologist, the truth about the hijacker’s nationalities might seem a victim of a chronic state of inattention. Conditioning has rendered Americans hyper-responsive to emotional and sensory dynamics triggered by the news media, and relatively uninterested in intellectual content. Nobody understands this better than Rupert Murdoch, who has created an empire out of punchy anti-intellectualism. And few understand better how to use it to their advantage than the Bush White House. George W. Bush is, after all, the anti-intellectual’s president.

I’ve never understood why liberals and leftists resort to this argument since it is the classic elitist argument against democracy. If people are really as gullible as Salon thinks, then democracy is a hopeless project. We’d be better off asking the Salon.Com vanguard to rescue us from ourselves and the proletarian mobs.