Ed Whelan Proves He’s a Hitman

by Brien Jackson

I suppose the logic works out well enough; one anonymous blogger accuses you of being a “legal hitman,” another cites it approvingly, and you respond by uncovering the second’s identity and publishing it, after calling them a “coward” and an “idiot.” And you don’t even pretend to engage the criticism. Especially when, as best anyone can tell, the only thing that makes publius “irresponsible” is that her had the gall to criticize Ed Whelan.

I don’t really have much of an opinion on outing myself. I think it can be appropriate at times, inappropriate at others. I put my name on my writing, because I think that if I want to enter the conversation, then I owe it to others to own my work. On the other hand, I think the idea that a pseudonym gives you more leeway to attack people unfairly doesn’t really hold much water. There are plenty of anonymous bloggers, publius being one of them, who writes substantively, even in criticism, as well as plenty of people who put their name on their bullshit who nevertheless publish stupid or non-factual garbage every day. My problem with anonymity is that it makes it hard to evaluate a person’s credibility, especially to the extent that they’re leaning on expertise. I like Anonymous Liberal quite a bit, and his writing seems to lend credence to his claims of expertise, but then, I’m not a lawyer, so I could be getting fooled. But none of that really excuses outing someone after they’ve informed you that they have personal and professional reasons for being anonymous, and when you haven’t engaged their criticisms, and obviously have no intention to. Whelan is pretty obviosly just trying to fuck with publius’s life, and that’s just low, no matter what you think of anonymity.

A.L. more or less hits it on the head; Whelan’s problem is that he’s just too smart for this schtick. Whelan has clerked for the Supreme Court, so he’s obviously a smart guy who cares about the issues he’s writing about. And it’s hard to play the hatchet man, pandering to a less intelligent audience and knowingly misrepresenting the matter, when you’re a smart person who cares about the issue(s). A big part of the reason I got out of campaign politics altogether was precisely this reason; the more you start to care about the depths of the policy matters at hand, the more soul sucking it is to boil them down to easy to understand soundbytes and deliberate misrepresentations of the other guy’s misstatements. But the difference between that and what Whelan is doing is that, in campaigns, people generally understand that there’s a certain amount of hackishness involved, and you can always use that as an excuse later without it being held against you in too many quarters. Whelan, on the other hand, is writing for a magazine that purports to be the intellectual center of the conservative movement. It’s got to be depressing to realize that so many observers are aware of what you’re doing, and to know that you’re never going to be respected in your field because of it.

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