By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006
The Los Angeles Times suspended the blog of one of its top columnists last night, saying he violated the paper's policy by posting derogatory comments under an assumed name.
The paper said in an online editor's note that Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winner who writes the Golden State column, had admitted posting remarks on both his Times blog and on other Web sites under names other than his own. The Times said it is investigating the matter. Editor Dean Baquet declined comment, and Hiltzik said he could not comment.
The deceptive postings grew out of a running feud between Hiltzik and conservative bloggers in Southern California. One is Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk show host and blogger. The other is an assistant Los Angeles district attorney named Patrick Frey, who maintains a blog under the name Patterico's Pontifications.
When commenters on Frey's Web site criticized Hiltzik, an examination by Frey of the Internet addresses involved showed it was the Times writer who responded in remarks posted under the name "Mikekoshi."
Frey wrote that "the evidence is overwhelming that he has used more than one pseudonym. Hiltzik and his pseudonymous selves have echoed each other's arguments, praised one another, and mocked each other's enemies. All the while, Hiltzik's readers have been unaware that (at a minimum) the acid-tongued 'Mikekoshi' . . . is in fact Hiltzik himself."
Frey cited other examples. On another local blog called L.A. Observed, he noted, "Mikekoshi" described Los Angeles writer Cathy Seipp "as a 'tool' and as someone 'hampered by her own ignorance.' "
On Frey's site, "Mikekoshi" said of Hewitt: "The prospect of having Hugh Hewitt running around loose in public without a muzzle should make any intelligent person nervous."
"Mikekoshi" has also ripped Frey, writing, "Congratulations, Patterico, for a new high-water mark in dopey criticism," and "What a buffoonish post this is."
The public sniping has been just as antagonistic. Hewitt took a swipe this week at the Times's corporate parent, the Tribune Co., for a dip in profits and circulation. Hiltzik responded on his blog that Hewitt's Web traffic is down because "his peculiar brand of reactionary conservatism has become increasingly marginalized on the fringes of American political life."
Hewitt last night called the Times editor's note "very, very clever. It states the 'offense' is misrepresenting identity to the public, not the publication of false identities and the manipulation of opinions so as to influence opinions. Are they digging into all of Hiltzik's stories? All of the purported comments on his blog? . . . It does seem like a question of how a huge media institution will treat deception within its product."
Hiltzik and a Times colleague shared a 1999 Pulitzer for beat reporting for exposing corruption in the entertainment industry.
On his Times blog, before the editor's note appeared, Hiltzik did not deny using the name "Mikekoshi" and seemed to dismiss Frey's complaint: "This is amusing, because most of the comments posted on his website are anonymous or pseudonymous. . . . Anonymity for commenters is a feature of his blog, as it is of mine. It's a feature that he can withdraw from his public any time he wishes. He has chosen to do that in one case only, and we might properly ask why. The answer is that he's ticked off that someone would disagree with him."
The editor's note said that Times policy, both in print and online, is for "editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public."