Sunday, March 11, 2007

First Amendement Rights

Nearly two years ago I wrote an opinion piece about Groklaw and its editor, Pamela Jones (PJ). Let me quote the pertinent paragraph:
PJ, however, has done more than just report the facts of the case. She's editorialized. She's injected her opinion into the Groklaw documentation. And she's made some pointed observations about the players in this drama, one of whom is our own gentle MoG. I have no problems with PJ voicing her opinions. She has her First Amendment rights just like anyone else. The problem is that she wants to hide while she does it, and that's not right.
Now let's quote the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to partition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In this case abridging means the act of lessening, reducing, or depriving. I take note of the fact that the word "anonymous" does not appear anywhere in that statement.

PJ and her supporters want to attack SCOX (and just about anyone else who speaks any ill against PJ and Groklaw) with anonymous impunity. I note for the record that when SCOX wanted to serve a subpoena with regards to matters concerning SCOX vs. Novell, that PJ suddenly took ill and no longer posted on Groklaw. Instead, another person named MathFox took her place. She's surfaced most recently, but stated in her latest post "Yes, this is me. No. I'm not really back. I'm still sick, but I sat up long enough to do this." I'd link to the story, but linking into Groklaw is blocked by the Groklaw sight. How convenient.

I bring this back up because of a similar story closer to home in St. Augustine. As reported here, an editor tried to identify the individual behind a blog who was highly critical of a local politician. The local politician is by all accounts no saint. But let me quote the appropriate paragraphs from this story:
The Record, believing Padgett to be part of an organized political group out to unseat Rich, not merely a lonely pamphleteer voicing his displeasure with a public official, decided that making public Padgett's identity was the right to do.

They were correct. While there may be a long-held and cherished right to publish anonymously in this country, it isn't any more absolute than other First Amendment rights and should never be confused with a right to remain anonymous. After all, there was never anything stopping the lonely pamphleteer's neighbors from saying, "Hey, that looks a lot like farmer Ben's handwriting."

Truth be told, the Record didn't need a high-minded rational for outing Padgett. The mere fact that the man had kicked up public attention - made himself a person of public interest - makes him fair game for being identified...
Change the politician to SCOX, and the 'lonely blogger' from Lee Padgett to Pamela Jones, and it suddenly looks very much like our own Groklaw drama.

PJ has certainly made herself "a person of public interest" in this long-term court fight. She's been the lead fighter in the court of public opinion with regards to SCOX. The facts of the case that Groklaw has documented are invaluable, if true. But PJ's constant desire to remain hidden and essentially unknown is unfair and unwarranted. While the court of public opinion is certainly no court of law (nor should it be), there is, in the Six Amendment, with regards to prosecutions, states this important right: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall... be confronted with the witnesses against him..."

What applies to the court of law should apply to the court of public opinion. In a long fight such as this one, the desire to remain hidden while voicing strong editorial opinions, especially when they are at times inflammatory, is morally and ethically corrupt, and lessons the stature of the person making them as well as those who support that individual. Everyone else in this drama is publicly identified, and has had that public information used against them, specifically by the more vocal and emotional Groklaw supporters. PJ, since her debut in 2003, has become a very public individual in a very important and emotionally charged fight, a fight she helped to stoke with her actions and her posts. If she has wanted to remain anonymous she should have stayed to strictly reporting the facts of the case. The day may yet come when many in the Linux community realize that her actions combined with her hiding have damaged the facts presented by Groklaw, and by association, the reputation of Linux and the Linux community. PJ has crossed the line from asset to liability, not only to Groklaw, but to Linux.

1 comment:

  1. Fully one week after Record editor Peter Ellis claims to have learned the nefarious blogger's identity, the paper has still hasn't revealed this vital information to its readers. Could Ellis be blowing smoke, or does he have some reason for sitting on what is obviously Pulitzer-prize-winning material?

    As they say: We report, you decide.

    ReplyDelete

All comments are checked. Comment SPAM will be blocked and deleted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.