The News' George Rodrigue Defends Decision to Out a Blog Commenter in Nasher Fight
Dallas Morning News Managing Editor George Rodrigue has answered my column in this week's newspaper about the Mike Snyder/ Morning News matter, and now, sadly for you, I think I need to answer his answer. Snyder is the former news anchor and public relations consultant whom the News outed in a story last week for posting blog comments under fake names linked to fake Facebook accounts.
When Snyder posted his comments on blogs at the News and at D Magazine, a local publication, he was working for a lawyer who represents the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund, owner of a new condo tower locked in a bitter dispute with the Nasher Sculpture Center over reflected sunlight. In my column I took Rodrigue to task for revealing the identity of Snyder, an anonymous commenter who was saying things that contravened the paper's strongly held position in the Nasher dispute, while the paper did not reveal identities of anonymous bloggers who support the paper's side of things.
I also wondered if some of the comments whose fake personae have been protected by the paper may in fact be Morning News employees, and I cited one example in particular, a fake-name blogger who goes by the screen name, Wylie H. I said I had seen evidence indicating that Wylie H. had accessed Facebook from within the Morning News building. In his response to me in an online column called, "Ask the editor," Rodrigue complained that I had only mentioned this evidence without saying what it was. It's a fair point.
I said the evidence I found "indicated" Wylie H. had gone to Facebook from within the News building because I really do not know if what I was looking at was dispositive. But you can look at it, too, I think, if you are on Facebook. Go to Wylie H.'s Facebook page, click on his timeline and look for events. One of the tags giving his or her physical location is labeled "Dallas Morning News" and shows the location of the News building, unless he has removed those tags since I brought them up. I'm on a plane at the moment and can't check.
But here are the necessary caveats, anyway. I don't know that the Facebook locating mechanism is precise. I just figured out yesterday, for example, that Google Maps sometimes does a good job, sometimes a fairly lousy job hitting geographical coordinates precisely in a search. So how do I know Facebook does any better? Maybe Wiley H. was across the street at Union Station and the Facebook geo software was having a bad hair day and thought he was at the paper.
Caveat No. 2: So what if he was at the News? He could have been there trying to renegotiate the longterm debt on his mom's paid obit. I happen to think the Facebook evidence is only one of several indications Mr. H. works for the News, the rest of which I am hoarding for now. But we're still not really on point.
In his response to a person commenting on his column, Rodrigue asks rather plaintively if the commenter would have him expose every anonymous commenter on the paper's blogs. I think there is an obvious answer. No. Not if you are not going to expose any commenter. Yes. If you are going to expose any commenter.
And here is where the News is on some very thin ice with its readers in terms of the paper's posture on privacy. Rodrigue wants to argue that Mike Snyder is somehow a special case because Rodrigue says he was receiving tax dollars to comment. But this is plainly and simply untrue. Even if we connect a lot of dots from Snyder's paycheck back to the police and fire pension fund, we have not arrived at any public funds.
The money in the pension fund is private money earned by the pensioners. There is some public oversight of the fund, but the money in the fund in no way belongs to the public. To claim otherwise is tantamount to saying that people who elect to live in tax-subsidized housing forfeit their protections from warrantless search and seizure. Rodrigue is reaching way, way, way around the corner to defend an indefensibly hypocritical position.
The more this goes on, in fact, the more it argues that Snyder was right. He was right to set up fake Facebook accounts in order to comment pseudonymously at the News because he was right not to trust the News to honor his privacy. But he's right in another bigger way, too.
The Nasher dispute demonstrates an old truth about Dallas. When you get the rich people and the culture mob lined up with the usual media sycophants, this big city turns into one little East Texas all-cousin one-horse town. For good reason, hardly anybody has the backbone to go up against those pitchforks. But Snyder did, and as far as I'm concerned, it was the right thing to do.
Forget the sunlight fight. This is about speech. The Nasher partisans and the News would have us believe that the pension fund has no right to defend itself, no right even to speak, no right to hire somebody to speak for them. All of their attacks are like the attack on Snyder -- ad hominem, without reference to any of the underlying technical issues. The mobilization in favor of the Nasher is less a political movement than a form of primitive shunning.
If you want a PR guy who isn't afraid to take all of that on, then I guess you call Snyder. From what I've seen over the years, that should get him some very distinguished clients, some of whom will be very surprised to find that they need him.