An Alaskan state legislator revealed in his constituent e-newsletter Friday the identity of an anonymous local blogger who was made famous by her criticisms of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign season.
Mudflats blogger "Alaska Muckraker" (AKM) rose to blogger fame almost instantaneously when Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was tapped to be John McCain's running mate, and the then anonymous blogger wrote "What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan's Perspective" under the penname AKM. Little was known about Palin in the lower 48, and AKM provided a much-needed window throughout the campaign season into Palin's performance as governor of Alaska from a progressive viewpoint.
AKM earned the ire of Alaska Representative Mike Doogan (LD-25) of Anchorage (who happens to be a writer by trade) when AKM wrote a blog post about a rude email that Doogan sent to his constituents. He had saved up all of the emails from constituents on the Troopergate issue, and in December he responded to all of them at once, CC'ing a list of about thirty perfect strangers together in one email, telling them,
Are you people nuts? You send me -- and everybody else in the legislature, from the looks of things -- Spam and then lecture me on email etiquette -- as if there were such a thing? Here's an etiquette suggestion: Abandon your phony names, do your own thinking and don't expect everybody to share your obsessions.
[Yes, that is the actual response that Doogan sent to his constituents.]
AKM posted Doogan's own words on the Mudflats blog along with an enumerated list of the basic rules of netiquette.
In the same email, just above the entry broadcasting AKM's identity, Doogan (who was a print columnist for 14 years and currently writes mystery novels) inveighed against the Alaska Press Club giving an award to the author of a widely read email and then fulminated against newspapers cutting the jobs of real newsmen. Then, with one short paragraph, Doogan brought AKM and her family into the public eye,
Anonymous Blogger Anonymous No More
The identity of the person who writes the liberal Democratic Mudflats blog has been secret since the blog began, protected by the Anchorage Daily News, among others. My own theory about the public process is you can say what you want, as long as you are willing to stand behind it using your real name. So I was interested to learn that the woman who writes the blog is Anchorage resident [redacted].
The entire email is currently on the front page of the Alaska House Democratic Legislators website under "Extra! Extra! Newspapers and Bloggers Edition; Biased? Who? The Alaska Press Club?; A Treatise On A Newspaper Crusade; Anonymous Blogger Anonymous No More."
AKM says she received a terse email Thursday putting her on notice,
I am reliably told that you are the anonymous blogger who writes Mudflats. I am planning to reveal this in the enews I send to my constituents tomorrow, and am writing to let you know this and offer the opportunity to comment.
Doogan did not ask AKM why she wished to remain anonymous, and he offered her no recourse. In a response posted to the Mudflats blog, AKM pointed out,
It said in my "About" page that I choose to remain anonymous. I didn't tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don't feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I'd just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be.
Ironically, Doogan got her last name wrong, according to AKM's response on Mudflats. The Alaska Dispatch points out that AKM submitted a letter-to-the-editor in 2007 in which she used what AKM says is her current last name as a middle name, and used the surname that Doogan named. [Although AKM had her identity listed on the Mudflats "About Us" page for a short while last night, I am not using any name here because AKM has since removed all mentions of her real name from the Mudflats pages.]
Phil Munger of Progressive Alaska posted an email exchange between him and Doogan from December in which Doogan tries to get Munger to spill the beans about AKM's identity. In the email exchange, Doogan says,
I think that if blogging might be detrimental to the "professional and/or business situation" of the person writing Mudflats, then he/she shouldn't be doing it. But even if it is, are your arguing that it's okay for people to stand in the shadows and shout into the public debate? What next? Hoods and torches?
Others have described Doogan as "obsessed" with AKM's identity and "rabid" about the issue of anonymous political discourse. Another Mudflats blogger points out,
This may be the first known case of an anonymous blogger being cyber-stalked by a politician...
Many locals believe that Doogan is secretly the identity behind former local blogger Billy Muldoon, but Doogan has categorically denied any connection to Muldoon. In fact, Doogan has consistently expressed vitriol toward new media and what he sees as the death of real journalism.
Doogan has been quick to make hyperbolic comparisons between the anonymity of AKM and the anonymity of the KKK, drawing not-so-subtle historical parallels between the anonymous post-Civil War editorials of the KKK's original Grand Cyclops. He has also mentioned "hoods and torches" in several emailed responses to constituents who voiced concerns about the 'outing' of AKM.
No doubt Doogan feels vindicated by outing this anonymous blogger -- someone associated with a media form that is taking the jobs of his colleagues, someone whose work is lesser in his mind than the print journalists of yore. Doogan says that AKM gave up her right to anonymity when her blog began influencing public policy, but America also has a rich tradition of anonymous political commentary -- so much so that the framework of our country was shaped by anonymous political prose.
AKM herself points out that Ben Franklin penned a series of letters under the penname Silence Dogood, a character he created that was so vivid and realistic that men sent marriage proposals to the New England Courant where Dogood's letters were often published.
Common Sense, a pamphlet often credited with igniting the American Revolution, was published anonymously by Thomas Paine and became a best seller both in America and in Europe despite its anonymity. The jacket on the copy I pulled from my own bookshelf says,
The United States of America owes its existence in part to the incendiary brilliance of the work....Common Sense's arguments were accessible to nearly every colonial reader, empowering most colonists to confront the daunting challenges they faced.
Founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published 85 letters in colonial newspapers under the name "Plubius" urging the ratification of the United States Constitution. These anonymous letters are now know as the Federalist Papers and are often used by the United States Supreme Court to interpret the United States Constitution.
A few years ago, former head of the CIA Osama bin Laden Unit Michael Scheuer became a heroic whistleblower of the Bush administration when he anonymously published Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.
Some anonymous politicos work on a smaller scale but make important waves within their domain. Just a few weeks ago, a handful of young men had the Arizona Democratic Party in an uproar after they published a plan to revitalize the state party anonymously because they worried that their young ages would hamper discourse. Their anonymity ignited paranoia among the party's powerful elite, with every party hack looking askance at each other until the authors revealed their identities.
Not only has the U.S. Supreme Court used the anonymous Federalist Papers to interpret the Constitution, the Court has also repeatedly upheld the right to anonymous speech as part of the right to free speech. After all, truly free speech is free from political retribution, economic sanction, and physical threat. Sometimes speaking out anonymously is the only way a person can speak freely.
As AKM pointed out, no one knows her personal situation or the reasons that she wished to remain anonymous. Some have speculated that her anonymity protected the financial well-being of her family. Whatever the reason, it is evident that this is a serious matter for AKM who now says that will take some time away from Mudflats while she reassesses how her life will change.
Doogan would do well to remember that, although he is a mystery novel writer, he is not a detective in real life, and this was one mystery that should have gone unsolved. New media is replacing traditional media regardless of whether Mudflats continues to exist or not. Taking down one blogger -- or even thousands of bloggers -- will not bring back your dying newspaper industry.