Anonymity is an interesting thing. Anyone who has read my “About” page knows that Mudflats popped out of my head and on to my keyboard last May. I, like many of you, get frustrated with my government. There isn’t anyone who pays attention, on either side of the political spectrum, who doesn’t at some time feel like they need to get something off their chest.
I wasn’t quite sure what this whole blogging thing was about, but a dear friend of mine who is a brilliant writer was doing some work for the American Cancer Society blog, and urged me to start one of my own. And so, one evening after some crazy shenanigans from Don Young and a glass of shiraz, the first post went up on Mudflats. It was a strange sensation to write, and then click on that blue oval button that said, “Publish”. With that click, I was putting my opinion out to the world. I was giving permission for people to peek into my brain, and read my diary, as it were. I had no particular desire for anyone to know it was coming from me, and why should they care, anyway? I’m just….me. I’m not a politician, nor a writer, nor a journalist, nor a state or federal employee, nor a lobbyist. I was just a citizen who was paying attention, feeling frustrated, and liked getting stuff off my chest.
I checked my blog statistics later in the day, and noticed that two people had clicked on my article. I sat there utterly amazed. I called to my spouse, “Look at this! Two people read it!” Then, the next day, eight people had read it. I was getting about a dozen hits a day the next week. I didn’t know where they were coming from, but I imagined my little group of a dozen people who enjoyed Mudflats enough to come back and read more. Then twenty people. And by the end of the summer, about 250 a day. Maybe they liked feeling like somebody was speaking their particular truth. Maybe they liked it. It was a good feeling.
The day that Sarah Palin got nominated to be John McCain’s Vice President, life changed. My sister called me at some pre-dawn hour and said, “Did you hear?” I, like many Alaskans, was completely stunned. Sarah Palin? Was I still dreaming? Really? I knew I had to take the day off. I made a pot of coffee, and thought to myself, that my 250 people might not be the only ones interested in this VP pick. Now, many people adored Sarah Palin, and maybe some of them had blogs too….I had never checked, but they must be out there somewhere. But I knew some things about her, and her policies and positions that others might not be able to find out so easily. I decided to write my opinion. So I wrote a post, “What Is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective.”
And that’s exactly what the piece was - one Alaskans perspective. My perspective. Just in case anyone was interested.
It took me about 45 minutes to crank it out and click Publish. (Yes, I was still in my pajamas at the time) And it turned out that people were interested. Really interested. By the time I’d made myself a couple eggs and toast, and sat back down there were more than 7,000 hits. By the end of the day there were 64,000. The total readership of that post ended up being almost 270,000 with more than 1300 comments. To say I was shocked is putting it mildly. I began to get emails and comments asking me when I was going to post again, asking questions about Palin, and saying that this was the only “real” information they were getting.
They wanted pictures of Wasilla. They wanted to know about polar bears. They wanted to know what my friends and relatives really thought.
Now, the main stream media was covering Palin a lot, but just as we tend to converse with friends or relatives, to see what they think of something, to help clarify our opinion, so do people like to hear opinions from a regular person. At least, that’s what I came to believe. The next two months became a frenzy of writing and responding to emails, and managing the hundreds of comments that each post was getting. I got a book offer, interview requests, advertisers asking for room on the site, and I made a decision. I was going to focus on answering the questions people wanted to know, and telling them what I thought. The t-shirts and advertising could wait until later. And interviews? Well, I hadn’t really done anything other than speak my mind, so it seemed a little….silly. There were plenty of other qualified people to talk to.
And so the months of September and October passed. My spouse and my kids graciously gave me up to the computer. If you had stock in Pumpkin Flax cereal, I might have made you rich, because it was fast and easy. I didn’t sleep much, and my back began to ache, and my eyes hurt. But, other than that, I was enjoying writing and I felt useful. Apparently reading my little online “diary” was giving people something they wanted.
So, where am I going with all this? Back to the question of anonymity. It stands to reason that when expressing a personal opinion, there may be times when it will be less than flattering to a particular politician. More often than not, the politician is not a member of your own party, but sometimes they are. I’m not one to cushion and coddle Democrats just because they have a D in front of their name. Nor am I one to look for reasons to condemn the Rs just because of political party. Because, that’s really how most people think. They judge people based upon their actions.
Fast forward to the present. Mudflats has become something of an amazement to me. Over the months, kind souls from many places have volunteered their time, and their energy to build this community. It was hard to manage posts that were getting 500 or 600 comments in just a few hours. So the Mudflats Forum was born, run by a team of administrators and moderators who all work very hard for nothing but gratitude. The forum was a way for readers to connect and discuss issues of the day, start their own threads, support each other, and talk everything from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama to salmon recipes. There were postcard swaps, and Secret Santas, and friendships were born. Mudflatters from Pittsburgh were the first to say “Let’s meet in real life!” and Mudstock Meetups were born. I started attending local events, rallies, debates, and trying to give my perspective. I felt quite qualified to give my persepective and opinion. All of us are.
But sometimes politicians don’t like people who express their opinions, especially when the opinion is less than flattering, and especially when it’s their own words that come back to bite them. Mudflatters may recall back in December when Rep. Mike Doogan really got under my skin. I had posted previously about Mr. Doogan by posting his reaction to the Palin nomination, promoting his appearance on a local radio show, and talking about the certainty of his reelection. But I don’t always agree with him. The post where I took him to task was entitled “Are You People Nuts? Lessons in Email Etiquette.”
The jist of it all, is that being really rude to people via email does not make them like you, nor does it make you look good. And legislators have a certain vested interest in looking good. Taking the high road when you’re an elected leader is always a good plan, because flying off the handle, or mouthing off at people and insulting them results in the dreaded….bad press, and bad public opinion. Neither of those things helps the political goals of being liked, and being reelected.
But here’s where it gets interesting. After the initial opinion piece in Mudflats, I started hearing from fellow bloggers that Mike Doogan was trying to figure out who I was. It seemed strange to me, because really, all I’d done was take his own words and actions and comment on them. Anyone was perfectly free to disagree, or comment on the piece. “He’s rabid,” one blogger told me. Wow. Rabid? I guess I struck a nerve. Over the past few months, I’ve had other messages through the grapevine that he was trying to figure out who I am.
I have to confess, that while I understand the curiosity factor, the fact that an elected representative was this preoccupied with the identity of an anonymous blogger had me puzzled. He wrote a piece for the Alaska Dispatch talking about “accountability”. The thought was that if I was anonymous, I was not accountable. In what way, I wondered. I’m not a journalist. I’m just, as we established before, me. This is my opinion. If he were around, we could ask the “anonymous blogger” of his day, Benjamin Franklin what he thought about this. Using the “screen name” Mrs. Silence Dogood, Franklin was able to put out thoughts and ideas that were weighted on their own merits, not attached to a particular person. Sometimes it’s easier, if you don’t want to think, to attack the person, rather than the idea. I think Franklin would heartily approve of anonymous bloggers.
So, it seemed odd to me that Mr. Doogan was seemingly more focused on the messenger, than on defending his position, or even better, apologizing to people whom he had insulted. I didn’t think much more about it until yesterday, when I got this email:
From: “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2009 2:55:14 PM
Subject: your identity
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.
I was a bit surprised to see my real name, as you can imagine. But after the initial surprise wore off, it really hit me. This is an elected State Representative, of my own political party, who has decided that it’s not OK for me to control the information about my identity; that it’s not OK to express my opinion on my own blog without shouting from the rooftops who I am.
If I were to appear, as many of you have, at a political rally and I were to hold up a sign that expressed my opinion, I don’t have to sign my name on the bottom. And if someone wants to come online and read my diary, they are free to do so. And if they want to disagree, that’s OK too.
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. But that didn’t seem to matter.
What appears to matter to Rep. Doogan is that either 1) he feels that if he “outs” me, he’ll change what I have to say, or keep me from saying anything. 2) he gets to play mystery detective (like in his books) and believes people will think he’s really cool for figuring it out, or 3) he feels like getting revenge. He knows I want to remain anonymous, so he’s going to take it away. In any of those three scenarios, he didn’t think it was important to get the bigger picture.
And in any of those three scenarios we should probably find it disturbing that an elected official is using his time and mental energy in this way, against an ordinary citizen. I don’t need to remind Mudflats readers that Alaska is in a time of turmoil. We are facing unknown consequences with an erupting volcano that threatens to wipe out a tank farm on Cook Inlet holding 6 million gallons of oil. We have critical issues in the legislature, including Alaska’s acceptance or rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for education and other critical purposes. We have a governor who has just chosen an incredibly divisive and extreme right wing idealogue as our new Attorney General. And there are only three weeks left in the legislative session. It bothers me quite a bit that instead of focusing all his energy on doing his job, one of our elected representatives would rather spend his time stalking and harrassing a political blogger.
And Rep. Doogan is not the only one who has fallen prey to this preoccupation. Our governor, too, seems to be more interested in bloggers than seems healthy. Just a thought, but perhaps if our politicians were doing their jobs better, there would be no need for political bloggers, and we could all write diaries about our dogs, or our kids, or knitting.
It turns out, that Rep. Doogan did make good on his threat to expose me in his legislative newsletter. It actually suprised me, because I thought that maybe he realized that blowing up a progressive political blogger wouldn’t earn him many brownie points with other Democrats. But nevertheless, here you go.
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 Jeanne _____.*
So, now, if you look on the About page, you’ll get to see my real name* (which Rep. Doogan almost got right). And you also get to learn that Apparently for Rep. Doogan, the rules of the game are whatever his “theory of public process” say they should be. How does everyone feel about that? And as a former journalist, why is Rep. Doogan criticizing the Anchorage Daily News for protecting my identity?
And here’s another irony. Rep. Doogan thinks he has exposed me
, but in reality he has done nothing but expose himself
And with that, Mudflatters, I need to take a little time off to assess things, and take stock of how life will be changing for me and my family.