Defending the indefensible
Defenses of Sean-Paul Kelley are rare enough that I've decided to share this one, which the Agonist Watch, a new blog keeping tabs on you-know-who, referenced today. The blogger at A Clever Sheep, Evano, goes to great lengths to defend Kelley in an open letter to writer Dan Gillmor.
Perhaps people visiting the site later believed that Sean-Paul's mysterious references to "little birdies" or "unnamed" sources were bonafides, but these lapses in attribution can just as easily be chalked up to Sean-Paul's personal voice -- humor and an air of espionage. My assumption was that some of his sources were from reader emails; in fact, half the value of Kelley's site was the wealth of comments from readers: they verified reports, suggested new sources, added new items, and contributed breaking news during the breaks Sean-Paul's biological nature required of him. Give it ten years of development and research and Google News may be capable of providing this service for the next Gulf War, without the bathroom requirements.
I rarely read anything I disagree with as much as I do this from anyone not committed to an asylum. There is no excuse for Sean-Paul Kelly's plagiarism, in my opinion. There is no evidence Kelley did anything but copy information from other sources, though he may have been better about attributing it to some of them than he was with Stratfor. (I'm sure there are people checking to see if he was.) However, the more offensive part of the comment is the reference to the Agonist's "personal voice -- humor and an air of espionage." That blanket could cover a heck of a lot. Most serial killers are expressing their 'personal voices,' and sometimes that of 'God' or a neighbor's dog, when they behave in ways I hope the ovine blogger would not approve.
Evano also attempts another dodge of the issue. He claims mainstream media does exactly the same thing the Agonist did. That is simply false. Though an anchor may not have confirmed attribution himself, you can bet his editor did. The information may turn out to be inaccurate, but it will rarely be unattributed.
Apparently not having embarrased himself enough, A Clever Sheep asks: "As for the charge that Sean-Paul was "stealing" information from Stratfor: that's a tricky one. Can information be stolen?" Of course it can. In fact, if I were to acquire the Clever Sheep's driver's license data, tax returns and a photo of him nude and post them to this blog he would bleat loud enough to be heard in Baghdad. When asked about his distress, he would say that information was not mine to post. The same is true of Stratfor's property and Sean-Paul Kelley. The Agonist made a contract with Stratfor that allowed for fair and limited use of the information it sent him. It did not engage him to republish practically its entire war coverage. To have done so what have been to enable a competitor to operate against it at virtually no cost.
I would prefer that liberal bloggers not defend Kelley at all rather than see us sink to the depths of irrationality in doing so. So far, most of the non-conservative bloggers I know are aware of the scandal have chosen not to comment. Some people may interpret that as a defense of the Agonist, but I don't think it is. The silence strikes me more as 'if you can't say something good about a person. . .' or a refusal to criticize the dead man blogging.
Meanwhile, news of the Agonist's perfidy has spread to another organ of big media, USA Today. And, according to columnist Angela Gunn, it appears Kelley's supporters may have begun harassing the blogger who exposed the plagiarism.
Shame and scandal in the blog family …
For those who fear that the blogoverse could be subject to the same corruptions as mainstream journalism, bad news. The Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelley’s wildly popular war-news site, has admitted to obtaining a great deal of his information to a commercial intelligence-publishing outfit called Stratfor. Worse, according to the report in Wired News, Kelley was not only plagiarizing some information word-for-word from Stratfor’s paid news service, he occasionally credited Stratfor’s items to other sources (or left them uncredited). Kelley and Stratfor have apparently come to a relatively civilized arrangement about his use of their material, but the trouble may not be over yet. This afternoon, Kelley posted a cryptic note to readers: “Folks, I don't know who has been posting comments to Strategic Armchair Command, but please stop. I really don't want any more problems.”
Note: I have used a screen name and a blog name in this article to refer to its subject because there may be more than one blogger with Evano's real name.
Note 2: This entry was also published at the watch.