AskMe vs WaPo May 28, 2012 1:46 AM   Subscribe

The Washington Post has turned this anonymous AskMe question into an online poll.
posted by chrisulonic to MetaFilter-Related at 1:46 AM (247 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

...the following post from a message group.

Is 'message group' an archaic term I missed at the time, or just a weird turn of phrase by a writer who hasn't spent much time on the web?

Whatever, it's defo a bit crappy to nick the question without linking to the Ask MetaFilter thread.
posted by jack_mo at 1:58 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


"All posts are © their original authors."

I think I read that somewhere. Wonder how they'd react if the original author stepped forward with a Cease-and-Desist notice.
posted by radwolf76 at 2:03 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


No link back? If you're gonna wholesale yoink content, you link the source. Or did they not teach that in, oh, wait, journalism school.
posted by Mizu at 2:40 AM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, weird. Also, "scrood"? Please tell me this isn't a thing.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:55 AM on May 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Yay! Way to go, A Message Group!
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:56 AM on May 28, 2012 [32 favorites]


Gene Weingarten was the editor of the Miami Herald forever. He should know better.
posted by gingerest at 2:57 AM on May 28, 2012


pffft. So we give him content and he can't even link to us?
posted by Tarumba at 3:00 AM on May 28, 2012


A comment was posted on the WP site by furiousxgeorge noting the origin of the text.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:00 AM on May 28, 2012


furiousxgeorge totally stole the gist of my snark. I demand a link!
posted by Mizu at 3:03 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like this?
posted by 6550 at 3:06 AM on May 28, 2012


No, like this.
(Actually not at all, please; maybe I should have b'hamburgered my previous comment...)
posted by Mizu at 3:08 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that is phenomenally dumb and unoriginal. What are they, new?
posted by iamkimiam at 3:09 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to wonder aloud how long it would be before people stopped thinking that anything on the Internet is like random words on the wind that doesn't deserve or need citation. But then I remembered that this was a newspaper and, in the case of the print media, the answer is probably "forever" or near enough.

Anyway — and admitting that I'm still pretty upset about that thread and the one it spawned here — to my mind this poll just underscores how badly so many people just don't "get it". Granted, most of us want romantic love and worry about our attractiveness in that regard, not to mention that this was a primary concern of the asker. But the issue of ugliness goes far beyond romance. My argument was then, and is still now, that for those who are far enough to the extreme on the curve, this is a pure civil rights and dignity issue that affects them every day and in almost every way. It's not one solved by an added dose of self-respect or, for that matter, one or more lovers. Those things will help. But they'll help in other cases where there's daily and severe bigotry/discrimination, too. That things like that will help is not an argument proving the absence of bigotry and discrimination. Or that a very damaging beauty standard doesn't exist.

And it's especially obnoxious in the case of women, where most everyone on all sides of this argument when we had it before agreed this is especially salient. In my opinion, there's a subtext here that says, well, maybe you are discriminated against every day in your job and you don't get promotions and people make fun of you behind your back...but if you find a man who loves you, you'll be happy! There's some very poisonously regressive messaging in that and framing this whole issue in terms of "do you think being ugly means you won't find love" is one way of pushing that message, just more subtly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:34 AM on May 28, 2012 [36 favorites]


Wow, just Googling the first sentence gives you the AskMe page as the first hit. So then you have to wonder if he's too dumb to do that or just too much of a jerk to care about stealing content.
posted by octothorpe at 5:06 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's make a blanket exception to fair use limits here and allow the unattributed and unlinked posting of complete text from Washington Post articles in comments and we how long they take to respond.

Matt should go all DMCA on these idiots. I think he has standing to represent the intellectual property interests of AskMe anonymous posters as a class.
posted by spitbull at 5:35 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has anyone written to Gene Weingarten to let him know the source and ask for credit? At first I thought this was user-generated content, which is one thing, but there's no excuse for a paid staffer to do this. Besides which, their standards for crediting sources are clear and public:
Giving credit
When linking to, embedding, aggregating or simply referring to non-Post content on washingtonpost.com, the first and best rule to remember is a paraphrased version of the Golden Rule: Use and credit the content the way you’d expect other sites to use and credit Post content. Misuse of non-Post content can cause serious harm to our reputation and expose the company to liability.

On any part of washingtonpost.com that is supplemented by third-party content, we must include attribution as a matter of course. It gives our users important information, makes us more transparent and properly credits other news organizations.

We should give credit every time we embed, excerpt or paraphrase others’ work on our site — no matter the platform the third-party used (print, blog, Twitter, etc.). We should give credit by both naming the content source and linking to the specific piece of content, if possible. When a story is being reported by many sources, we should link and credit the original report whenever it is possible to determine that source.
It's not a good precedent for the concept of "user contributions" to offer a big blanket covering "whatever content you want to grab and copy from anywhere on the internet without attribution."

I see a couple of cranky comments, but emailing might be more efficient and more likely to reach someone who cares.
posted by Miko at 5:41 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Between this and the multiple recent gizmodo mentions of MF, we may be hitting peak metaness. So when the bubble pops, remember this as the zenith.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


weingarten@washpost.com in case anyone wishes to call this to the attention of the Pulitzer Prize winner who doesnt cite sources.
posted by spitbull at 5:50 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If they gave us credit, we might have a bunch of Washington Post readers coming here. Is that desirable? Maybe the subset who thought to google it is preferable.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:56 AM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


I just sent an email to the paper's ombudsman.
posted by ladygypsy at 5:57 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


weingarten@washpost.com

I suggest that not everybody leap off and fire nastygrams at them. Perhaps a mod can represent.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Umm, since all of mefi is largely supported by AskMe ad revenue, as I understand it, and that is traffic based, it is definitely "worth it" to have WashPost readers of all sorts click through to the original AskMe. Keeps prices low for the rest of us!
posted by spitbull at 6:00 AM on May 28, 2012


My email was polite and succinct.
posted by spitbull at 6:05 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Really, let's not go nuts on the comments. They'll get it. Our snark not required.
posted by Miko at 6:19 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I just sent an email to the paper's ombudsman.

> My email was polite and succinct.

OK. Good deal. I think one apiece is plenty.
posted by nangar at 6:19 AM on May 28, 2012


I suggest that not everybody leap off and fire nastygrams at them.

Why shouldn't we email him?
posted by John Cohen at 6:21 AM on May 28, 2012


I think one apiece is plenty.

What does this mean?
posted by John Cohen at 6:22 AM on May 28, 2012


Hey, does anybody know an online place where I can group my messages?
posted by davidjmcgee at 6:25 AM on May 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


My message group meets at the Barnes & Noble on Route 46 on Wednesday nights. This week we're going to really unpack "The British are coming." We're pretty hardcore. No outside coffee allowed.
posted by mintcake! at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


Twitter users could mention @geneweingarten with the relevant links.
posted by John Cohen at 6:30 AM on May 28, 2012


> What does this mean?

Gene Weingarten can read the one email from spitbull and get the message. Five more emails or fifty saying the same thing doesn't add anything. (I was going to send him an email, but since it's been done now I won't.)
posted by nangar at 6:31 AM on May 28, 2012


I suggest that not everybody leap off and fire nastygrams at them.

Why shouldn't we email him?


You certainly can, and I do hope you'll also be polite as spitbull was. But I don't think it's going to take that many emails to get the job done.

If you want to weigh in personally, totally go ahead. But I think there can be a tendency for us to come down a little heavy offsite, and the effect is of a big gang running in to deliver justice. It doesn't make MeFi look great to do that, and it's something we are in control of. How do we want to the community to be represented? We can think about the editor or reporter who opens their email tomorrow and has 75 "Journalism 101!!1!1" emails, ranging in tone from polite to snotty. It's overkill and a little bullying. I think the handful of comments and the one (or more) emails that have already been sent are likely to be effective. It's Memorial Day, thank God nothing's on fire in DC, probably there are not many people minding the store just now. Let's give them a chance to have a look at it and correct the record.

He made a mistake, and we can do our part as responsible but respectful readers and point out the error without sending a separate email or posting a separate comment from each of us. All we need is attribution, we don't need to leap all over his credentials. It's a useful reminder for the WaPo, but I just want to encourage us to keep our outrage in check and be mature.
posted by Miko at 6:31 AM on May 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


Gene Weingarten can read the one email from spitbull and get the message. Five more emails or fifty saying the same thing doesn't add anything. (I was going to send him an email, but since it's been done now I won't.)

I wouldn't at all assume that. Any given email (especially from an unknown person to a famous person) is likely to be unread. I don't understand why people are trying to police the number of emails sent to Weingarten when he stole our material. The more emails, the better.
posted by John Cohen at 6:33 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hey, does anybody know an online place where I can group my messages?

I use gmail.

That's probably what he meant too. Somebody emailed him a link to the post, so he got from a message group.
posted by nangar at 6:34 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really doubt that's what he meant.
posted by John Cohen at 6:35 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any given email (especially from an unknown person to a famous person) is likely to be unread.

At a newspaper, this really isn't true.

I'm not trying to "police" anybody. I'm just making a personal plea. Do as you will, just please give your response some thought.
posted by Miko at 6:37 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think the point's been made there, let's give them a chance to see and act.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:44 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


John, I'm not telling you can't email him. I don't think it actually will hurt anything.

A really huge number of emails, as opposed to a handful, could end up making us look like an angry mob. I think that's what Miko was worried about.
posted by nangar at 6:45 AM on May 28, 2012


> I really doubt that's what he meant.

Joke.
posted by nangar at 6:47 AM on May 28, 2012


Personally, I'm just sorry that the AskMe in question is getting resurrected. Reading it made me sad, both the question and many of the comments. Sad or not, though, pilfering content without attribution is kind of cheesy and I hope they correct the mistake.
posted by Forktine at 6:50 AM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


A really huge number of emails, as opposed to a handful, could end up making us look like an angry mob. I think that's what Miko was worried about.

I'm not worried about it. I'm worried that if only a few people send emails, especially on a holiday, they'll completely slip through the cracks and the problem will go unnoticed at WaPo.

I've emailed Weingarten and the Ombudsman. I would encourage anyone else to do the same.
posted by John Cohen at 6:50 AM on May 28, 2012


You're scrood

That's just fuct.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 AM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Given that he posted that early evening on Sunday, that it's Memorial Day, and that he's specifically scheduled to do a chat response tomorrow, expecting a response/modification today is probably unlikely.

framing this whole issue in terms of "do you think being ugly means you won't find love" is one way of pushing that message, just more subtly

Framing this whole issue in terms of "do you think being ugly means you won't find love" was responding the asker's question. Though if you've got some kind of program for generally reducing the superficiality of human society, for heaven's sake launch a Kickstarter or something because we seriously need some of that.

Now I think I'll go enjoy Outside. Keep it peaceful, Message Group.
posted by nanojath at 6:59 AM on May 28, 2012


A really huge number of emails, as opposed to a handful, could end up making us look like an angry mob.

Well, that does sound like us.
posted by JanetLand at 7:02 AM on May 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Really, let's not go nuts on the comments. They'll get it. Our snark not required.

Seriously. We need to do actual damage control sometimes when a bunch of angry MeFites go apeshit in someone's comments sections and use their handles from here. Please do everyone a favor and feel free to register your displeasure or make helpful suggestions but don't just go over there being snarky jerks. I think emails to weingarten and/or the Omsbudsman are fine, but consider that you're being an ambassador from here at some level so be decent about it.

Clearly that should have been cited, but it seems like maybe Weingarten got it in an email or something and is either didn't google or doesn't really get how the whole HTML thing works.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:10 AM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Aw, I expected better of Gene Weingarten.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:11 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Benefit of doubt: Perhaps the source was inadvertently left out during the editing process.

...consider that you're being an ambassador from here at some level so be decent about it.


This, please. Do you really want Reddit or some other site commenting on how badly MeFites handled a WaPo screw-up?
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:17 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do we want to the community to be represented?

Tyrion Lannister of course. Perhaps one of the later Doctors if Tyrion is busy, um, other things.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:33 AM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


> Aw, I expected better of Gene Weingarten.

Sheesh, try to keep this in perspective. He didn't make up facts, he didn't even misquote somebody, he quoted an AskMeFi question without actually linking to AskMeFi. Yes, it would have been nice if he had, but on the scale of things both we and he should be worrying about, it's pretty far down the list. I have to say that if I were him and I got more than a few e-mails saying "OMG you didn't link to us!!" in however pleasant and polite a way, I'd think that MeFi was one weird, paranoid, self-obsessed message board.
posted by languagehat at 7:35 AM on May 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Any given email (especially from an unknown person to a famous person) is likely to be unread.

Yeah, not true at newspapers.

And surely not true of "any given email" in general, but perhaps you have some research to back up that claim.

By all accounts Gene Weingarten is a very decent man — if someone politely draws his attention to this small slip and asks for a proper link, WHO KNOWS WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN...?!?!
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:35 AM on May 28, 2012


I sent the email under my own name.
posted by spitbull at 7:42 AM on May 28, 2012


I've noticed this kind of thing - not linking to obvious web sources - so many times in on-line newspapers that I wonder if this is not some weird generational/cultural problem. Weingarten is no internet noob (he once vandalised his own Wikipedia page for fun) but perhaps such unwritten rules of internet culture keep eluding him and other members of the dead-tree world. Perhaps they think that an internet source is not A Source and therefore no more citation-worthy than the ramblings of RandomDude#245. I have otherwise smart colleagues who always leave the Subject: field blank in their emails even though they have been using email for 20 years. I don't think they want to make my life more difficult: they just don't get that putting a subject line is important in this form of on-line communication.
posted by elgilito at 7:43 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps they think that an internet source is not A Source and therefore no more citation-worthy than the ramblings of RandomDude#245.

Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to assume the worst, especially since Weingarten is not known for being ignorant about the internet.

Perhaps Weingarten didn't wish to draw more attention to the personal question, but did want to talk about the interesting questions it brings up. Must everything on the web be attributed if we want to talk about it? Maybe not linking to it is giving the user a measure of privacy, something now ruined by this MeTa post.

AskMe will not live or die by Weingarten's poll. Has actual harm occurred to this site or anyone by broad discussion of the post on another site? What's the point of demanding a link to the original article?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


To recruit new members from the WaPo comments section, natch.
posted by box at 7:49 AM on May 28, 2012


> I have to say that if I were him and I got more than a few e-mails saying "OMG you didn't link to us!!" in however pleasant and polite a way, I'd think that MeFi was one weird, paranoid, self-obsessed message board.

We wouldn't him to think that, because actually we're a blog, right?
posted by nangar at 7:50 AM on May 28, 2012


The only ones here with any actual credibility to set Gene Weingarten and the Washington Post straight about who owns Metafilter's content are mathowie and the mods. I hope you guys do so; this is a terrible precedent.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:10 AM on May 28, 2012


And I might add that even though IANAL, IAA(librarian) and this does not remotely seem like fair use.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:11 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the point of demanding a link to the original article?
I don't think it's much of an issue as far as MeFi is concerned, but I doubt that a veteran like him would quote 115 words verbatim from a book or a newspaper article and fail to cite the source. He (and the WaPo laywers) would probably be annoyed if someone took his poll results and published it elsewhere without citation. It's a widespread problem: on-line science reporting is bad at linking to the scientific papers they discuss for instance.
posted by elgilito at 8:15 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few respectful emails should do the trick. If it fails to be fixed, then we can start polishing pitchforks.

Also: You're scrood - I look forward to Bill Murray starring in the sequel.
posted by arcticseal at 8:20 AM on May 28, 2012


Man, that's weird, yeah. But echoing what others have said; if you want to drop a note via email or to add something that's not already materially there in the comments, that's fine and I pretty much trust folks to be sensible about it but do keep in mind that you're part of a large crowd here and effectively being an ambassador for the site when you make the connection between what's going on over there and Metafilter.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:21 AM on May 28, 2012


Is 'message group' an archaic term I missed at the time

Yes, you missed it during the archaic times - before the oceans had drunk Atlantis. They were good times, too - we were all, "Dude, everything is so fucking archaic, yo? I mean check out my iPad 1. It is fucking retro as shit. Got this new weather app, it says '10% chance of the oceans drinking Atlantis'. Like that is going to happen!" Then me, Gronk and Urg flew off on our pet Pterodactyl to discover fire, and when we came back - blammo. No Atlantis. I told my tribe in a text message but they were all, "Pfft. We're message-bored".

And that's where the term comes from, as languagehat will confirm. He was there too, helping build the Tower of Babel.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:22 AM on May 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


effectively being an ambassador for the site when you make the connection between what's going on over there and Metafilter.

Look, if ya'll are saying we're ambassadors, then we're going to need titles, lands, horses and kegs of your finest ale!

Cloaks would nice too.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:31 AM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Maybe not linking to it is giving the user a measure of privacy

If that was his concern he had a lot of options that didn't involve quoting the question verbatim without linking to it. For example he could have created a similar but fictionalized question.
posted by 6550 at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brandon, I can give you an apartment complex driveway, a stunted pony, a couple of Hamms almost-empties, a sash made from three tube socks, and a grudging "sir", but that's about it for the diplomatic budget this month.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:40 AM on May 28, 2012 [26 favorites]


OP on that askme, if you're reading this, don't let this bring you down! Please! I struggle with all the same issues and then at 30 realized I'm not ugly! Don't even go near your computer. The Washington Post is not for you and they are not in charge of your mental health!
posted by skbw at 8:43 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


My first thought on seeing this MeTa was "I hope it's the one about the number seven."
posted by milk white peacock at 8:45 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sash and pony please. Keep the driveway, it smells of asphalt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: A Message Group. (somebody had to do it...)
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:21 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Somebody had to do it...
posted by tzikeh at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


For me, the more serious issue is what Brandon Blatcher pointed out in the comments section:

Yet, when that person submitted the question to AskMetafilter, they had no idea that it would appear in a Washington Post poll. They're in a troubled state of mind and seeking help, not to be hoisted above the crowd for other purposes, however innocent they may be.
posted by BibiRose at 9:29 AM on May 28, 2012 [24 favorites]

"This poll was suggested by a reader, who sent in the following post from a message group ..."
Bet that reader also drives Thomas Friedman's cab. To be fair, though, if I were a veteran journalist assigned to produce sub-Parade magazine polls for the purpose of driving advertising traffic, then I'd probably hand the whole thing to an intern and walk off as well.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:38 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


And surely not true of "any given email" in general, but perhaps you have some research to back up that claim.

Are you serious?
posted by John Cohen at 9:43 AM on May 28, 2012


Aw, I expected better of languagehat.

I'm just in the mood to be dismayed.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:43 AM on May 28, 2012


The WaPo writer would follow us around and use our jewels for internet polls; of this we were convinced. It was no coincidence. The lager seemed poisoned. source
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:49 AM on May 28, 2012


Oh good. Now I know of two Washington Post Pulitzer winners that are utter assclowns.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2012


A bigger concern for me than the citation issue is how Weingarten has reduced a complex, painful question and answer session into "do you date ugly people?"

It is especially frustrating because he notes the complexity of the AskMe answers in his introduction, then goes on to completely ignore it in his poll questions. That little poll reads like something out of (insert name of some sleazy teen mag here). Yuck.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:02 AM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Must everything on the web be attributed if we want to talk about it? Maybe not linking to it is giving the user a measure of privacy, something now ruined by this MeTa post.

It's tricky. If you do link back, it may draw excess or unwanted attention to the original source, beyond what the original poster may have imagined possible—an FPP linking to a post in somebody's obscure personal LiveJournal, for example. But not linking to it can seem like talking about somebody behind their back, talking about them but not to them.

And in either case, there can be difficulty resulting from unfamiliarity with or friction between the different cultures. I realized the other day that when I see an article on some other site about something going on on MeFi (latest example, the Gizmodo article on the holdkris99 thing) my heart sinks.
posted by Lexica at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2012




Must everything on the web be attributed if we want to talk about it? Maybe not linking to it is giving the user a measure of privacy, something now ruined by this MeTa post.


Well. Yes. Copyright law and plagiarism aside, it's considered to be good practice to attribute quotations.

There are alternatives though; as others have suggested the author could have rewritten the question without treading on the original author's content, it's a really generic question once you strip out the identifying details, it would have been trivial to delete or remove those.

If you're going to use someone else's quotation, you attribute it. ESPECIALLY under the banner of a major publication. If you're not comfortable with giving credit for that quotation, then you need to seriously think about why you're using it.

I wouldn't demand that someone add citations to a casual conversation online, but if you're actually QUOTING something, then give attribution, if only briefly. If you're writing for a major publication, then you'll be held to an even higher standard.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:10 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd think that MeFi was one weird, paranoid, self-obsessed message board.

Please. Weird, paranoid, self-obsessed message group.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on May 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


The unattributed content is kinda sucky, but you know forgettable and fixable... the "Chatological Humor:..." framing is asshole-ishness.
posted by edgeways at 10:25 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"This poll was suggested by a reader, who sent in the following post from a message group ..."

I actually read this to mean that Weingarten had not seen the AskMe question at all, but instead received the suggestion via email or otherwise from a reader, who perhaps did not provide a link or reference the source. Of course, that would require giving Weingarten the benefit of the doubt, rather than immediately assuming that he is an "utter assclown."

I'm actually more concerned about the issue raised by Brandon Blatcher in his comment on the WP site: "While the idea is interesting, I'm a bit bothered by using someone's personal problem in an article without their knowledge or consent."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:28 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I actually read this to mean that Weingarten had not seen the AskMe question at all



I thought about that as well, but I think his follow on paragraph starting:

There were more than a hundred responses, basically falling into four categories....

seriously reduces the likelihood he didn't read the thread.
posted by edgeways at 10:33 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


using someone's personal problem in an article without their knowledge or consent

The question was posted on a publicly-viewable internet site. There's no expectation of privacy there.
posted by girlmightlive at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2012


Gods, that question bums me out. I know it's just mainstream media dipshittery but man, outside sources pick funny things to focus on about Mefi, don't they? I mean, beautiful stuff happens in AskMe almost daily - smart people come together and solve problems collectively. Compassionate people come together and help community members through their struggles. On almost any day of the week, AskMe operating as normal is completely fucking amazing.

Does any of that positive stuff get covered? No, of fucking course not. Why would a news reader possibly want to know about something amazing that happens daily right under their noses? Better to gawk at depressing questions like this one or stupid embarrassing bullshit like hoaxkris99.

(of course, a lot of the responses in that thread did demonstrate AskMe's general level of compassion and support - a nuance that Weingarten's LOLZ POLLZ doesn't quite capture here)
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:44 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've noticed this kind of thing - not linking to obvious web sources - so many times in on-line newspapers that I wonder if this is not some weird generational/cultural problem.

Newspaper folks in general don't seem to get the internets. It's especially funny when they write an article about a website but it doesn't occur to them to actually provide a link to it.
posted by octothorpe at 10:45 AM on May 28, 2012


Well that's...kind of creepy. It would have come off more respectfully if he'd written something like, "Recently a reader sent me a question posted to an online community by a young woman who believed herself to be unattractive to the point of ugliness. I won't repeat her exact question here, but to paraphrase, blah, blah..."

That thread had a lot of great answers and I remember I favorited a bunch and was going to go back and favorite more. But without going through it again right now, I disagree with his assessment of the answers. As I remember it was pretty much 1) Oh I'm sure you're pretty, just feel better about yourself. 2) There are lots of other traits men look for in a partner aside from looks, obviously you see hideous married people every day, so you'll be fine. 3) This is a real problem but you can probably work around it/fix it/compensate for it in some way.

Of course I'm not surprised to see something reduced to its stupidest level as it gets passed along the internet telephone game, and of course the OP (who was posting anonymously anyway) knew it was on a public forum, but...it still disturbs me.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question was posted on a publicly-viewable internet site. There's no expectation of privacy there.

I could be wrong, but maybe the original asker would be mortified to know that their question has jumped from the relative obscurity of an anonymous AskMe post to a quiz-poll on WaPo.

It's been mentioned before that mods can do some digging and find anonymous askers, so would it in this case be maybe okay to send a discreet note to the asker and see if they are okay with having their question discussed on WaPo?
posted by empatterson at 11:06 AM on May 28, 2012


the relative obscurity of an anonymous AskMe post

AskMe posts are often the first response in a google search for their given topic. It's not exactly obscure.
posted by tzikeh at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I actually read this to mean that Weingarten had not seen the AskMe question at all, but instead received the suggestion via email or otherwise from a reader, who perhaps did not provide a link or reference the source.

Still, one of his first questions should be "Where did this come from?" especially since he quoted it. Which I'm certain he knows, which makes me think it's more of an oversight type of deal. My guess? "Ooh, perfect, needed some kinda question, trying to get out the door for the long weekend, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, done." Just hasty.
posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on May 28, 2012


AskMe posts are often the first response in a google search for their given topic. It's not exactly obscure.

Aren't google searches weighted in some way, though? I.e. you spend time on metafilter, google knows this, and so tosses you up an ask.metafilter result more prominently than for someone else?
posted by curious nu at 11:22 AM on May 28, 2012


I think it's weird that people are taking a lack of a link - not direct plagiarism, mind you, just a missed attribution - as some sort of personal affront against us as a people.
posted by Think_Long at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I.e. you spend time on metafilter, google knows this, and so tosses you up an ask.metafilter result more prominently than for someone else?

Perhaps, but at the same time I've seen these results come up even when using other people's computers (people who aren't MeFites). There are a lot of eyes on them; they come up high. I can't imagine thinking of MetaFilter as highly private, nor do I think we should encourage people to.
posted by Miko at 11:26 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


re: Scrood

Perhaps WaPo enjoys the Lords of Acid?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:33 AM on May 28, 2012


"I think it's weird that people are taking a lack of a link - not direct plagiarism, mind you, just a missed attribution - as some sort of personal affront against us as a people."

Well...I won't speak for anyone else, but in my case it has everything to do with the old media culture's denigration of the web that is very often displayed by not treating a web source as it would any other source, but as something that can be plagiarized, unattributed, and otherwise treated with a complete lack of respect. If this were very exceptional (though, to be fair, it's less and less common these days) it wouldn't provoke a reaction from me.

I agree with others that this is particularly a problem with newspapers. To be fair, though, what sometimes happens is that you have, say, some new media writer/blogger who takes the web seriously while the rest of the paper keeps the web at arm's length and ostentatiously holds its nose. To my great surprise, a New York Times writer on web stuff wrote about a MeFi discussion and went to the trouble of looking up my real name in my profile so as to quote me by it — which, you know, I still think it's pretty cool that I've been quoted by name in the NYT. But that's one extreme. (And those writers there and elsewhere deserve credit for it!) The other is more common and you can see web-sourced content regularly used entirely without attribution in newspapers and similar media.

This is almost certainly related to the "it's only words on a screen" attitude that many web participants have — when a lot of the people who write those words don't think they matter, it's no wonder that traditional media types assume that things like attribution don't really matter.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:37 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Was anyone else actually a little surprised by the poll results?
posted by en forme de poire at 11:38 AM on May 28, 2012


I think it's weird that people are taking a lack of a link - not direct plagiarism, mind you, just a missed attribution - as some sort of personal affront against us as a people.

It's an in-group/out-group thing, I think. As in, mefites trust mefites to basically handle a question like that with honesty, sensitivity and discretion (with the help of a little light whack-a-mole-ing from the mods). We do not trust the hacks at the WaPo or the d-bags in their comments to do so, and exposing the asker to that feels like a violation, because while an AskMe can be viewed by anyone, only MeFites have the privilige of answering.

It'd be like if there was some Mormon website with a discussion of an obscure point of order on their undergarments which got linked to gawker or something --- if you were a reader of the original web site your heart would drop, because respect just went out the window. To mix a metaphor.
posted by Diablevert at 11:38 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've seen these results come up even when using other people's computers (people who aren't MeFites). There are a lot of eyes on them; they come up high.

Ditto. Friends who know I'm on MetaFilter tell me that they end up at "your Ask the Meta site"* thanks to google relatively steadily.

*swear to God my friend Carolyn said "That's your 'Ask the Meta' site!", like we're some kind of fortune-teller collective. I laughed pretty hard.
posted by tzikeh at 11:43 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Yes, you missed it during the archaic times - before the oceans had drunk Atlantis. They were good times, too - we were all, "Dude, everything is so fucking archaic, yo? I mean check out my iPad 1. It is fucking retro as shit. Got this new weather app, it says '10% chance of the oceans drinking Atlantis'. Like that is going to happen!" Then me, Gronk and Urg flew off on our pet Pterodactyl to discover fire, and when we came back - blammo. No Atlantis. I told my tribe in a text message but they were all, "Pfft. We're message-bored".

And that's where the term comes from, as languagehat will confirm. He was there too, helping build the Tower of Babel.


I can confirm that, but dude, you've quoted Paphnuty without attribution.

> We do not trust the hacks at the WaPo

Gene Weingarten is not a "hack" (unless you're using it in the affectionate-raillery in-group sense, which I doubt). Can we please not descend into assuming the worst of everyone outside our in-group?
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


AskMe posts are often the first response in a google search for their given topic. It's not exactly obscure.

Diablevert expresses my thought on that quite eloquently:
...exposing the asker to [random d-bags in the WaPo comments section] feels like a violation, because while an AskMe can be viewed by anyone, only MeFites have the privilige of answering.
posted by empatterson at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope it doesn't hurt the asker too much seeing this elsewhere. I think it can be hard to realise before one does so how painful it can be having asked a question that's important, personal, and for whatever reason something one wants to keep anonymous. I've asked questions that I've regretted, even though some of the answers have been helpful - it can make things more real to see them in what seems a "permanent" form on the internet, and I think people sometimes answer anon questions differently, with assumptions that can hurt. I try much more than I used to to be careful what I say on MF, and something like this reminds me of the unboundaried nature of the internet and would make me even more cautious about being too candid - a good thing to be reminded of, I guess. But I worry about the effect of seeing this poll on the asker.

Also, if a poll must be had, a poll asking readers which of the four responses GW says the original comments fell into they agreed with would have been more interesting than the standard "what is your attitude to looks".
posted by paduasoy at 11:59 AM on May 28, 2012


Or, what Brandon said in the comments over at WaPo.

(Well said, btw.)
posted by empatterson at 12:04 PM on May 28, 2012


so would it in this case be maybe okay to send a discreet note to the asker and see if they are okay with having their question discussed on WaPo?

Maybe if this discussion was had over email or someone's Facebook page. I just don't think it's the same thing, a question asked on a public forum, even if it is sensitive (and I am empathetic to the OP). I don't see anything in the WaPo discussing as denigrating to the OP.
posted by girlmightlive at 12:14 PM on May 28, 2012


Was anyone else actually a little surprised by the poll results?

I didn't find them very surprising, although it would not have surprised me if more "attractive males" and to a lesser extent, "attractive females" had rated looks as extremely important rather than important up to a point.

Across the four versions of the poll, it seems like attractive and unattractive people of both sexes find looks somewhat important, but the less attractive answerers believe they have a lower bar as far as how attractive someone has to be.

Interestingly, a similar percentage of attractive women, unattractive women and unattractive males indicated that looks are almost totally unimportant and that their standards of attractiveness are "very forgiving". The number of attractive males who voted for this option were 66-75% fewer.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


so would it in this case be maybe okay to send a discreet note to the asker and see if they are okay with having their question discussed on WaPo?

IANAMod, but my understanding is that their respect for a user's desire to be anonymous trumps almost anything else w/r/t the question at hand.
posted by tzikeh at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2012


Yeah, we're not going to go figure out who someone is just to poke them about the fact that someone else quoted their question. If there was something more specifically problematic going on in terms of direct privacy issues or so forth that might be a different situation, but this doesn't seem to be that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2012


I always feel worried when touchy AskMe questions get discussed outside of AskMe, even in MetaTalk, since insulting or hurtful answers are less likely to get deleted there. I appreciate Brandon's comment over there.
posted by salvia at 1:08 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


But why the Post.
posted by clavdivs at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2012


How do we want to the community to be represented?
I think Brandon Blatcher and furiousgeorge already did that.
posted by adamvasco at 1:48 PM on May 28, 2012


Was anyone else actually a little surprised by the poll results?

As far as how men feel about women, no. What’s always surprising to me is how many women I know or have known refuse to believe that appearance is not the number one or only criteria for most men. I think the poll reflects exactly what I see in the world, and think it is worded correctly.
posted by bongo_x at 2:29 PM on May 28, 2012



I think Brandon Blatcher and furiousgeorge already did that.
posted by adamvasco at 1:48 PM on May 28 [+] [!]


That's what we get for electing an ambassador with "furious" as his given name.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:36 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that whoever responds on the WaPo side cites BrandonBlatcher's "poster might not like their problems being broadcast" as the reason for not crediting. "Yeah, BB hit the nail on the head..."
posted by rhizome at 3:05 PM on May 28, 2012


I'd have thought, given that metafilter outdraws Slate.com for traffic, that mentioning the site would have been the easier approach.
posted by Trochanter at 3:20 PM on May 28, 2012


@geneweingarten just responded to my Twitter post:
@jaltcoh Ah, thanks. I never actually knew where it came from. I'll credit it tomorrow when the poll is discussed in my chat.
posted by John Cohen at 3:22 PM on May 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


Re: John Cohen's update, this makes the whole article even more ridic.

Somebody read a thing some place, there maybe a lot of responses, I don't know. Okay, here's a poll.

Okay, here's my disdain for the Washington Post.
posted by smallvictories at 3:44 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure it's just a bit of ample posterior-covering until the mistake can be resolved and everyone finally shuts up about it.
posted by hermitosis at 3:47 PM on May 28, 2012


The Internet: I never actually knew where it came from.
posted by Namlit at 3:51 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


so would it in this case be maybe okay to send a discreet note to the asker and see if they are okay with having their question discussed on WaPo?

Just to super-stress this, no. We've had to get a bit more specific as far as warning people "Look you know stuff that happens on MetaFilter basically winds up searchable on Google and if that's not okay with you please take care that you are adequately protecting your own privacy and don't expect us to do it for you after the fact." when they sign up but at some level, if the OP said they weren't okay with this [if we could track her down which we couldn't do particularly easily at this point, but is humanly possible] what would we do then?

As far as I'm concerned the WaPo is within their rights to reprint stuff like this, though it would be classier of them to include a "via" link or some sort of thing just because that's sort of standard operating procedure as well as in line with their own policies.

We have people who ask questions anonymously and then ask us to delete them because it makes them uncomfortable to look at them and/or they got responses that they didn't like or appreciate. This is the exception rather than the rule but it happens enough that it's become something that we have a standard response to. While we have general ways of doing things here on MetaFilter, posts made here are not just available to MetaFilter users, they are available to the entire internet. We'll get pretty fussy if people are reprinting our content wholesale as their own, but otherwise reusing and repurposing small bits of content is pretty much fair-use okay.

Glad it looks like they'll add some sort of attribution, thanks for that John Cohen.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:54 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


@geneweingarten just responded to my Twitter post:
@jaltcoh Ah, thanks. I never actually knew where it came from. I'll credit it tomorrow when the poll is discussed in my chat.


What an odd thing to say; he summarized the responses so I'm assuming he read the thread.
posted by lalex at 4:03 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


As 'tasso8' commented (someone here? no idea) in the post itself, on the WaPo third-party content guidelines it says specifically:
"We should give credit every time we embed, excerpt or paraphrase others’ work on our site — no matter the platform the third-party used (print, blog, Twitter, etc.). We should give credit by both naming the content source and linking to the specific piece of content, if possible. ... We should assume that a work is subject to copyright protection unless it’s a federal government work or it’s really, really old, in which case it may have passed into the public domain."
So yes, according to the WaPo's own rules, they should have at least linked to the Ask post, doing a little research at the start, instead of just a 'heard it from a guy on the street who heard it from the girl who heard it from her friend at the 31 flavors' kind of thing.
posted by mephron at 4:08 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


lalex: "What an odd thing to say; he summarized the responses so I'm assuming he read the thread."
I assume he not only didn't read the thread, but also didn't write the piece - it was probably thrown together by an intern or assistant or something and put out with his name on it after he gave it a cursory glance.

elgilito: "I have otherwise smart colleagues who always leave the Subject: field blank in their emails even though they have been using email for 20 years"
Heh, just yesterday I declared war on this very practice and started adding the subject line 'isn't it annoying when people don't use subject lines in e-mail?' when responding.
posted by dg at 4:16 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good search has rendered the subject line irrelevant, in my opinion.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:23 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weingarten wrote me back politely and personally to say the source would be credited tomorrow. At 6pm on Memorial Day, no less.
posted by spitbull at 4:24 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like Weingarten is some kind of MONSTER, or not.
posted by Elmore at 4:25 PM on May 28, 2012


Well, actually it was the same thing he said in his tweet. So maybe not so personally.
posted by spitbull at 4:25 PM on May 28, 2012


adamdschneider: "Good search has rendered the subject line irrelevant, in my opinion."

Not an Outlook user, I see.
posted by dg at 4:27 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


adamschneider, threaded email is still the way some of us read current conversations. Also I often search for subject lines to reduce my results to more relevant ones.

But please don't use "hey!"
posted by spitbull at 4:28 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never actually knew where it came from.

Doesn't really square with the summary of responses. Did his wonderful email suggester paste all the responses, too, or perhaps summarise the answers, as well?

Sad to say, a journalist doing the bare minimum is all too common in my experience, and this seems - apology or no - like typical journalist disdain for "new" media, bloggers, and the internet in general; just poorly assembled grist for their content mills.
posted by smoke at 4:42 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


> using someone's personal problem in an article without their knowledge or consent The question was posted on a publicly-viewable internet site. There's no expectation of privacy there.

Of course there's not a legal expectation of privacy for something posted on Metafilter. But the journalist should check his sources and exercise a wee bit of ethical consideration and common courtesy.

He didn't know where it came from but he cited the "breakdown" of the responses?

Wait, if he didn't know where it came from, how does he know that it was a publicly readable "message group" and not a restricted-access group that DOES have some expectation of privacy?

At best, it's lazy and lulzy.
posted by desuetude at 4:47 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]




Gene Weingarten's sexist (even meta-sexist) sense of humor was funny in the 1980s.

Now there needs to be a Gene Weingarten Column Generator.
posted by bad grammar at 5:13 PM on May 28, 2012


Am I missing something?
Is this Washington Post columnist’s Twitter icon really a pile of poo?
posted by blueberry at 6:09 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's cupcake frosting.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:10 PM on May 28, 2012




Is this Washington Post columnist’s Twitter icon really a pile of poo?

"Jesus! Haven't you guys spent any time at all around people like [this]? Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head appears as a WaPo Twitter icon, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?"'

(All thanks and apologies to Douglas Macarthur Shaftoe and N. Stephenson.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's cupcake frosting.

note to self: never eat anything cjorgenson has baked.
posted by elizardbits at 6:25 PM on May 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


We'll get pretty fussy if people are reprinting our content wholesale as their own, but otherwise reusing and repurposing small bits of content is pretty much fair-use okay.

I'm really surprised and disappointed to see this characterized as a repurposing of a small bit of content. To me, it seems like a blatant expropriation that would not even be okay with proper attribution. Searchability is one thing, pointing out a Metafilter post in a blog is another thing, but publishing someone's question in the Washington Post and asking WP readers to weigh in is in a whole different category. I respect Metafilter management's right to allow others to use the site's content as they see fit, but I think allowing this is disrespectful to its contributors.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:32 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I totally hear what you are saying, but to me the point is, we can't reasonably disallow it. We will push to have things attributed accurately but if people want to pullquote stuff from MeFi from time to time, we don't have legal footing to ask them not to. We could go after them and raise a stink and be jerks about it--and we would definitely do that if we felt that there was a person or website that was doing this on a regular basis--but realistically it's the Washington Post and we don't expect that asking them politely "Hey could you remove that column you posted which excerpted one of thousands of questions on our site, made by a user we can't identify?" would be fruitful.

So this isn't me being all "Information wants to be free!" this is more "I think there is a compelling fair use argument they could make for this and I think this isn't really where we want to go testing the waters."

I'd strongly prefer that people didn't repurpose our content on their advertiser supported website and make money off of other people's awkward situations. But I can't put myself in the OPs shoes and decide that this is not okay in their stead. There's a big gap between "Not okay and we're willing to turn it into a big possibly legal fight" and "Hey we're totally cool with this happening" I am not totally cool with this happening, personally but I'm also pragmatic about what I think our realistic options are.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


@geneweingarten just responded to my Twitter post:

@jaltcoh Ah, thanks. I never actually knew where it came from ...


So where did he get "There were more than a hundred responses" and then analyse them as falling into basically four categories?

But OK, he decided to credit it.


bongo_x: I think the poll reflects exactly what I see in the world, and think it is worded correctly.

The options are worded to make it perfectly clear that options two and three are the only right answers and the other two are jokes, and then he's going to "discuss" the results tomorrow as if they weren't foregone conclusions?

OK. I know this is "fluff journalism" and it's a reader poll, not a real survey, and it's a holiday, and he's done real journalism, and that makes it OK.

But, given that stuff in science news articles is so frequently flagrantly made up, even when they're easy to check (it's not that hard to find the original articles in an academic library, and frequently they're easily googleable), why should we believe anything these people say about anything? Why should we believe what they say "sources close to administration" said when they usually lie about things we can check?

Why should we trust anything this guy has ever said about anything when his knee-jerk response to simple request for attribution is a blatant lie, "I never actually knew where it came from", when he talks about comments in a thread he supposedly never saw or read in his article?

Just 'I messed up' or 'I forgot' would have been fine. It wasn't a big deal. His response, though, suggests that he, like a lot of other journalists, just doesn't care.
posted by nangar at 6:50 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not an Outlook user, I see.

Dude, I said good search.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:12 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


nangar: "So where did he get "There were more than a hundred responses" and then analyse them as falling into basically four categories?"

He didn't. The person writing the article that appeared with his name on it did.
posted by dg at 7:29 PM on May 28, 2012


This could be easily settled with a game of strip poker.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 PM on May 28, 2012


which excerpted one of thousands of questions on our site, made by a user we can't identify?

Won't identify. More power to you and glad of the stance, but accuracy is important.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:37 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, in summary: it's a lazy, poorly-conceived, prurient, ethically-dubious, ghostwritten bit of pseudojournalism. But at least when prodded about it the "author" was civil about adding an attribution that should've been there in the first place.

Bleh.
posted by Scientist at 7:45 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Won't identify.

Once a question is approved and several weeks old, the only people who can identify them are pb and mathowie who have access to the database box. I can't identify them. So the site as a whole won't identify them generally, but I actually can't identify them now, unless they come forward and identify themselves to me and/or I ask pb/mathowie to go digging around in the database. Which they would, sure, but our general first line of discussion about anon questions is that we don't know who they are and we won't even go looking unless there's some really compelling reason. "Currently can't identify" might be more accurate. The whole way we do anon questions and answers here is pretty stupidly complicated so that we can give users an actual real degree of anonymity and don't just obscure their usernames or something similarly lightweight.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:45 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a frequent denizen of the Weingarten chat for a while now, I feel like my two friends are fighting.
posted by PussKillian at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


He started it.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I trust that Gene, who has more than the ball in general than y'all think here, will handle this better come tomorrow. As a dude who considers himself ugly (and he has certainly said so), he probably has thoughts on this and that's why he's interested.

It'll depend on how he handles it, sure, but I have faith.

(Though really, if I'd posted the question, I'd be pissed as hell it made it to post.com, but as has been pointed out, you can't stop it now.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 PM on May 28, 2012


Well I'm late to this thread, but its way past 6pm on Memorial Day and there is still no attribution on the linked page. And personally, I'm more saddened by someone reposting a heartfelt question like that, with no consideration for the feelings of the OP.
posted by Joh at 9:35 PM on May 28, 2012


Oh, on review, I misunderstood and thought he was going to post by 6pm today. Duh. Regardless, I'm still sad.
posted by Joh at 9:37 PM on May 28, 2012


The options are worded to make it perfectly clear that options two and three are the only right answers and the other two are jokes, and then he's going to "discuss" the results tomorrow as if they weren't foregone conclusions?

It’s a discussion thing, isn’t it, to give people something to talk about? Unless I’m confused. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a trick, or a failed scientific survey.
posted by bongo_x at 9:38 PM on May 28, 2012


As a frequent denizen of the Weingarten chat for a while now, I feel like my two friends are fighting.

If he is really just posting his name to a hasty article someone else wrote I don't think that does much to enhance his credibility. I don't really give Ron Paul much slack for presumably doing similar crap back in the day, and while this chap may well not be a "hack" I really wouldn't call this great ethical behavior either. It's not like this is Garfield or anything eh?
posted by edgeways at 10:07 PM on May 28, 2012


I mean they pulled a full block quote. Googling the first sentence would have brought the exact thread.

I'm annoyed by the gawker like clickview baiting, I'm annoyed by the journalism-liteness, and I hate the laziness, but I'm just sad that a sensitive question was being re-broadcast out of this community. Grumble.
posted by stratastar at 10:47 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean they pulled a full block quote. Googling the first sentence would have brought the exact thread

That, totally.
When I'm supervising student's papers, that's how I correct their bibliography and check where they have come across their quotes. But they are students...they don't even get paid for getting stuff right.
posted by Namlit at 11:23 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boy, I was wrong. Gene Weingarten edited Tropic, the Miami Herald's weekend magazine. (No knock on him. Just retracting my wrongness.)

Looking closely, the poll is the lead-in to Gene Weingarten's monthly live chat, which is definitely not supposed to be any kind of journalism or news reporting or even editorializing. It's basically a Q&A humor column like Dave Barry used to do, except in a live-chat format.

"Pseudojournalism"? Ron Paul? The feature's title, Chatalogical Humor, is a POOP JOKE. Hence the Twitter profile picture.
posted by gingerest at 11:33 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, both this and the holdkriss business are reminders that metafilter is, in fact, the open internet, however comparatively safe it may feel.
posted by skbw at 11:56 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Looking closely, the poll is the lead-in to Gene Weingarten's monthly live chat, which is definitely not supposed to be any kind of journalism or news reporting or even editorializing. It's basically a Q&A humor column like Dave Barry used to do, except in a live-chat format."

True enough, but I don't see any exemptions for humor columns in the Post's Third-Party Content guidelines.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:58 PM on May 28, 2012


Damn it, I rearranged that comment a bunch of times and evidently I eliminated the sentence where I said that Weingarten was not immune to sourcing and citation rules. Never even mind the Post's guidelines - if you write for anyone but yourself, even if you are a Professional Humorist, I expect you to credit your sources.
posted by gingerest at 12:16 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good search has rendered the subject line irrelevant, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, people who don't bother to put subject lines tend to forget to put relevant and searchable keywords in the text. They also attach documents named "Document". Good email search cannot replace proper writing practices anyway. I have some joker who writes puns in subject lines, including for work-related stuff: it's funny the first time but unless I remember the puns his mails become quickly unsearchable (and I'm using Gmail).
posted by elgilito at 3:11 AM on May 29, 2012


For many reasons I feel like it's important to have meaningful subject lines. But, more and more in practice, I have enormous difficulty in coming up with one. So, far too often, I end up with a useless "stuff" or "misc". It's frustrating.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:57 AM on May 29, 2012


Gene Weingarten is not a "hack"...

Yes. Previously on Weingarten, among others. The guy can write.
posted by Cocodrillo at 4:11 AM on May 29, 2012


One possible fix for the disturbing gray area of ownership of anonymous questions is for site verbiage to make clear that anon q's are exceptions and their content is owned by Metafilter itself.

Then, at least, site ownership can make its own judgment calls in instances like this rather than saying "nothing we can do."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:17 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I concur. A very sensible suggestion.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:29 AM on May 29, 2012


True enough, but I don't see any exemptions for humor columns in the Post's Third-Party Content guidelines.

You know, much of this discussion could have been avoided with one more sentence: "Readers, if you know the source of this question, please add it in the comments."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:49 AM on May 29, 2012


This just in: Weingarten explains himself: "I simply provide the attributions Dave Berry would, only fewer."
posted by octobersurprise at 5:51 AM on May 29, 2012


One possible fix for the disturbing gray area of ownership of anonymous questions is for site verbiage to make clear that anon q's are exceptions and their content is owned by Metafilter itself.

There is no disturbing gray area. Anonymous Asks are still copyright the Asker. The fact that person is unidentified doesn't change that. It obviously means 3rd parties cannot get the Asker's permission to use their content, but Ask doesn't exist for the benefit of the 3rd party; it exists for the benefit of the Asker.

In this case, it doesn't really matter. Attribution doesn't require a name; it requires a link to the original question.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:07 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


quoting myself: Why should we trust anything this guy has ever said about anything ... etc.

That was an incredibly cranky thing to say, and I regret saying it. Sometimes I need to realize I'm about to say something ranty and keep my pointer away from the "post comment" button.

Yes, gingerest, you're totally right. There's plenty of room in the world for humor columnists. I didn't need to go ragging on the entire profession of journalism over something like this.


dg: He didn't. The person writing the article that appeared with his name on it did.

Yeah, that makes sense.
posted by nangar at 6:17 AM on May 29, 2012


The question was posted on a publicly-viewable internet site. There's no expectation of privacy there.

Wrong, as this has nothing to do with privacy, but with context. Yes, of course the original question is available through googling, but the context in which it is asked and answered is very different from the WP's version of it. And while the original asker was comfortable with having it asked and answered here, they weren't consulted on whether they wanted it to be available through the WP, for a quite different audience.

I think it's weird that people are taking a lack of a link - not direct plagiarism, mind you, just a missed attribution - as some sort of personal affront against us as a people.

Quoting without attributing is plagiarism, isn't it? But anyway, the real insult isn't the missing link, it's the framing of the post and the lack of consideration for the original asker, who neither asked nor very likely wanted to have this happen. A rephrase and link back to here would've at least restored some of the context in which the question was asked.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:27 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


site ownership can make its own judgment calls in instances like this rather than saying "nothing we can do."

I'm feeling like I haven't been clear, so I'll restate this and then leave it alone. We are not saying "Nothing we can do" because it's an anon question. In fact, we're not really saying "Nothing we can do" at all. What we're saying is that we think this is a totally allowable, if annoying, repurposing of MeFi's content and this is not the hill we want to die on as far as going to another site and trying to strongarm them [with our not-very-strong arms] into taking it down.

The fact that it's an anon question is a red herring. The anon poster owns the copyright to the question, so that someone else couldn't put it in a book for example, but MetaFilter in general could still decide to go after someone for repurposing content from the site, from the fixed version of the question as asked on the site. We're not just sitting idly by wondering what's going to happen so much as we made a decision to let things take their course with the response already received by Weingarten where he said he'd add attribution. If it becomes a thing he does frequently we'd deal with that then.

I personally think that removing this question from its context is not a great thing for someone to have done but my personal feeling about that is separate from my professional feeling about it which is that it's not illegal and it's not even unethical to the point where we'd start a thing about it. It's just uncool in that "Hey man, not cool" way that sometimes happens. So I agree with people, it's disrespectful generally speaking. I understand that it may make people think twice about using the anon feature which might not be a terrible thing. This site is lucky to have really good rankings in Google a lot of the times. This helps us pay the bills and makes content on our site really findable which is great, but also means that stuff like this will occasionally happen.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:58 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


So even now that Weingarten has responded and said he didn't know the source but will credit it now that he knows, people are still responding as though he were Hitler. He's a good writer who has to crank out columns on a regular basis, something few of us could manage, and he doesn't always do everything perfectly. I just don't understand this place sometimes. Can't you find a cat declawer to rage on?
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


people are still responding as though he were Hitler
just don't
posted by Namlit at 8:02 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK, OK, Bush then.

Yes, my comment was a tad over the top. But come on, the response in this thread is ridiculous.
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I dunno about the handful of responses you seem to be focusing on and generalizing to the entire site, languagehat, but pointing out the inconsistencies that call into question whether Weingarten actually writes what appears under his byline - lite poo joke fodder or not - seems to me an interesting development.

Btw, folks looking for him to add a link from the original piece: Weingarten tweeted "I'll credit it tomorrow when the poll is discussed in my chat." Probably means he'll credit it during the chat. I'd be (pleasantly) surprised if the WaPo folks bother to edit the post itself.
posted by mediareport at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2012


So even now that Weingarten has responded and said he didn't know the source but will credit it now that he knows, people are still responding as though he were Hitler. He's a good writer who has to crank out columns on a regular basis, something few of us could manage, and he doesn't always do everything perfectly. I just don't understand this place sometimes. Can't you find a cat declawer to rage on?

Metafilter: Straw-man Godwin
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 AM on May 29, 2012


Yes, my comment was a tad over the top. But come on, the response in this thread is ridiculous.

He came into our yard and used our well water, stole some of our rocks for his stone wall and walked our grass to do so. OUR GRASS!

There's no way in hell we're just going to sit here with no pants and take that abuse. If we don't talk badly about him in a public forum, then who will? WHO?!

I bet he drinks the last of the coffee and doesn't make a fresh batch too. Goddam asshole.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gene Weingarten posted at today's live chat:

Please take today’s poll, which is about Ugliness, and which was based on a discussion thread at the popular website Metafilter.com [...]

When I wrote the poll I didn’t know which discussion group it was from (though I could have found out easily enough), so referred to it generically as “a discussion group.” This resulted in several huffy letters from Metafilter devotees accusing me of plagiarism and officially expecting better from the Washington Post.

I’m happy to credit Metafilter, and I think attribution is always a good thing. Still, I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

posted by lalex at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2012


...several huffy letters...
posted by griphus at 8:50 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

Not to get huffy, but that seems like it might be the kind of thing that it would have been possible to find out.
posted by box at 8:52 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huffy Devotees of the Popular Website, run! - To fetch the last of Brandon's cold coffee, made of well water, before (who was it, Bush?) gets it first.
posted by Namlit at 8:53 AM on May 29, 2012


I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

"One comment, posted by someone who goes by the username of [name here], ..."

Or, you know, an explanation of what the site is followed by the disclaimer that the writer will credit the usernames that appear there, as it's very difficult to attribute these words to specific individuals.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2012


I’m happy to credit Metafilter, and I think attribution is always a good thing. Still, I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

THE HYPERLINK, LET ME INTRODUCE IT TO YOU...
posted by DarlingBri at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

This strikes me as odd and really, for a journalist, it is surprisingly shruggy. Especially when it's specifically covered in abundant clearness in your paper's style sheet, in the section which I linked above. I don't think he can reasonably say he "isn't actually sure," he just forgot that he had to.

*NOT HITLERIST
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


This confirms what I said previously: it's a cultural problem. For him, and for some people brought up in that remote era where paper was the apex media, it is somehow inconceivable that a semi-anonymous discussion on the internet can be a creative endeavour worthy of the same respect as other creations. The way the internet keeps toppling or at least remodelling traditional hierarchies, particularly in the creative world, is endlessly fascinating.
posted by elgilito at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know why anytime there's one of these MeTas about how "Hey, this person really should have included a link and/or attribution," someone has to go all: "Oh, so you're saying they're Hitler?!" Look, Gene Weingarten should have included a link. If he had never looked at the AskMe thread, he or one of his staffers should have Googled it. No one is saying that this is the worst thing in the world or that Weingarten is a fascist dictator. He's an acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who should know better.

The fact that he posted a wacky FAQ about himself in 2006 is totally irrelevant to the question of what his responsibility was in this specific instance. It was irresponsible of him to copy and paste a long passage from an outside source without giving any attribution or link. It wasn't evil -- just irresponsible and in violation of the Washington Post's own clear guidelines.
posted by John Cohen at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Still, I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.

Wait, does he think the whole thread was anonymous people? Sounds like he is just confused.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2012


This confirms what I said previously: it's a cultural problem. For him, and for some people brought up in that remote era where paper was the apex media, it is somehow inconceivable that a semi-anonymous discussion on the internet can be a creative endeavour worthy of the same respect as other creations. The way the internet keeps toppling or at least remodelling traditional hierarchies, particularly in the creative world, is endlessly fascinating.

This. Look, if you're not an Internet Person, then it is very, very hard to grasp how the Internet works and what it's become. I find as I research and write about it that the bar for what people don't know and are fascinated by is incredibly low. And the Internet keeps evolving and permutating at an astounding rate. Today's Internet is different in a bunch of ways than last year's Internet. I'm a total web junkie and even I'm completely lost in what's happening.

We all know the Internet's capable of astonishing creative endeavors, that it can host powerful, resilient communities, but that's not so evident to people who aren't already in the midst of those endeavors and taking part in those communities. Again, I suspect that none of us are thoroughly aware of what the Internet's capable of creating. Nobody is. Hopefully nobody ever figures it out, because it's more fun this way.

Gene Weingarten should've cited the thread, but I can understand his complete bewilderment. Hell, when I hear "message group" I don't think a web site, I think Usenet or something unlinkable. He should have done a little more Googling, but even that suggests he has a certain awareness of how the Internet's structured and how web forums work that probably he doesn't, considering the only forum he needs is embedded on WaPo's web site.

So, boo for him for doing that, yay for him acknowledging MetaFilter, seems like he's still a little confused but whatever. He's a better and more accomplished writer than anybody posting in this thread; he has a knack for consistently writing powerful, insightful, humane stories without ever seeming egotistical or gimmicky. I don't give two shits if he ever understands the Internet. As long as somebody else keeps posting his stories online, I've got as much online contact with Weingarten as I need.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:53 AM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I can understand his complete bewilderment.

But I can't quite understand it, if only because you don't need web savvy to know this - just a journalist's training. His own paper has already solved this question for him, and he revealed that he either forgot or didn't know the policy already established. He should know to credit a source, no matter what the source. Plus, I have a hard time believe he's savvy enough to run an online poll/humor chat but not savvy enough to ask the fundamental reporter question "Where did this information come from?"

I mean, it's not the world's biggest deal, it's not even important in the grand scheme. But I just want to call it what it is: a lapse, a mistake, an oversight, not something symptomatic of the MSM's inability to understand the Internet. If it is some degree of honest confusion, it should be easy to clear up with a quickness. The editors spelled it out in exceedingly high-focus terms. It's elementary to credit your sources, and even though this is playtime for him, it's part of the WaPo website and due diligence is a fair thing to expect.
posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


For him, and for some people brought up in that remote era where paper was the apex media, it is somehow inconceivable that a semi-anonymous discussion on the internet can be a creative endeavour worthy of the same respect as other creations.

It’s not inconceivable to me, but I don’t generally believe it. There is a lot of silly outrage here over something so minor. It seems like a lot of ego to me, and makes the site look foolish.

The guy made a mistake. He fixed it. His response seems to me like one I would give to crazy people that I want to go away.
posted by bongo_x at 10:09 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


This thread reads very much like people brought out the pitchforks and torches and are damned if they are going to put them back in to storage before they get some practice in.
posted by iamabot at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not the first nor the last time we will be called huffy. Probably not even the only time this week.
posted by Think_Long at 10:38 AM on May 29, 2012


I'm not really seeing the pitchforks. If people wrote angry emails and snarky comments, then I agree that's an overreaction. But all I'm seeing here is irritation about a failure to credit a source that would have been credited if it weren't on the web and within the context of the newspaper's very clear policy that it should have been credited. I've also seen several comments by those irritated to the effect of "this isn't that big of a deal, it's just annoying" so, from where I'm standing, it's those impassioned defenses of Weingarten which read as a little excessive to me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can you attribute an anonymous source?
posted by BurnChao at 10:44 AM on May 29, 2012


"The following is from an anonymous question posted at AskMetaFilter."
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That still doesn't attribute it. Metafilter is not the source. The anonymous person is the source. The example of attribution you gave has no difference than an attribution like "this guy I saw on The History Channel". In fact, Metafilter is the first party guilty of non-attribution for not naming the source, at the request of the source.
posted by BurnChao at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


So... are you asking in a more philosophical sense? Then I don't know. If the guy on the History Channel had one of those shadows over his faces and that voice-changer thing, then that would seem to me to be an OK way to cite him, as long as you linked to what you were talking about.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:00 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The example of attribution you gave has no difference than an attribution like "this guy I saw on The History Channel".

I'm going to be maybe slightly less literal than you in reading davidjmcgee's comment and presume that there's an implicit link to the question there. Which makes it a lot more like saying "the speaker at 24 minutes 15 seconds in the season x, episode y airing of the History Channel series 'Hitler's Favorite Sports'".

The absence of a plaintext full-name identity for the asker of the question is basically totally immaterial to the question of whether there is a "who" involved ("who" may well be unknown in concrete terms, but there was still a speaker) and, more to the point, where that speech was taken from. Nothing about the asker being anonymous makes it difficult to say "this is the location of the source material I'm referencing".
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


"presume that there's an implicit link to the question there"

Ah, yes, thanks, I can see how that lack of link could have led to confusion but it was there IN MY MIND.

posted by davidjmcgee at 11:05 AM on May 29, 2012


Also, Season X of "Hitler's Favorite Sports" is totally when it jumped the shark.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter is not the source. The anonymous person is the source

No, not really. Becuase the information wasn't found on a paper in the bottom of the anonymous person's drawer. It was published here on MetaFilter, which makes MetaFilter the source.

This is a fairly uncontroversial idea. I just spent last fall semester parsing the idea of "source" beyond all normal levels of interest, and the point of crediting sources is not to ID individuals down to DNA scrapings, but to be able to create a traceable trail for future scholars or other investigators who want to read, follow up on, verify or question the material which you are borrowing to use in your project.

The point of attribution is not to determine the exact name, location, or SSN or any such thing of the person who gave a specific utterance or wrote a specific thing (though sometimes that would be really nice). Many of our historical sources are anonymous, writers of letters and diaries and commenters in unsigned editorials and authors of unsigned documents - and yet they are no less primary sources. they contain information and the evidentiary record and provenance of the document weigh heavily in favor of their authenticity to a specific time and place.

That's what attribution is supposed to do: it may not provide a conclusive proof of identity, and it doesn't have to. All it has to do is allow the writer who uses someone else's content to point to the place where they got the content and say to the world "Here is where I got this content; have a look at it yourself if it interests you."

Even when we borrow a quotation from the work of someone whose identity we do know, we're not crediting the person, usually (except in rare cases where nothing else is available), we're crediting the publication or media resource in which that quotation appeared and can be found by other curious people.

So that's why yes, MetaFilter is the right source to reference. If this were about a magazine and someone wrote an anonymous letter to an advice column in the magazine, you'd credit the magazine, and the column, even though you wouldn't know the letter writer's name.

It's about marking the trail that brought you to the words you're writing in your project today, and that process helps keep everybody honest about where their content is coming from, and wards against people making shit up on the one hand, and ripping people off on the other hand.
posted by Miko at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


we're not crediting the person, usually

That's potentially confusing; I mean we don't credit the person alone, as if we said "William F. Buckley said BLAH" - we say "In his Playboy interview from March 1979, William F. Buckley said BLAH." The goal is to let an indepedent third party be able to find it themselves, not just trust us because we said so.
posted by Miko at 11:32 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hitler's Favourite Sports:

1. gymnastics
2. synchronized swimming
3. ethnic cleansing
4. auto racing
posted by Meatbomb at 11:49 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


DON'T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA

(cocks cheap felt tricorn, rolls away on motorized scooter)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:06 PM on May 29, 2012


'Huffy'...devotees' on a 'popular website' conjures up the image of freaked out freaks reacting to something on TMZ.

Also, my Comp 101 students know it's against the rules to do this.
posted by angrycat at 12:21 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter's own anonymous cited in recent WaPo poll.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:25 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> So, boo for him for doing that, yay for him acknowledging MetaFilter, seems like he's still a little confused but whatever. He's a better and more accomplished writer than anybody posting in this thread; he has a knack for consistently writing powerful, insightful, humane stories without ever seeming egotistical or gimmicky. I don't give two shits if he ever understands the Internet.

Now that's what I call a sensible response. Well said.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on May 29, 2012


How can you attribute an anonymous source?

I'm reminded of an exasperated exchange between a mom and her teen I once overheard in a mega-bookstore: "Who's the author?" "I don't know!" "Well how are we going to find a copy of Beowulf if you don't know who wrote it?"
posted by octobersurprise at 12:44 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Everyone knows Beowulf was written by Seamus Heaney. Duh!
posted by cjorgensen at 12:52 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Beowulf, instead of doing that thing where we just write
what
when something is really surprising, can we instead write
HWÆT
to give it some of that medieval flair?
posted by davidjmcgee at 12:54 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rory Marinich: "he has a knack for consistently writing powerful, insightful, humane stories without ever seeming egotistical or gimmicky."

I don't consider republishing near-verbatim what's obviously a sensitive and potentially emotionally upsetting question into a venue much more widespread than its original intended audience, and attaching a jokey poll to it, without even making the effort to do the due diligence to find out where the material came from to be a particularly humane treatment of the original anonymous asker.

He could have taken the time to review his employer's clear guidelines for how someone else's words may be used either prior to writing the article or after the fact when it was pointed out to him, but instead chooses to remain "unsure" on the issue in favor of dismissing us as "huffy" instead.

Makes me wonder if he's really as consistently humane and non-egotisical as you perceive him to be. The problem with consistency is that it only works when you're consistent at it.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:59 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


to give it some of that medieval flair?

Beowulf is NOT MEDIEVAL.
posted by Summer at 2:29 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


HWÆT
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:45 PM on May 29, 2012


HÆH
posted by Namlit at 3:44 PM on May 29, 2012


But I can't quite understand it, if only because you don't need web savvy to know this - just a journalist's training

I don't know what the culture amongst journalists is like in the US, but here in Australia this is absolutely par for the course barring maybe ten journalists in the whole country. Here, at least, journalists have historically been threatened by the internet/blogosphere in general, and have reacted to that threat (especially in instances where bloggers have done better jobs than journalists at journalism with disdain, ignorance, and glee in not applying the rules that apply to their work to someone on the internet.

It's been a pretty sad, pathetic state of affairs when - rather than reacting to their internet competition by being better, they basically took pains to point out how much bloggers and web sites weren't journalists. Only in the last three years or so have they started hiring bloggers as journalists rather than vice versa.

So, in that context, I'm not totally het up about it at all. But like Miko, I think it was a lazy, short-cut taking thing to do and the excuse is disingenuous and also lazy. He's not Hitler, but it's like, when a Pulitzer Prize winner can't be bothered doing the right thing, it doesn't fill you with hope of the crumbling edifice of journalism.
posted by smoke at 3:46 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(cocks cheap felt tricorn, rolls away on motorized scooter)

More like a motorized wheelchair, if this is a Tea Party reference. Amirite?
posted by spitbull at 3:58 PM on May 29, 2012


I think he meant "motorized scooter" as in "mobility scooter", not "step-through motorcycle" (ciao) or "motor-powered kick scooter".
posted by gingerest at 5:00 PM on May 29, 2012




when a Pulitzer Prize winner can't be bothered doing the right thing, it doesn't fill you with hope of the crumbling edifice of journalism.

Yeah, I have a lot of love for journalism, that's why it galls me. We'l all survive, but the "shrugging" reaction is one more chip off the edifice.
posted by Miko at 6:22 PM on May 29, 2012


As predicted, they couldn't be bothered to edit the original post to include a link back to the source.

Nazis. Never did like 'em.
posted by mediareport at 6:38 PM on May 29, 2012


Never go full Hitler.
posted by rhizome at 6:52 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought it would be more an editor's job to flag the missing citation than the columnist's anyway. Then again, the copyeditors were probably laid off ages ago and if my experience at a newspaper holds true, digital gets the short end of the workflow stick.
posted by ladygypsy at 7:14 PM on May 29, 2012


Never go full Hitler.

Right - it leaves you nowhere to go, exposing your King. Much better to start with, like, a Pol Pot or Kim Il Sung. Reserve Stalin for special situations. Idi Amin is good to emphasize the anti-intellectual thing. Definitely want to deploy your depraved dictators judiciously, lest you set yourself up for a weak endgame.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought, generally, dictators killed any remaining kings straight away.
posted by maryr at 7:55 PM on May 29, 2012


Sometimes it's useful to manipulate them to exploit the people's sentimentality and respect for the old order.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yup.
posted by languagehat at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2012


> When I wrote the poll I didn’t know which discussion group it was from (though I could have found out easily enough), so referred to it generically as “a discussion group.” This resulted in several huffy letters from Metafilter devotees accusing me of plagiarism and officially expecting better from the Washington Post.

Oh for fuck's sake, his is the huffy response. He could have just simply noted the missing attribution like the grown-up journalist that he is. Instead, he admits he was lazy and didn't give a shit where his source material came from. Yeah, we expect better from the Washington Post.
posted by desuetude at 8:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is all a misunderstanding. Weingarten meant that he has his email printed at another office and delivered by bike courier. Usually it'll be a more traditional street bicycle, but there's a real faddish streak to the delivery scene in D.C. and so someone will show up now and then on something ironic like a BMX or a Huffy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:47 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh that makes sense. Huffys are rad. I'm saving my paper route money for one.
posted by Miko at 9:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And holdkris99 famously "hopped on his Huffy". I smell a conspiracy.
posted by kengraham at 11:08 AM on May 30, 2012


we made a decision to let things take their course with the response already received by Weingarten where he said he'd add attribution

So as of right now, I'm not seeing any attribution on the linked poll, nor can I find any kind of obvious correction elsewhere on the Post's site. Did they simply not post attribution?

From the comments above, he mentioned it in his live chat (realtime message group?), but that's not really the same thing.

If people are uncomfortable with the article linking directly to the AskMe, at least they could link to the green's homepage, which at least acknowledges the source broadly. The whole "here's a chunk of text from somewhere on the internet" thing is really not cool.
posted by zachlipton at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2012


Oh for fuck's sake, his is the huffy response. He could have just simply noted the missing attribution like the grown-up journalist that he is. Instead, he admits he was lazy and didn't give a shit where his source material came from. Yeah, we expect better from the Washington Post.

Yes, his response makes him seem like a total douche.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:26 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Makes me wonder if he's really as consistently humane and non-egotisical as you perceive him to be. The problem with consistency is that it only works when you're consistent at it.

Yes, his response makes him seem like a total douche.

I think everything I've read about Weingarten makes him out to be somewhat of a not-totally-nice-guy in person. Some accounts call him "weird", others say he's a pain in the ass to work for, some people have called him unpredictable (and refused to elaborate). I mean, most of the time he writes a WaPo humor column that by all accounts is actually not especially funny.

But here's the thing about being a writer: who you are, what you do, how you behave doesn't matter as long as your stories are good. And Gene's stories are fantastic, consistently so. What's more, it's not the fantasticness of a journalist like David Foster Wallace, who had a certain stylistic flair and enough arrogance that he got away with using it excessively, and in turn made everything he wrote transcendent.

Weingarten talks often about how he lacks talent as a writer, only learned how to write from decades of first being an editor, and his stories are remarkable in that they mostly lack personal voice, aside from a few quips here and there. But he so relentlessly pushes towards the qualities which he thinks a good story ought to have (compelling, stylistically mixed, push toward a deeper understanding of the weirdness of life) that pretty much every actual article I've read of his manages to be fascinating and human. Which theoretically is the job of a feature writer, but very few ever make it there. (Tom Junod does, but he's such a preening ass that I can't stand the way he writes for the length of an article; David Foster Wallace does sometimes, but I find that often his works feel incomplete, glorious but they end without ever taking me someplace powerful.)

Again, I totally think he should've cited MeFi here. I think he's being a little bit of a jerk in his clarification. But that doesn't stop his stories from being as good as they are, and as long as he's a great writer - which he unmistakably is - then his personality and behaviors and jerkishness are minor quibbles compared to the bulk of his work. Let him write all the shitty comedy columns he wants. Let them be in bad taste even. The man's a journalist, and I'll judge him by his journalism.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:34 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


The funny thing is that it seems the journalists are always the jerks in this context.
posted by rhizome at 6:30 AM on May 31, 2012


that doesn't stop his stories from being as good as they are

Probably not on stylistic merits. But doesn't it concern you a bit that his paper has a source-attribution policy that he doesn't seem to know, or think is important? This is so fundamental to good journalism, as a philosophy, that I do think it's a bit of a journalistic issue, not something utterly separate from his work. If were talking about his fashion sense, or a remarke made on Twitter, or how he treats servers, I would absolutely agree with your argument. But instead it's something he appropriated verbatim without checking the source and published on a WaPo blog - it's not in a personal-life gray area.
posted by Miko at 7:09 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


But here's the thing about being a writer: who you are, what you do, how you behave doesn't matter as long as your stories are good.

Well, it doesn't matter to a question of how good your storytelling is, sure. But being a good storyteller doesn't make weird attributional lapses not weird either, and in this case Weingarten wasn't writing a story, he was writing (or delegating, or whatever) a sort of yech poll for a humor piece in a journalistic context and not bothering to do a basic amount of citation.

I mean, I get that you admire his writing and I think it's totally fine for you to want to respond to the "hack" stuff with "no, not really", but that's sort of been done already in here and the great worthiness of Gene Weingarten's storytelling is kind of a side issue in this thread.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:34 AM on May 31, 2012


And the weird attributional lapse hasn't been done to death, beaten into the ground, and torn into little shreds that have been set on fire and waved in the air while people bellow in savage triumph?
posted by languagehat at 8:53 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, the elephants haven't paraded by yet.
posted by Miko at 9:00 AM on May 31, 2012


More of a like aggravated grumble than a proper bellow, anyway.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:21 AM on May 31, 2012


I agree with you in general, Cortex. The problem is that on MetaFilter and most other places on the Internet, "rhetoric" equates to "say one thing many many times so that your opinion looks like the majority opinion." I happen not to mind getting in discussions that encourage elaboration and refinement of opinions, which is why I haven't quit MetaFilter entirely, but part of the point I'm making here isn't that Weingarten is in the right, yet the response to his being in the wrong is disproportionate with who the guy is or what his affront was. So Weingarten's skill at writing stories, and the context of his being a journalist who seemingly doesn't care much about the Internet except to occasionally talk to people informally on it, is crucial to the nature of the response he's getting.

Miko, I honestly think it's weird that we expect journalists to always understand their papers' attribution policies. I think it's normal to expect that, once called out, journalists make efforts to conform to those policies, but lapses are to be expected, and lapses in an informal poll don't surprise me at all. Rules of etiquette and political correctness are broken when friends congregate; journalists posting a poll on the Internet don't check the policy of their newspaper.

Now, I happen to support non-citation generally, and I think that crediting ought to be a personal preference, so that might bias me. In general, what interests me about journalism and criticism is the creative nature of it, not its strict accuracy. I read Pauline Kael even though I think her perspective on movies gets weirdly distorted; I read Gene Weingarten without wondering whether he's strictly correct about things. When those people are inaccurate, unprofessional, or just plain wrong about things, I try not to make excuses for them, but I don't let what I consider to be unimportant failings get in the way of their greatnesses.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:31 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't let what I consider to be unimportant failings get in the way of their greatnesses.

This is an open question about lit crit generally, or two questions. One is how much you can distinguish or divide the author from their work [i.e. the Ezra Pound issue] and the other is how much other people are responsible to someone else's celebrity or reputation in some general way.

To me the whole reason that we have statured newspaper writers is because the overarching reputations of their institutions [including their policies and procedures and stuff like fact-checking] theoretically applies to their employees. This has gotten fractured over the past decade or so as institutions have tried to figure out how to manage new media and some do it well and some do it not so well. So what to some people might seem like a disproportionate reaction if you know of Weingarten might seem totally reasonable if he's just another guy with a blog. Similarly what you might expect from WaPo might inform what you felt about this particular thing.

I am definitely of the "a link would have been preferred and I find Weingarten's response sort of weird" camp, though I wasn't expecting anything in particular. I feel that if you are a journalist and you got your content from somewhere, it's just normal to say where it came from. It's odd to not do that. Unattributed quotations are weird in the newspaper. They're elss weird but, to me, still a little weird in the newspaper peoples' blogs. The web was built on linking. Use the links.

This has nothing at all to do with political correctness, though I do think it's more of an etiquette thing. More to the point, to my mind it seems like a sort of cultural appropriation thing which is pretty normal with internet culture but as an Internet Person and someone answerable to my community I'm still bothered by it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:00 PM on May 31, 2012


Miko, I honestly think it's weird that we expect journalists to always understand their papers' attribution policies.

Hmm. I really don't think it's weird, and I trained as a journalist, and the journalists I know from my family and from their various coworkers wouldn't think it's weird, either. In fact, they're far more critical of lack of citation or sketchy sources in other journalists than they'd expect laypeople to be. I had to practically memorize style sheets and handbooks, and have sat through a fair number of trainings and lectures where the dire nature of making such mistakes was illustrated vividly through horror stories. These kinds of mistakes were sometimes written about in the Columbia Journalism Review and the articles would be circulated to the entire editorial department with warnings and cautions scrawled across the top. Knowing your paper's attribution policies is not (was not?) a luxury that you can attend to if you have time. It's a ground-level expectation, and editors at respected papers with clear policies usually don't like it when they find their reporters have been making shit up.

Now, I happen to support non-citation generally, and I think that crediting ought to be a personal preference, so that might bias me

You think? Yeah, tat's a pretty extreme position. I, on the other hand, support the idea that we should make it possible whenever we can for people to verify our assertions independently. I also support the idea that if you are using someone's ideas, let alone their language, you should endeavor to give them credit, though I agree that expectation is somewhat variable based upon forum. But I don't think it disappears when the forum is something that's under the banner of a respected news outlet with clear policies.

If we don't offer attributions and list sources, we're simply asking to be taken on trust, and your word is every bit as good as mine - even if one of us is very informed, and the other just winging it. So you're coming from a fairly extreme point of view that doesn't support journalism's goals as a whole. Journalists famously are allowed to keep sources private in most cases, but that trust is absolutely built on their own training and sense of honor about the procedures of journalism. I have watched people work very, very painstakingly with their own notes to avoid serious errors.

If it came out tomorrow that Weingarten's compelling stories involved his inventing sources from whole cloth, using interviews that never happened with people that don't exist in places he never visited, would you still be defending the stories? If that were the case - and sadly, it's not unheard of - it might be good fiction, and good writing, but not good journalism. Being a "good journalist" necessarily implies "I follow the policies at my paper which support its reputation for quality and defend it against accusations of misleading the public, and I adhere to the ethical principles of journalism."

If you don't do that stuff, you might be a good something-or-other, but you're kind of a sloppy journalist.
posted by Miko at 1:11 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it came out tomorrow that Weingarten's compelling stories involved his inventing sources from whole cloth, using interviews that never happened with people that don't exist in places he never visited, would you still be defending the stories? If that were the case - and sadly, it's not unheard of - it might be good fiction, and good writing, but not good journalism.

You know, in Weingarten's case, I'm not sure. I almost said "yes" without thinking, but some of his stories are powerful only because they involved determinedly hunting for human motivations in hard-to-reach characters. I look for different things in fiction than I do in journalism, usually; David Foster Wallace's stories could be utter fantasy for all I care, but Weingarten's brilliance is in his hunt, so if that was fabricated, I wouldn't be offended but I'd find him less interesting. Note that I think defending the story is different from defending his theoretically publishing fiction as fact in a reputable paper: journalists are paid to do a job, and if they lie while doing it, they shouldn't be given that job anymore.

Even if we weren't talking about Weingarten, I think that the name-calling and anger in this thread is uncalled for, considering how essentially unimportant the citation was. (Again, "unimportant" is different from "a WaPo journalist shouldn't cite things"; I can both think he behaved poorly and not care too much.) But considering plenty of the people going off on Weingarten here clearly haven't read the guy's work, I'm a little bit annoyed, since his work resonates with me and I'd rather he not be written off for essentially a stupid, meaningless transgression.

Anyway, clearly he's not JUST a journalist for WaPo. He's also a humor columnist, and conducts informal live chats. I think research is important for a total of one of those three things.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:43 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


as long as he's a great writer - which he unmistakably is - then his personality and behaviors and jerkishness are minor quibbles compared to the bulk of his work.

Interesting. I don't care how great you are - basic ethical standards matter. Anything else is elitism disguised as meritocracy; the direct implication of what you're writing is that rules only matter for little minds or little people.

I'd rather be mediocre and good, than brilliant and bad.
posted by smoke at 3:50 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want to make it clear that I'm niether name-calling or angry. I'm interested, as I usually am in stuff like this. I agree that is slips go this one is not very important in itself - but I still feel that instead of "oh yes, sorry about my oversight, I did drop a ball there so here's the citation" is the more admirable response than the one he gave. Even had the response been elaborated to "I’m not actually sure what the rules are for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people so I will now go find out" would be better. What concerns me is his saying he was "not actually sure" about the attribution policy, which would make it hard for some readers, like me, to not raise an eyebrow at his other stuff in the future too. If you're not aware of it for your humor column, are you aware of it for your long-form journalism? Should we be wondering that?

Anyway, clearly he's not JUST a journalist for WaPo. He's also a humor columnist, and conducts informal live chats. I think research is important for a total of one of those three things.

Sure, but the way the policy is written it clearly covers everything he puts on the web for the Post, so there's not a special exception for when he's not reporting.

Maybe I just still detest that piece about Joshua Bell.
posted by Miko at 3:55 PM on May 31, 2012


What concerns me is his saying he was "not actually sure" about the attribution policy, which would make it hard for some readers, like me, to not raise an eyebrow at his other stuff in the future too.

Yeah, and saying, "I'm not actually sure" with an implied "...and I'm not even curious enough to check" seems strange for a journalist.
posted by BibiRose at 8:53 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, it's been a few days and not only is there no attribution in the linked post/poll, but there were comments before that sited Metafilter which are no longer there (and commenting has been disabled).
posted by Bort at 11:16 AM on June 1, 2012


And I haven't heard back from the Ombudsman, either.
posted by ladygypsy at 11:24 AM on June 1, 2012


I may be wrong about the comments - not seeing the ability to comment on other articles either. Could be an issue with me or the site...
posted by Bort at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2012


Comments appear to be there and unchanged from here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2012


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