Atrios Uncloaked: Cui Bono?

I know I’m late to this, but…Atrios has come out, and he apparently works for a policy house, specifically the Soros-funded Media Matters.

Now I’ve been critical of Atrios (for tone and policy reasons), but he’s someone I respect as a leader and a powerful voice in the current dialogs.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bloggers getting picked up by think tanks and media organizations (yeah, but where are my offers, anyway??). I think that’s a good thing, and that if part of what blogging has done is to let some civilians move into the pro ranks, that’s neat.

I think there’s more to blogging than that – but that’s another conversation.

But there’s an issue here. (OB Lebowski: Hey! I’ve got an issue here!) As someone who stood behind a pseudonym for a long time (and sometimes kind of wishes he was still there…), I’ve got a huge issue with Atrios’ affiliation, however. And that’s because the nightmare of mine has always been that I would be accused of somehow trimming my blogging to my career, of – on one hand – claiming to write as a disinterested citizen, moved only by my passions and feelings, and – on the other – making a living doing advocacy and therefore by shaping public discourse.

It’s not that people with jobs in advocacy somehow lose their voice, or that they are somehow recused from participating as citizens.

But disclosure is important, because it allows people to weigh what you say and judge it based not only on its merit, but on the question of cui bono? (who gains).

I don’t know if Atrios was just picked up by Media Matters, or if he’s worked there for a year. I don’t know if he got the job because of his blog, or because of his academic credentials.

I wish, more than a little, that I did.

Because one thing about small-scale media is that – compared to the costs of doing business in Big Media – we could be bought cheap. Offer 30 of the highest-profile bloggers jobs for $120,000/year – $3.6 million, a small ad buy – and you could shape political discourse for a year. I believe that the blogosphere would eventually correct for this; it would route around the problem. But I don’t know how fast the credibility of the blog universe would heal.

15 thoughts on “Atrios Uncloaked: Cui Bono?”

  1. I dunno. I really don’t care who takes whose money, just as long as they let the rest of us in on whose money they’re taking.

    Unless this was kept strictly on the DL, I don’t see how it would work. (You want to own me and my blog for the next year! Cool! One thing though…uhh…yeah…I’m gonna need the entire 120 grand up front…)

    Now if only I was a big enough blogger to be faced with selling out…

  2. I’m in a policy think tank, but they don’t pay me anything. I get library privileges (though I’ve lost my library card) and I think I can get into the building after hours, though I’ve never actually tried, and I’d have to find that same ID/Library card.

    I don’t make my living, however, doing policy analysis on the Middle East, Homeland Security or Terrorism. Would that I did. I don’t think there has been any reshuffling of the career paths on any of these policy domains since 9/11, and that in itself is probably a comment that has to be made. The same people who were doing analysis on those issue prior to 9/11 are still doing it, and by and large new people haven’t come in.

    What does that tell you? It tells me that this hasn’t yet been taken very seriously, and that the notion of some sort of “mobilization,” however anemic, is a joke.

    I will say that some of the folks doing policy analysis in this realm have stepped up their volume of work. They’re doing more, but they’re still pretty much the same old voices. Sorry about that.

  3. If Atrios has discussed his affiliations on his blog, it isn’t obvious to me. I know what happened when you went public, A.L. – but I can’t find anything like that on Atrios’ site.

    Where did he uncloak, and who exactly is he in real life?

  4. A.L.,

    Joe seems to imply that there was a negitive consequence of your giving up anonymity. If it’s not to sensitive, can you give us the gist of the problems that were created for you? If this is out of line, just say so, or delete this comment.

    But consider this – and I know this is an old debate in the blogosphere – Jarvis is saying that transparency can promote credibility, but at what personal costs to bloggers.

  5. Didn’t mean there was anything negative… I just know what Marc did – he authored a dedicated post, in bright and shiny letters, saying “this is who I really am.” Dan Darling, on his way to his Washington internship, let us all know where he was heading and whom he was working for.

    Hadn’t seen that on Duncan “Atrios” Black’s blog. It’s possible that I missed it, but I hadn’t seen it… and I didn’t have the “who he really is” answer, because Marc hadn’t yet included that Jarvis link. so I was curious on 2 fronts.

    Personally, I’d like to see a Dan-Darling style “how I ended up working for Soros” post from Duncan Black. It would be interesting, transparency-enhancing, and a valuable service to every blogger out there, left or right, who is interested in doing something similar.

  6. It would be interesting, transparency-enhancing, and a valuable service to every blogger out there, left or right, who is interested in doing something similar.

    Was that a hint? Are you going to become a fellow at the eeeeeevil Canadian Enterprise Institute?

  7. BTW, Joe, scroll down to the bottom of Atrios’ blog, where it says “D u n c a n B l a c k”

    My assumption is that he still hasn’t decided whether he wants to maintain “Atrios” as a separate persona. It doesn’t sound like he’s thrilled about being “Google-a-ble.”

  8. There is no eeevil Canadian Enterprise Institute – and I’m too old (or not rich enough, take your pick) to do internships.

    It would take a pretty different kind of think-tank to reel me in (think Santa Fe Institute, but for public policy)… and it would probably have to be somewhere on the central California coast.

    Until now, many people have seen blogs primarily as a gateway to the media. Which they are… but that’s kind of like seeing your new Porsche as a great car for city driving. More explanation of the other kinds of gateways that blogs represent would be a real service to the blogosphere as a whole, and help it grow in important ways.

  9. Are we quite certain that ‘Atrios’ has revealed his real name? On Tuesday, ‘Robert Musil’ (the weblogger, not the German novelist) noted that Duncan Black is the name of a distinguised Scottish economist (dates: 1908-1991).

    So, is Atrios:

    1. An economist who, by an amazing coincidence, happens to have the same name as a previous and far better one?

    2. A homonymous descendant of the first Duncan Black, in which case you might expect him to give his name as Duncan Black III — or whatever the number would be?

    3. Still hiding behind a pseudonym, this time one that looks like a real name so he can fool people into thinking it is one?

    Just to complicate things, ‘Atrios’ looks like a half-Latin half-Greek form of ‘Black’. Atrius is an attested Roman name formed from ‘ater’, which means “black” (the color, not the race). It would literally mean something like ‘Blackie’. The historian Livy (28.28) mentions a mutineer named Atrius Umber, whose very name (‘Blackie Dark’, more or less) was ill-omened. ‘Atrios’ with an O would be what a Greek would call an Atrius. Then again, I’ve heard the name may come from some sci-fi novel I haven’t read. Still, someone (allegedly) named Black calling himself ‘Atrios’ . . . .

  10. Several of Samizdata.net’s contributors are pseudonymous for _very_ varied reasons (mostly because of ‘sensitive’ jobs) and so I have no problem with pseudonymous bloggers at all.

    I could not care less who Atrios is. I judge a blog by its content and only by _who_ writes it if they claim some sort of inside knowledge on something.

    I have always disliked Atrios’ blog for its ‘edge of hysteria’ tone rather than the politics (I read lots of blogs whose politics I loath… I stopped reading Atrios because I hate how it was written, not because I despise the politics (which I do)).

  11. Good Dr. Weevil, I have no idea if Atrios is “Duncan Black,” but if one assumes that he is, it’s hardly mysterious that someone with such a common name would be found to have forebearers with some faintly relevant history. If his real name was “Jack Jones” or “John Smith,” he’d really be in trouble. But that there are some other Scottish “Duncan Blacks,” well, it would be surprising if there weren’t, wouldn’t it?

  12. Sorry, but my first thought to the Dr’s post was, “Oh good Lord…” I’ve known who Duncan was for quite some time and yes, that is his real name. Here is the link to a paper he wrote while in my neighborhood:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=226419

    Up until the end of this academic year, he was teaching. I don’t know when he joined Media Matters, but I believe it was after his academic commitments were fulfilled. He certainly wasn’t added to the list of contributors until after Oliver Willis was. Also, his posting decreased significantly in the late-spring / early summer. Yes, it’s circumstantial evidence, but at least it’s not total rumor and innuendo.

  13. I hope Ann (if that’s her real name!) isn’t accusing me of “rumor and innuendo”. If she is, her comment is vague enough to count as innuendo itself.

    I offered three possibilities, any of which may be true. Perhaps it is a coincidence that the blogger known as ‘Atrios’ should have the same name as a famous economist. Such coincidences do happen now and then. For instance, two of the top 30 or 40 American novelists in the last century are Thomas Wolfe and Tom Wolfe, no relation, so far as I know, despite having essentially the same name. (Given how he dresses, I’ve always thought that Tom Wolfe would probably have preferred to be called Thomas if the name hadn’t been taken already.)

    Gary Farber’s argument is a bit overstated. The Bureau of the Census gives statistics for frequency of first and last names here (from the 1990 census):

    http://www.census.gov/genealogy/names/

    John, Jack, and Duncan are 2nd, 53rd, and 803rd on the frequency list for male first names (and most Jacks are Johns on their birth certificates anyway). Smith, Jones, and Black are 1st, 4th, and 149th on the frequency list of last names. So ‘Duncan Black’ must be a far far rarer name than John Smith or Jack Jones.

    Then again, my first and last names (Michael and Hendry) are 4th and 7275th on the list, and I’ve never met anyone except close relatives named Hendry. Nevertheless, there are at least 10 other Michael Hendrys in the world. (One of them had an overdue Visa bill while living in the same state as me a few years back, which led to some very unpleasant phone calls from a bill collector until I figured out what was going on.)

    Anyway, as I said, there are three possibilities. The first and second cannot be ruled out, but I’ve read enough of ‘Atrios’ to think that the third can’t be, either.

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