Fair or Unfair Use of Anonymous Speech

Criticus Criticus 14 Comments


The internet has added another layer to politics. Anonymous political commentary, long an American tradition, has had a rebirth. I would argue that anonymity has an important place in political discussion, but that we as a community need to decide exactly what that place is.

My opinion is that anonymity is appropriate if the topic of the commentary is controversial enough to cause trouble to the writer. Thus, for me, who goes by the pseudonym “Criticus” given my penchant for discussing internal matters of the Republican Party, I have no doubt that my employer might be nervous about retaliation when I am critical. Whether or not such retaliation is probable is not the point, the point is that this is my protection from grief.

I would argue that there is a limit to what is acceptable in anonymous commentary. The commentary should be political, rather than personal in nature. It should not be intentionally defamatory. This is where I have seen, over the past two years, a number of anonymous emails cross what I think is the line. These emails, and I’m not going to republish them here, have been personal in nature, and sent with the intent to harm specific individuals for political reasons. Let me be clear though, I would not have a problem with anonymous email generally, if they were frank discussions of policy or politics, rather than personal. Frankly, I believe that if I were the subject of any numbers of these emails, I would resort to litigation.

Many of these anonymous emails over the last couple of years have involved the local Republican Party and its leadership. As I stated when I began writing for this blog, the Republican Party is of particular interest to me as an observer. Part of my reason for writing is to take a fairly neutral look at the internal discussions of the GOP, to the extent I can figure them out, and figure out what is happening, and why.

I certainly don’t collect these emails, but the anonymous accusations have included, by my memory: accusations of corruption by elected officials, accusations of corruption by private citizens, accusations of corruption by party officials, allegations of ongoing federal investigations, allegations of ongoing state investigations, allegations of ongoing local investigations, and a host of other nasty assertions, any one of which could ruin a person. Honestly, having read several of them, and some of them are fairly long, they make some pretty outrageous claims. So from time to time I am going to look at them, discuss the assertion a bit here, and make the call whether I think the assertions are a fair or unfair use of anonymity.

To the case at hand. A couple days ago I received an anonymous email thirdhand claiming that California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring assaulted his girlfriend, and that San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric covered it up. The email was calling on both to resign. Obviously, if this email were true, I think we would all agree that a resignation would be appropriate.

This morning I got another email with an article from the Sacramento Bee about the anonymous email. The gist of the article from my perspective is “he said she said”.  He says she’s obsessive (and to be fair the paper implied that this was the case), and that he had to forcibly remove her from his house. She says that it was a bit more than a removal. My wife read the article and noted that ‘well sounds like since no one was there, we’ll never know’ and I think that hits the nail on the head. There was no police report or other documentation, and this event occurred a few years ago.

Should this be enough to ask two individuals to resign their positions within the party?  I just don’t see it. Maybe someone else can help clear this up for me, but looking at this neutrally I don’t see how you can ask people to move aside based wholly on the evidence we’ve seen. As such, I think the original anonymous email was an unfair use of anonymity to distribute what amounts to a untruth or at the least something that cannot be proven.


Comments 14

  1. I’m sick of getting the nameless emails. What I’d like to know is how these people or this person got my email address? I’m not directly involved with the GOP at all — only a donor.

  2. I hope that Crimmons, a Marine Officer, has NOTHING to do with this kind of disgraceful gossiping… this has all the hallmarks of those emails that that former Dorsee employee was sending months ago. I recommend that Nehring and Krvaric both get lawyers and sue the pants off him.

  3. I don’t find anonymous emails, blog posts, or comments credible. I treat the information accordingly. Unfortunately, for those who love gossip mongering, any information no matter how suspect is treated as gospel.

    It’s bad enough when rumors are spread by anonymous parties. It’s even worse when rumors are reported by the news media. I would say reprehensible.

    It wasn’t so long ago that journalists reported only FACTS, not rumors. Rumors could be pursued as leads and investigated as well they should be. But until the journalist could find information that proved a rumor to be a fact (i.e., TRUE), rumors didn’t get reported. End of story.

    In the words of former Labor Secretary Richard Donovan, where does one go to get their reputation back when false information in the form of rumors are reported and eagerly accepted as true before proven? If journalists won’t hold themselves to some kind of minimum standards, I’d like to see libel and slander laws broadened to allow defamed parties to sue more easily and under more circumstances. If you’re a public figure, it’s all but impossible to sue no matter what hideous thing is reported about you under current laws.

  4. These rumors and divisive infighting can be traced to a handful (less than 6) people who are loyal to Steve Francis.

    I say we expel ALL SIX from the central committee — and send Steve Francis a bag of excrement. They haven’t done anything productive for years.

  5. There are legitimate reasons to write anonymously. However, the information provided should be independently verifiable. For example, an anonymous tip appears to have alerted journalists to former Assemblyman Mike Duvall’s bragging about an alleged affair, caught on Assembly video. Watching the video proved the information was true (Duvall’s graphic bragging, not necessarily the alleged affair).

    Gayle is right about the media’s profligate, unprofessional, use of rumors and anonymous sources. In my book, using anonymous sources is bad journalism, period. And even if you make an exception for Watergate-style scandals, the great majority of anonymous quotes you see in the NYT or WaPo, etc, are just petty score-settling or spinning. Nothing that serves the readers’ interests.

  6. Good insights and discussion. It may have only been a matter of time before someone in the media would “bite” at the anonymously sent and mostly unsubstantiated charges now “reported” by the Sac Bee.

    I was contacted by an anonymous emailer twice, purporting to be a GOP insider, personally encouraging me to write about the matters alleged. I responded that given the seriousness of what were clearly “allegations,” I wasn’t about to deal with an anonymous person. One response to that was to say that for obvious reasons (fear of retaliation), the sender would have to remain anonymous. I have since been apparently removed from the most recent email distributions, likely because I wouldn’t play the game, so am now perhaps assumed part of the supposed “insider conspiracy and cover-up.” Whatever.

    Since “Criticus” noted the long American tradition of anonymity in politics, I have to note that one of my heroes, Sam Adams, the propagandist of the revolution, typically penned against the British by using pseudonyms and under the cover of darkness. The effort was at least partially successful in fomenting public opinion against the rulers. Yes, he could have “manned up” and used his real name, I guess, but he wouldn’t have made it to his second or third propaganda piece, and where would we then be?

    Yet, if anyone is suggesting that these local pseudos would somehow share the same such fate as a self-outed Sam Adams, please do tell, but use your real names. Puh-leaze.

  7. Does anyone else find it hypocritical that Criticus says “there is a limit to acceptable anonymous commentary” and “commentary should be political” and “it should not be intentionally defamatory”, but then goes on to tell us details regarding Mr. Nehring and Mr. Kvaric?
    I mean if you were really worried about appropriateness…wouldn’t you have left names out? Now I am not saying that this entire article seems like a Trojan horse just to be able to credibly publish the contents of the anonymous e-mail, but I think entire article seems like a Trojan horse just to be able to credibly publish the contents of the anonymous e-mail.

  8. To clarify, the Sac Bee took what previously was anonymously circulated material, and ran with the story including the names. We at SD Rostra read the Criticus post as mentioning names only after the Sac Bee had done so, and the “story” had been widely read in political circles, even if the newspaper had unfairly reported it. Certainly, the Sac Bee has larger readership than does this blog site. If anyone feels wrongly named based on sketchy or spurious charges (understood, completely), they would have a problem with the Sac Bee.

  9. My mistake. I did not understand it that way when I read it. Now that I have, it changes the story totally.

  10. So I guess we will all see tonight who will be at the press conference. Seems like every time these anonymous emailers say something is going to happen, it doesn’t. Well, this time they’ve called a press conference…. but on all the emails I’ve seen there is no press contact. So WHO exactly, is going MAN UP and be the face of this group?

    Sorry guys, if you don’t show your faces this time, you are done.

  11. This morning I had the chance to review the last two anonymous emails that went out in re Krvaric and Nehring. It is my opinion that since the author has directly accused both of the above of a serious crime, this is now a matter for civil, and possibly criminal, courts to decide.

    I would remind the authors, from personal experience, that after a certain point, Google will release personal information. It was done once (at least) last year in similar circumstances.

    Because of the gravity of these charges I look forward to the individuals coming forward, either tonight or via legal channels.

  12. (Comment removed by editor for being posted to appear as if written by someone else. So noted, if the thread below does not appear to follow logically.)





  14. The only Kevin I know was some kid that Dr. Sumerall led around by the nose for a few meetings. He was calling and emailing elected officials and donors and telling them he had the votes to be Chairman of the GOP. Needless to say, the anonymous emails going around sound much like the earlier anonymous emails that he was using to “campaign”.

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