The News Shouldn't Be Proud About Outing the Anonymous Blog Commenter in the Nasher Fight

Oh, I guess we had some fun Saturday on the KNON radio version of "Get Off My Lawn," a program I have been sharing every Saturday at 10 a.m. with political consultant and D Magazine columnist Eric Celeste. We took an on-air call from the elusive pseudonymous Dallas blog commenter, Wylie H., who was speaking in a voice disguised by software to sound like someone making a demand for ransom.

I say I guess we had fun. This topic is not especially fun-and-games for former television anchorman and public relations consultant Mike Snyder, who has been more or less ruined -- I suspect temporarily -- by revelations that he used fake Facebook personae to make anonymous comments about a local brouhaha.

In the stentorian tones of a Watergate scoop, The Dallas Morning News last week revealed that Snyder had cooked up a couple of phony Facebook accounts in order to make camouflaged blog comments about the reflected-light fight between the Nasher Sculpture Garden downtown and Museum Tower, a new luxury condo tower with a glass skin. The reaction to the story was a typical Dallas roaches-when-the-kitchen-lights-come-on festival of panic. Everybody and anybody who had any connection to Snyder ran for the crevices. Snyder got pushed out by his partners from a public relations company he had helped found, and everybody on the condo tower side of the fight was saying, "I'm sorry, Mike who?"

The city's only daily newspaper and D Magazine, a local publication, are both fiercely partisan on behalf of the sculpture garden against the condo tower. Their characterization has been pretty much that Snyder is guilty of something sort of like identity theft mixed in maybe with financial fraud and even kind of like, you know, whatever that's called where you hit somebody with a pistol.

I think he may be guilty of violating Facebook's terms of service. Or not. I have a column coming out later this week in the newspaper saying The Dallas Morning News, by using information from its own servers to out him, is certainly guilty of violating the spirit and the public representations, if not the fine print, of its own privacy policy and terms of service. And, by the way, you better check into what they know about you, too, and what they could do with it if they ever got pissed off at you the way they did at Snyder.

But anonymous speech? We built this country on anonymous speech, even though I know many readers here may think it was rock 'n' roll. From Cato's letters in 1720 to Tom Paine's Common Sense in 1776, anonymous and fake-name speech have been pillars of basic American liberty, enshrined and protected by countless court decisions as crucial elements of free speech.

Anyway, more on that later in my column in the paper this week, and back to Wylie H., the pseudonymous blog commenter who apparently played a role in the Morning News' Snydermania scoop. They reported in their story last week: "One online commenter, who posted under the name 'Wylie H Dallas,' was particularly critical of pension officials ... Snyder, posing alternately as Schwarz and Eley, quickly struck back ..."

I exchanged emails with Morning News managing editor George Rodrigue last week to ask, among other things, why the News outed Snyder but not Wylie H., who was also a partisan in the light wars but on the newspaper's side. Rodrigue told me that Snyder's fake Facebook personae, Schwarz and Ely, had betrayed obvious one-sided interest in the matter, while Wyle H., who has been around for years, seemed more like a legitimate wide-ranging and believable citizen-commenter.

Fair point. In fact, Wylie H has always been welcomed on our own blogs at the Observer as a smartly provocative provider of comment and good information, although I would have to say his comments also always have betrayed a very inside connection to events related to and emanating from City Hall.

In fact, for several years we here at Unfair Park have referred to Wyle H. as "Ol' Friend of Unfair Park Wylie H.." He even had the winning bid for a T-shirt in an Unfair Park auction there years ago, so I assume somebody who used to be here who's at the News now whose name rhymes with bobonsky must have found out who he was in order to collect his money. We sometimes complain when Wylie H fails to comment, asking " Where's Wylie H.?"

I, for one, have derived some pretty good scoops from Mr. H. including large scoops of sand, as when his comments led me to the issue of dangerous sand deposits in the Trinity River bed beneath the new Calatrava fake suspension bridge. On that occasion I referred to him as, "Astute Friend of Unfair Park 'Wylie H.'" I actually love people who give me scoops.

In the Snyder controversy, the D Magazine news blog, FrontBurner, also gave Wyle H. kudos for his mention in the Morning News story: "Congratulations, too, to Wylie H. Dallas, a longtime FrontBurner commenter who plays a central role in the tale."

So, anyway, Celeste and I were chatting about all this on KNON Saturday, and who should call us but Wylie H. -- we think -- speaking in a scary fake voice to say what, I'm not entirely sure. I am afraid I may have interrupted him, because I wanted to point out a couple things about his own fake Facebook persona created in violation of Facebook's terms of service, I guess. A couple days before we took his call on the radio, I had clicked on Wyle H's Facebook page, and noticed on his "timeline" that he had accessed Facebook from within City Hall but also from within the Morning News building.

I asked him directly if he worked for the Morning News. His response was, I believe -- and this was a little difficult to grasp because of the weird-voice software -- a giggle. It could have been a groan, or -- I hope not -- a desperate choking sound, in which case we should have called 911 and said, "Quick! Find out who Wylie H. is!"

But Wylie H. did not answer my question the first time about working for the News. If memory serves, he did not answer me the second time. The third time I asked, he said something to the effect of, "Of course not."

Of course.

Well, anyway, I really don't like dragging Wylie H. around by the toe, because I welcome the Wylie H.'s of the world to comment on anything I write, just as I would welcome Mike Snyder to comment under a fake Facebook name. I happen to think a whole lot of really good information gets to the table when people can do it without giving their right names.

And a whole lot of bad information, too. But readers, especially American readers since well before Tocqueville, are smart, very skeptical and have incredible radar for bullshit. Allowing a couple of nitwits to spill misleading information is a small price for the piercing wide-ranging comment and inside intelligence people like Wylie H. can bring to the table. The nitwits are spotted by the readers almost before they click "comment."

But now I have to ask. (Sorry, Wylie H., it can't be avoided.) If it's acceptable for the Morning News to use information from its servers to out Snyder, whose comments flew in the face of the paper's party line, why was it not necessary for the sake of balance to use the same information to out our dear friend, Mr. H, whose comments supported the newspaper?

By the way, in the column Wednesday I do a full disclosure on the one instance I could find where we at the Observer outed somebody, too, having to do with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. I hope you will agree that was a legitimately different issue and case. (The thing we never quite got to on the radio Saturday was whether that one had anything to do with Celeste, who was working for Watkins about then. Oh, the tangled webs!)

So I'm waiting. Cat got your tongue, Wylie H.? How about a pithy comment from someone named Cedric-at-rest? Or The Great Bobonsky? Rory Intrigue? You are all welcome here, my pseudonymous colleagues. Even Schwarz and Ely. Especially Schwarz and Ely! Hey, if you two didn't know it, you are pseudonymous stars now! You two should do a movie.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze