There's been a lot of talk about blogger ethics lately in light of the death threats posted the other week to technologist blogger Kathy Sierra's site. It has raised all sorts of blogging issues, including the important issue of accountability.
The writing here on DeSmogBlog is considered by some to be controversial and with controversy comes an even higher expectation of accountability. We stand by every single word we write. Period. If we write something incorrect, we do not distance ourselves from the mistake, we take ownership and correct ourselves in a timely fashion.
I came across a site yesterday called “From the Heartland,” (FTH) that claims to be the Heartland Institute's “unofficial blog.” On the site you will find frequent posts by Heartland President Joseph Bast and a DNS search shows that the site is registered to the Heartland Institute's address in Chicago. The FTH “About” section is simply cut and pasted from the Heartland Institute's “official” website.
Strangely though, on the home page of the “unofficial” FTH it states: “no opinion posted here should be taken to represent an official view taken by The Heartland Institute. All opinions, insights, discoveries, revelations, observations, and profundities herein are solely those of their respective authors.”
So you have a blog registered to the Heartland Institute, with postings from the President of the Institute, yet somehow it is not an “official” blog of the Institute and we should take nothing from the site to be representative of the Institute. So why have a blog at all?
I am guessing that the Heartland's justification may have something to do with their charitable status, in that many think-tanks shy away form the open format of blogs because of the IRS requirement that registered charities remain non-partisan. However, if that is in fact the case, then one may be inclined to think that by putting the word “unofficial” on a site registered to your organization you can effectively avoid the IRS requirement to remain non-partisan.
This is speculation of course and since we now know that Joseph Bast and others at the Heartland are DSBlog readers, I look forward to hearing their explanation.
On the issue of accountability, it would be great to think that an organization can simply air their views, but conveniently distance themselves from those views with a simple phrase like “unofficial,” but that's simply not the case. If you're going to write something, anything at all, you need to be held “officially” accountable and to do anything less makes what you say all that more suspect.