December 21st, 2005

Matt Dunne, Jonas Galusha, Deep Throat, and Blogger Anonymity

by Philip Baruth

If you missed the article in yesterday’s Free Press on the Vermont politico-blogosphere, it eventually zeroed in on the issue of anonymity.

My view boils down to this: when people don’t stand behind their words, they tend to pull their words out of their behinds.

Anonymous political discourse isn’t useless, or meaningless, but it’s nearly always far less useful or meaningful than it might otherwise be. And far nastier.

When I explained this view to Terri Hallenbeck, the reporter on the piece, I actually had in mind a very particular example: Politics VT, a site that encourages anonymity, from the publishers to the guest editorial writers, down to those penning individual comments on each post.

But even more particularly, I was thinking of a “guest op-ed” written a few weeks back that amounted to a savage hatchet job on Matt Dunne, now the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor. The piece was full of genuinely nasty ad hominem, and it was signed “Jonas Galusha,” the handle of a long-dead Vermont Governor. In fact, whenever Politics VT runs a piece on Dunne, the comment sector fills up with the same sniping, same phrases, same tone. It matches like a fingerprint.

So yesterday, a few hours after the Free Press article hit the streets, I had mail: a short note, ironically, from Jonas Galusha.

“As one who firmly grasps the left rail in all circumstances, I enjoy your material VERY MUCH,” Jonas wrote. “However, your recent comments on a Dunne/Dubie race have a fundamental flaw.”

The flaw? My belief that Matt Dunne is a decent human being. Galusha then went on to reiterate nearly verbatim the nasty personality-centered remarks about Dunne aired on Politics VT.

I had to think: was I dealing with Brian Dubie here, even Big Jim Douglas himself? There was simply no way to be sure.

So I wrote back with a deal: let me publish your comments under your real name, and I’ll run them verbatim. Until then, they remain “low gossip.”

Which produced this really wonderful response:

“Who I am is of less significance, than the accuracy what I say. Further, if who I am were to be disclosed, my access to the info I can convey would be sharply reduced.

“However, I may consider your view if we can arrive at a confidentiality agreement. I disclose who I am only to you. You treat me as Woodward treated Deep Throat. I shall watch my emails for your ideas as surely as Ben Franklyn [sic] watched to see his brother’s publications of his nom de plume letters.”

Signed, of course, “Jonas.”

So what do you think, people? Should I go for it?

The parking garage on Bank Street is a little light and airy for this sort of rendezvous, but I do know another place over by Burlington Square Mall: it’s got low-ceilings, and the cars come careening around blind corners, horns blaring. Skateboarders practice up there sometimes in the winter, but they scatter like roaches if you get too close.

Jonas and I could meet there, I suppose. And then he could explain at greater length why Matt Dunne — who puts himself and his ideas out in the public marketplace, to be judged on their merits — is unfit for office, in the jaundiced view of a dead ex-governor without a face.