Criticizing online documents without linking to them: An email exchange with a National Review writer

If I were to list my top 10 blogging pet peeves, bloggers that respond to and criticize other online writers without linking to them would be at the top of the list. There are few things that are more childish and inexcusable in the blogosphere.

This tends to happen most often in political blogs. For instance, in 2006 conservative blogger Michelle Malkin wrote a hit piece accusing the NY Times of needlessly endangering the life of Donald Rumsfeld by publishing pictures of his house. It wasn’t long before several bloggers tore her argument to shreds by showing that just about everything she had asserted was demonstratively false. At one point it even came to light that the NY Times photographer had received permission from Rumsfeld for taking the photo. Eventually, Malkin was pressured to write a follow-up post so that she could respond to her critics.

The result? A post that went to every length to never link to the blogs that destroyed her arguments. Instead, she sets up strawman after strawman and then knocks them down with a back-sliding flourish of intellectual dishonesty, a whirlwind of arm thrashing and punches in the dark.

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it’s easy to provide context. The mainstream media is often criticized for providing out-of-context sound-bites. But when I’m criticizing an article, say, in the New York Times, I have the benefit of not only providing choice quote soundbites, but also linking to the article so that skeptical readers can read it in full. I can have my cake and eat it too.

Which brings me to a recent email exchange I had with a writer for the National Review.

I had been skimming through its Media Blog when I came across a post titled “Metrics for Success” In the post, Kevin D. Williamson provides a throw-away criticism of an article on LewRockwell.com.

As you can probably predict, Williamson criticized the article without ever linking to it, an action that annoyed me enough that I shot him an email:

Kevin,

I’m curious; you wrote about an article on leerockwell.com but didn’t link to it. Why? Don’t you think that if a blogger is critical of an article that appears online, that he should link to it so that his readers can read it in its entirety if they want to weigh the merits of his criticism?

–Simon

His flip response that arrived a few minutes later was entirely predictable:

I don’t always link to everything I mention, especially if I don’t think the item worth reading. I believe everybody knows that they can find lewrockwell.com articles at lewrockwell.com, if they are so inclined.

Thanks for writing.

Yours,
Kevin

To which I responded:

Somehow I think that if the tables were turned and another blogger started criticizing one of your posts by cherry-picking quotes from it and not linking to it you would be quite annoyed.

And sure, I could criticize something at nytimes.com and assume that if a reader really wanted to he could visit the website and do an archive search, but those assumptions are silly considering I can take the five extra seconds to link to it.

You say that it’s not an item worth reading, and yet it’s an item worth responding to?

–simon

You see, Williamson. Even though your blog post violated one of my biggest pet peeves — and would therefore qualify as a post “not worth reading,” as you put it — I still linked to it anyway. You know why? Because I have respect for my readers and allow them to read your post in full to get context.

Given that you’re writing for a “media blog,” I shouldn’t have to give you lessons in Blogging 101.

3 Comments

  1. Robert Nagle Says:

    In this case, I think it boils down to condescension towards so-called “lesser media properties.” It also involves a lack of diligence; maybe it requires three extra seconds to create a hyperlink.

    There are cases where it is appropriate not to use hyperlinks on a web page. I am at work on an ezine project (yes, I saw your article) where letting people following links would be counterproductive. So I’m basically discouraging the use of links. But social sciences and political debate is not one such case.

  2. slag Says:

    Direct references (including links) to sources is huge. Sometimes, we forget or take it for granted that readers have already seen something, and that may reflect sloppiness. But if you’re directly disputing someone, you should always link to them. Not to do so is more than shady practice.

  3. prin Says:

    I just found it, but so far, I love your blog. lol

    I think the same applies for positive references too. So many people steal pics off the net because they love them, but they never give a reference and that bothers me. If you love it, why not give credit where credit is due?

    On that note, I posted some of your 50 nerdy pick up lines on my blog, but I linked you. Hope that’s ok… If not, let me know. ;)


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