When anonymity is anonymous, and fiction becomes truth . . .
Young urban black males may live longer in prison, that does not reduce their natural lifespan, murder is unnatural (in my opinion - maybe not yours). Ditto with poaching of elephants.

-- Classical Values Commenter "Rowan Morrison"

As the subject of "truth" has been on my mind lately, I'm pondering a question of what I suppose might be called "ethics," although I'm not entirely sure. It involves the phenomenon of people who either will not identify themselves, or else hide behind undisclosed fictitious identities, but who nonetheless have no problem engaging people who do not hide their identity in debates.

While I like to know who it is I am arguing with, it isn't really necessary to know, but I do think it helps to at least know whether or not someone advancing an argument is anonymous or not. There's a sort of "level playing field" issue, especially where (as in my case) one side's real identity is disclosed. There's nothing dishonest about anonymity (or even a fictitious identity) but if the fact of anonymity -- the fact of the fiction? -- itself is kept hidden, I think that's a different matter.

In the case of commenter "Rowan Morrison," while it did occur to me that in theory someone might be impersonating Rowan Morrison, that there was such a local animal rights activist seemed beyond dispute. She has been officially quoted so many times that it never occurred to me that there might not be such a person.

When (in a post titled "Why activists win") I discussed the campaign by "Rowan Morrison's" group to remove Philadelphia Zoo's elephants, my point was not so much to dispute the elephant issue as it was to explain the mechanics of why the single-minded dedication of activists tends to defeat people who just want to be left alone (or simply stay in business):

What's always lost in the debate over the merits of each "cause" is that true activists never lose sight of the big picture. Individual "causes" are means to an end, but the people who are confronted by activists are only interested in making the immediate problem go away. In so doing, they end up strengthening and emboldening the movement behind the particular cause.

In military terms, this strategy would be called "appeasement," and it's generally not considered to be a winning one. Not for the appeasers. For the activists, it's playing right into their hands.

At the risk of sounding like an appeaser, I'll go so far here and now as to actually declare that I think the force feeding of geese is cruel. But if I ran a restaurant and complied with the demands of activists, would it end there? The prohibition on foie gras is merely one step for them towards an ultimate goal of enforced veganism. The restaurant owners who take the foie gras off the menu will next be asked to eliminate veal, then chickens raised in factory farms, and so on. Similarly, activists who demand the removal of confederate flags have no intention of stopping there. Next will be statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, as well as streets named after them. From there it's a short step to Lee's relative, slaveholder George Washington. Should there be a slaveholder on the dollar bill????

I think that the appeasement of forces which are ultimately dedicated to the wholesale destruction of the appeasers is shortsighted at best. But business and idealism mix about as well as politics and idealism. The bottom line is staying open for business, or staying in office.

That's why the activists win.

My post quickly attracted the ire of "Rowan Morrison" -- who came to my site not to debate my point about activism, but to press the merits of her campaign to remove the elephants from the Philadelphia Zoo.

Considering her local fame, it never occurred to me that there was no such person as Rowan Morrison.

Until this morning when I read this article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

An animal rights activist said today that she hopes to mount some sort of legal challenge after being banned from the Philadelphia Zoo for comments she made about the facility's chief executive.

Marianne Bessey, leader of Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants, incurred the zoo's wrath after making strongly worded remarks last week about zoo director Alexander L. "Pete" Hoskins in an Internet chatroom called The Elephant Connection.

In a posting dated Feb. 16 and addressed to Hoskins, Bessey discussed the zoo's treatment of Dulary, an injured, 42-year-old elephant that has been kept in a concrete barn since August. She talked about the elephant's life expectancy - and the director's.

"I sincerely pray you [Hoskins] have nightmares about Dulary every night until you die, which should be very soon since you are past your own life expectancy," she wrote, also suggesting that Hoskins, who is in his early 60s, might be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten your demise."

Later that day, she added: "Pete Hoskins thinks he is going to have a peaceful, uneventful retirement... he has another thing coming."

That could easily be interpreted as a veiled threat, and apparently it was. Zoo offficials decided to ban Ms. Bessey from the premises -- an action Bessey contends is "illegal":
The police report did not mention Bessey by name.

Bessey, a lawyer who has frequently gone to the zoo to pass out literature about the elephants, said yesterday that her words were not meant as a threat and that the zoo focused on them to distract from any discussion of the animals ' future.

"I think this is definitely illegal," said Bessey, while acknowledging that the zoo is private property and not a government facility. "I have the freedom of speech to express my opinion, and they're just trying to prevent me from getting information out to the public."

Toner noted that other members of the Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants were not being banned, only Bessey. In additon, Toner said that the zoo, a public charity, was exercising its "fiduciary responsibility to look out for the assets of the zoo and the zoo's best interests."

Bessey works as an attorney for a prestigious Philadelphia law firm -- Dechert LLP (one of those 400 dollar an hour type firms). Additional background on Marianne Bessey here.

What surprised me about the article was that in the past, every time I read about the elephant issue, I'd become quite accustomed to seeing Rowan Morrison quoted. After all, she's the official "spokesperson." It turns out that she's Marianne Bessey:

This afternoon, Bessey, who uses the name Rowan Morrison in her animal work, was in the concourse of Suburban Station, passing out buttons and collecting signatures.
Huh? Was that fact just discovered yesterday?

There have been numerous articles like this in the Philadelphia Inquirer -- with not a hint about the identity of the "spokeswoman":

A local animal-rights group, which stages regular demonstrations outside the zoo demanding that the elephants be sent to a sanctuary, reacted cautiously to the decision.

"It's halfway good news, as long as they retire the elephants to a sanctuary," said Rowan Morrison of Friends of the Philly Zoo Elephants. "The small, quarter-acre exhibit and 1,800-square-foot barn are just not a healthy environment for the elephants."

The next Friends demonstration is set for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

"We've always been asking the zoo to do the right thing and transfer the elephants, and we'll continue to do that," Morrison said.

I'm no journalist, but isn't there a rule somewhere that if you're quoting someone who's not using his or her real name, that you're supposed to disclose that fact?

Bessey has also passed herself off as Rowan Morrison to the prestigious Washington Post:

A protest group, Friends of the Philly Zoo Elephants, has claimed this as a victory. The group maintains that elephants are roaming and foraging animals and need more space than zoos can give them. It and other animal rights activists say that penned-in elephants tend to get diseases and injuries they would not get in the wild. The Philadelphia group is pressing the zoo to donate its elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee.

"I know it's the right thing to do. Whether the zoo does it is a different thing," said Rowan Morrison, the spokeswoman for the group.

Ditto CBS, local NBC news channel, Bloomberg.com. "Rowan Morrison" has also petitioned the Philadelphia City Council.

OK, I'm just a lowly blogger. I don't have the time or resources to verify the identity of anyone. Nor do I think it's particularly relevant in the case of a commenter to the blog. So I accepted her identity at its face value.

That was a mistake, and I apologize, but there's really no way I could have known, and her true identity wasn't relevant.

It still isn't. The point is not Marianne Bessey, Esq. Despite the fact that she's been identified in countless articles as "Rowan Morrison" she's not the real issue here, so much as the ethical process.

Is there one?

While I have no problem with fictitious identities, what I want to know is this: if an identity is fictitious, is there a duty to disclose that fact?

I don't think there's any right to know someone's identity, and I'm not talking about invading anyone's privacy. But if you are fictitious, shouldn't that fact be disclosed?

I wonder how many other spokespeople we see routinely "quoted" in what we assume is "official" news are actually not the people they appear to be.

If journalists know about a fictitious identity and don't disclose that fact, is there an ethical issue?

MORE: When I said Ms. Bessey "passed herself off" as Rowan Morrison, I was engaging in speculation under an assumption that might turn out to be unwarranted. It is entirely possible that she has disclosed her true identity all along, but that somehow it's been kept hidden.

Stay tuned, I guess.

MORE: Lest anyone misunderstand, Inquirer reporter Larry Eichel should be given credit for revealing the true identity of "Rowan Morrison." Apparently, the previous reporters are no longer interested in covering the story, and they either didn't verify who the "spokesperson" was, or knew and looked the other way.

I wrote to longtime journalist (and current blogger) Mark Tapscott, because of his expertise in these matters, and he emails as follows:

she [Bessey] had an obligation to tell the reporters who quoted her her real name and the reporters then had an obligation to tell readers the published name is not her real name and explain why the newspaper published the fake name rather than the real name.
We'll see whether that happens.

Be sure to check out Mark Tapscott's blog, as he has some excellent pictures from today's pro-Denmark demonstration.

UPDATE: "Rowan Morrison" (in repeated comments below) states that she was misquoted in the newspapers, and cites the full text of her remarks, which were as follows:

You must live with Dulary's blood on your hands. You yourself are retiring in May - yet you have refused to allow Dulary to retire, instead claiming that she is reaching her "life expectancy" and preparing the public who pay your obscenely high salary for her death. You have outlived your life expectancy by some ten years, since the life expectancy of a human is 51 years (in sub-Saharan Africa, that is - I'm using the same logic you use to get a life expectancy of elephants of early 40's, isn't it fun to play around with statistics like that?)

Pete, I sincerely pray you have nightmares about Dulary every night until you die, which should be very soon since you are so far past your own "life expectancy." Maybe you should be kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten your demise. After all, what is suitable for the animals you've been paid $329,000 a year to care for should be more than sufficient for you.

To the zoo spies on this list - please forward to Pete with my sincere blessings. You forwarded the letter from James Kenney and Blondell Reynolds Brown - now you can forward this.
I know I'm really sticking my neck out, but for what it's worth, I don't think the Zoo Director should be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten [his] demise." (As to the man's salary, I think it's about as relevant as that of "Rowan Morrison.")

"Rowan Morrison" also maintains that it's "okay" to use an undisclosed pseudonym. Whether that's "okay" is a matter of philosophy. Obviously, some people think it is okay. Which is why, (as I argue in this post) reporters need to ask a few basic questions. It's more and more apparent that they didn't.

MORE: "Rowan Morrison" also states that she did tell "some reporters, but not all" reporters her real name. What that means is that to if these reporters referred to her as "Rowan Morrison" without pointing out the pseudonymous nature of that name, they engaged in a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

In real life, saying someone is somebody else (when you know this is untrue) is called "lying."

posted by Eric on 02.24.06 at 06:54 AM










Comments

Don't worry, Eric. I AM the real pikkumatti.

pikkumatti   ·  February 24, 2006 11:30 AM

Hadn't given it a thought. I welcome all commenters, and my feature allows anonymous ones. In any event, you're not claiming to be an official spokesman for any group.

(On the other hand, if the WaPo started quoting "pikkumatti" as a "spokesperson," my curiosity might be aroused.....)

:)

Eric Scheie   ·  February 24, 2006 11:47 AM

If I remember correctly, it is perfectly legal to use any name you like at any time, except for the purpose of committing a crime.

In addition, I would be appalled if reporters were to start demanding identification from random people off the street.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think reporters can be held responsible when people lie to them about their names. How would the Inquirer know that the Morrison was Bessey unless/until a reporter who knew her under one name encountered her in the other context?

Mike Heinz   ·  February 24, 2006 2:31 PM

Mike, if you're right, that means she succeeded in conning the reporters. Nothing illegal about conning reporters, and I never said there was. But if I call the Post and say I'm "Fred Flintstone from the Justice Department," (or, "I'm Mike Heinz, Vice President of General Motors), should they just go ahead and quote me?

Eric Scheie   ·  February 24, 2006 2:55 PM

I'm hoping that "The Everlasting Phelps" is an obvious psuedonym and no one thinks that a parent will name a child "Everlasting".

Phelps   ·  February 24, 2006 4:15 PM

Yeah but when you say you're "Lemmy's Cocoa Puff thing on his face," shouldn't we take that at face value?

Eric Scheie   ·  February 24, 2006 5:23 PM

Whether there's a point or not, that's a fascinating post.

Btw the Instapundit has one of this blog's biggest fans on it today... he emailed me to tell me...

"http://instapundit.com/archives/028803.php

In the last pic i'm on the left in jeans and black jacket with grey flannel
out the bottom, silver hair sunglasses and black gloves.


Will"

he doesn't comment here, but he loves this blog. I'm hoping he'll do a write up

cheers!

Harkonnendog   ·  February 24, 2006 8:40 PM

I told some reporters, but not all, of my legal name. I use Rowan Morrison as a pseudonym - it is not illegal to do so. It is illegal to give a false name to police.

The reporters who used my name in print did not know my legal name. Once some of them did know, they no longer quoted me by name, but instead referred to me as the "spokesperson" or "leader."

Dulary, the 42 year old elephant who is needlessly dying in a cement barn, has been lost in this debate. For that I am sorry.
www.helpphillyzooelephants.com

RowanMorrison   ·  February 26, 2006 4:00 AM

There's nothing illegal about using a pseudonym, and I never said there was. I think the reporters involved should have done a little more checking, though, and perhaps should have asked whether "Rowan Morrison" was your real name, or a pseudonym. If the fact that a pseudonym is being used is not disclosed, it's less than fair, and less than honest.

Legality is not a synonym for honesty.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 26, 2006 9:05 AM

I will be sending a press release out this week explaining the use of "Rowan Morrison." I will post it here as well if you really care that much. When I met with city councilmembers, I used my legal name and explained to each why I used a pseudonym.

It will be six months on March 1 that Dulary, the Asian elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo, has been living in a concrete barn. It is "less than honest and less than ethical" for the Philadelphia Zoo to keep her in that barn and mislead the public about her condition rather than send her to a sanctuary where she could roam free and be with other elephants.
Dulary is the innocent one in this situation, yet she is serving a six month sentence (and probably longer, if she doesn't die soon) in solitary confinement. I know I will have nightmares about her (I already have) when she dies.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 26, 2006 9:16 AM

correction - I meant to write "less than fair, and less than honest," in quotation marks. I am quite sensitive to the use of quotation marks when quoting someone else, particulary since my own words were incorrectly quoted in dozens of newspapers throughout the country, and here as well.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 26, 2006 9:19 AM

You have just asserted that your words were "incorrectly quoted" here, yet you have not specified which quotes are incorrect. I do not deliberately misquote people, so if I have misquoted you, please let me know what you actually said, and I will correct the quote.

I do think your continued use of the comments to promote your side of the elephant story (yes, there is another side, but that's not the subject of the post) avoids my central point, which is a basic question about journalistic ethics in the use of pseudonyms.

Once again, I think that it is dishonest to not disclose that a source's name is not that person's real name. That said, I cannot say who was being dishonest, because I don't think the mere use a pseudonym is inherently dishonest, as long as the fact that it's a pseudonym was disclosed. If you disclosed that fact and the news reporters failed to report it, it is they who are being less than honest, and not you.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 26, 2006 10:09 AM

You quoted me as I was quoted in the newspapers. I was misquoted in the newspapers. You can find the original quote here.
http://groups.msn.com/TheElephantCommentator/general.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=12505&LastModified=4675561909434224969

I'm not avoiding the issue of using an undisclosed pseudonym. Obviously, I think it's okay. You don't.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 26, 2006 1:26 PM

I understand that you consider it okay, but I'd like to know whether it's okay for journalists to not disclose that a source's name is not the real name.

Anyway, thanks for supplying that link. I've updated the post accordingly.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 26, 2006 1:50 PM

As I wrote above, most of the journalists did not know I was using a pseudonym. I did tell each of them that I did not disclose any personal information about myself when giving interviews about elephants (sometimes they ask about family, job, etc.)

Why does my name matter? I could go to city hall and change it tomorrow. If I were trading on a reputation or trying to hide something, I can understand it. But I used a different name, it was consistently reported as such; so what?

I find it more interesting that no one picked up on the reference. Don't we have any movie fans around these days?

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 26, 2006 4:13 PM

"I know I'm really sticking my neck out, but for what it's worth, I don't think the Zoo Director should be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten [his] demise." (As to the man's salary, I think it's about as relevant as that of "Rowan Morrison.")"

Do you think it's okay to keep a middle-aged elephant in a concrete closet for six months to hasten her demise? Why or why not? Elephants have much more of a need for space than humans - my point is that if it's okay for the elephant (not only okay, but downright luxurious - and Hoskins has referred to the elephants' Philly Zoo enclosure as a "resort") than it should be okay for the person responsible for the elephant. The sarcasm was lost in translation, but it's there if you really, really, really look.

And Pete Hoskins' salary is extremely relevant, for a number of reasons. First, he is among the top 1 percent of zoo directors' salaries, and paid over ten times what the directors of sanctuaries are paid. Second, his annual salaryis more than 30% over the Philadelphia Zoo's entire expenditure this year for "conservation." Zoos are always touting about how much they contribute to "conservation" of animals in the wild, I find it extremely relevant that one employee is paid more than 30% more than the entire zoo's annual budget for conservation. Third, it is generally accepted that if one works for a non-profit, the salaries are often lower than those in the private sector (disclaimer: my opinion, please don't cite me specific examples where non profit employees make as much if not more than their private sector counterparts - I know they exist. I'm generalizing here, okay?) I personally think $329,000 is a huge amount of money to spend on the salary of one person in any venue, let alone a non-profit.

While we're pondering these deep issues, Dulary, Petal, Kallie, and Bette remain in the cement barn surrounded by their own feces and urine.

Anonymous   ·  February 26, 2006 4:26 PM

In a news story, I think it matters who a person is. If the person has something critical to say about other people, it's only fair to say who they are, and if they don't want to say who they are, report that. What's to hide? If the fact of hiding is itself hidden, that begs the question of whether the reporting is reporting, or hiding.

What I think about elephants is irrelevant to any of the points I raised, and questions like "Do you think it's okay to keep a middle-aged elephant in a concrete closet for six months to hasten her demise?" are argumentative, and loaded with assumptions. Likewise the salary of the Zoo director bears no relationship to whether his decisions are correct, and is simply a form of ad hominem attack. Whether the zoo spends enough money on conservation is likewise a wholly different issue from elephants.

But even if this post had been about the elephant issue, your argument ("if it's okay for the elephant... it should be okay for the person responsible for the elephant") means that Zoo directors should live the same way the elephants under their care live.

Rowan, I think we're so far apart that a serious discussion is unlikely, but for starters, why are you singling out elephants? Aren't there other animals in the Zoo? Why should the Zoo director only live like one of his elephants? Assuming he forces elephants to live in "concrete closets," doesn't he also force birds to live in cages, and amphibians in aquariums? Why shouldn't it be "okay" to put him in an aquarium for one weekend, a bird cage the next, and only after that in his concrete box? For that matter, aren't there a lot of ordinary folks who routinely do things like cage their birds and crate their dogs? Isn't it a little hypocritical to allow them to go about uncaged and uncrated, while advocating the concrete closet only for Mr. Hoskins?

Eric Scheie   ·  February 26, 2006 11:25 PM

Hiding? I appeared on television multiple times. My name is meaningless, no one knows me from Adam (or at least didn't before).

Other animals in zoos are not dying at half their natural lifespan from captivity-induced conditions. But if you want to champion another animal you feel is suffering, I'll do what I can to help you. I also do a lot of volunteer work for children (e.g. volunteer for the Support Center for Child Advocates) and for other animals (e.g. I'm a member of the Animal Law Committee of the PBA). In addition, I lead a group known as the "Circus Education Campaign." Elephants are just one of many causes I support. They are in the news a lot these days because of the controversy surrounding them; consequently, my activities are also publicized. In a few years, when zoos either stop exhibiting them or they are all dead, they will be yesterday's news, and you probably won't hear anything about me. But I'll still be out there, plugging away, under either my legal name or Rowan Morrison.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 27, 2006 8:35 AM

I have to disagree that your name is meaningless. It's become quite meaningful. John Grogan devoted an entire column to your struggle today, and he's not the type to write about people without identifying them (or at least explaining why they weren't who they said they were).

(I suspect that whether he says so or not, John Grogan realizes that any journalist who knowingly misrepresented your identity committed a breach of journalistic ethics.)

Anyway (as I've said before) I think you're going to win this one, and the elephants will be moved. If I really thought you intended to end there, I probably would never have written about the issue. But among my fondest childhood memories are visits to "Jimmy the Hippo" and I'd hate to see children deprived of such opportunities to interact with animals.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 27, 2006 9:36 AM

"I think I could turn and live with animals. They are so placid and self-contained. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick, discussing their duty to God. Not one of them kneels to another. Or to one of his own kind, that lived thousands of years ago. Not one of them is respectable, or unhappy, all over the earth."

Lord Summerisle   ·  February 27, 2006 9:54 AM

Perhaps "Lady Summerisle" would have been a more obvious pseudonym. Too late now. Bit of a sticky wicker, eh what? Moving right along...

"Not one of them is respectable, or unhappy, all over the earth."

It's a nice thought, but factually incorrect.
A few moments reflection will bring to mind numerous counter-examples, both wild and domestic. Social animals have standards.

J. Case   ·  February 27, 2006 10:37 AM

Lady Summerisle? No thanks! The Lord didn't seem too big on monogamy, which is kind of important to me.

Yes, my name is becoming somewhat "famous" - but only now - the cover of the Daily News will do that to you. It was never before, and I was completely "unknown" when I used the name Rowan Morrison. Again - no one knew me from Adam, and it didn't matter if I used the name Rowan Morrison, or mehitabel (another favorite). I wasn't hiding my identity in any way - appearing on television makes that hard to do. I used a pseudonym. Get over it.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 28, 2006 1:16 AM

"Anyway (as I've said before) I think you're going to win this one, and the elephants will be moved. If I really thought you intended to end there, I probably would never have written about the issue. But among my fondest childhood memories are visits to "Jimmy the Hippo" and I'd hate to see children deprived of such opportunities to interact with animals."

I don't think this needs to be assessed in zero-sum terms. "I" am not going to win anything - it's not a game or a war. It's an effort to help these elephants "get a life" (something as an advocate of animals I'm often accused of not having) and could be a win-win-win for the zoo, the elephants, and the advocates. The Detroit Zoo retired its elephants to a sanctuary last year not because of pressure from animal advocates but because - surprise - a decision of the zoo director. The space and resources previuosly spent on keeping a couple of elephants is now being used on the other zoo inhabitants, particularly the rhinos. There has been no drop off in membership or attendance at the zoo, and the expanded rhino exhibit has been met with great enthusiasm by zoo patrons.
The Philly Zoo could easily do the same. There is one lone rhino living in a tiny yard next to the elephants, and he would greatly benefit from an expanded enclosure. I have videotaped him displaying severe stereotypic behavior, bobbing and weaving facing his barn for hours. The hippos could also benefit, they are living in another tiny yard with basically a puddle to dip their feet into. Sure, kids love to see animals. But kids don't usually think about where the hippos go when the zoo closes, or how elephants live in the wild, or what the rhino's bobbing and weaving really means. They're innocent, just like the animals. It's the adults who are culpable.

Rowan Morrison   ·  February 28, 2006 1:35 AM

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