A senior editor at the New Republic was suspended and his blog was shut down on Friday after revelations that he was involved in anonymously attacking readers who criticized his posts.
Lee Siegel, creator of the Lee Siegel on Culture blog for tnr.com, was suspended indefinitely from the magazine after a reader accused him of using a "sock puppet," or Internet alias, to attack his critics in the comments section of his blog. An editor's apology replaced the blog on the Web site, announcing that the blog would no longer be published and noting that the New Republic deeply regretted "misleading" its readers.
Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, said in an interview that he first became aware of the accusations against Siegel on Thursday afternoon, after a colleague noticed a comment in the Talkback section of Siegel's blog that accused him of using the alias "sprezzatura" to defend his articles and assail his critics.
That comment, posted by a reader named "jhschwartz" on Aug. 27, said that "sprezzatura appears only to weigh in on TNR forums to admonish and taunt posters who dislike Lee Siegel" before concluding, "I would say with 99 percent confidence that `sprezzatura' is a Siegel alias."
"We launched an investigation," Foer said.
He added that he was confident that sprezzatura's posts were written with Siegel's "full cooperation," but declined to say whether the alias was used by Siegel himself because the affair was still under investigation.
"As soon as the facts of the case became clear to me on Friday, we closed down the blog and made an announcement," Foer said.
Foer added that while he liked to see blog posts before they were published, Siegel did not have an editor assigned to his blog entries.
In a statement by e-mail, Siegel said, "I'm sorry about my prank, which was certainly not designed to harm a magazine that has been my happy intellectual home for many years."
Other bloggers noted the disclosure about Siegel. Ezra Klein, a blogger who had tangled with him, wrote in his blog on Friday, "The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming."
But Klein said that most bloggers "resist the urge, take the lashing and move on."
Siegel became a polarizing figure, coining the term "blogofascism" in the midst of a debate over the New Republic supporting US Senator Joseph Lieberman.
The user named sprezzatura, an Italian term for studied carelessness, posted comments that were hyperbolic even for a blog. After readers criticized Siegel for his post about the host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart, sprezzatura wrote: "Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep." (A later comment deplored other readers' "inability to withstand a difference in taste without resorting to personal insult.")
Siegel is not the first mainstream blogger to use an Internet alias or the first to be unmasked. In April, the Los Angeles Times suspended the blog of reporter Michael Hiltzik after he admitted using aliases on his own blog and other Web sites. Foer said that as print publications engage the Internet, it can be difficult to define and apply journalistic principles.
"Obviously, this happened in a newer medium where the rules are more ambiguous," he said.
"But we simply don't tolerate the misleading of our readers," he said.
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