We’re a little late in commenting on this; we’ve been overwhelmed by a tremendous amount of news and gossip, on multiple fronts. But if you have an interest in blogging, or blogging about blogging, you should definitely check out this most interesting PrawfsBlawg post (if you haven’t done so already):
An Online Experiment: Take the Legal World, Add Gossip, Shake
Professor Matt Bodie offers some thoughtful (and thought-provoking) reflections upon Above the Law, as well as gossip blogging more generally. Money quote:
[L]aw professor blogs have pretty much shied completely away from law professor gossip. There are a lot of really good reasons for this. Liability concerns may be a factor, but I think they’re a small part. No law prof yet has been willing to go on record as the mouthpiece for gossip.
And why should they? Being a gossip conduit is costly to one’s reputation. It’s trivial. It’s non-scholarly. It’s hurtful to others. And besides — if you already know the gossip, what good does it do you to bring others in on the secret?
We don’t have time to respond in much detail. We have some VERY juicy Aaron Charney dish that we need to write up.
But for those of you who are curious, our thoughts on Bodie’s post appear after the jump.
Update: HA. We seem to misapprehended the point of Professor Bodie’s post. Please see his explanatory comment, available here.
(The irony, of course, is that we misinterpreted his post due to being defensive and oversensitive — even as we take the position that people in general need to be less sensitive when criticized or gossiped about.)
Matt Bodie’s comments appear in quotes, followed in each case by our comments.
1. “No law prof yet has been willing to go on record as the mouthpiece for gossip.”
Umm, what about this guy?
(Yes, Professor Brian Leiter has toned down the snark lately, resulting in a blog that sounds less gossipy than it used to. But we have no doubt that when antagonized, Professor Leiter can still “bring it.”)
2. “Being a gossip conduit is costly to one’s reputation.”
Depends upon your occupation. If you’re a
stuffy and pretentious respectable law professor, sure. But if you’re a gossip writer, then “[b]eing a gossip conduit” is kinda your job. And the better a gossip conduit you are, the better your reputation.
As for “civilians” in the gossip wars, folks who don’t gossip for a living, engaging in some amount of gossip is probably a good thing. Although you don’t want to get a reputation as THE office wag, you should grease the wheels of the rumor machine just enough for you to get good gossip from others. This allows you to stay “in the loop,” which is helpful for advancing your career and succeeding in office politics.
Also, people who refuse to gossip AT ALL are often regarded as stuck-up and no fun to be around. And rightfully so, in our view.
3. “It’s trivial. It’s non-scholarly. It’s hurtful to others.”
Jeez, Matt — lighten up! Hurtful? Sticks and stones, etc.
In the age of the internet, in which information flows more freely than ever before, people need to be less sensitive to reputational slights. Or, to put it more bluntly: Deal.
If one were to run a utilitarian calculus, the total pleasure given to everyone who engages in gossip — not just in the blogosphere, but in the UNIVERSE, from the pages of ATL to the chairs at the local beauty salon — easily outweighs the pain experienced by subjects of gossip.
In many cases, there is no such “pain.” What people don’t know won’t hurt them. The nature of gossip, at least of the non-online variety, is that it’s (typically) conducted behind someone’s back.
Millions and millions of people get pleasure from gossiping about the likes of Paris, Lindsay, Britney, and Jessica. And except for what these celebrities might read in glossy weeklies — which they often refuse to read on principle, like Jennifer Aniston — the stars have no clue what’s being said about them.
And let’s not forget that many people, ourselves included, take pleasure in being gossiped about. Being gossiped about, even negatively, is an acknowledgment that you exist, that you matter. Remember the words of Samuel Johnson: “I would rather be attacked than unnoticed.”
(We never had such validation when we were one of over 100 assistant U.S. attorneys in New Jersey, or one of over 100 associates at Wachtell Lipton in New York. Now we receive such validation every day, whenever we look at our traffic stats. It’s great!!!)
(But yes, we know — our need for the attention and approval of others is psychologically unhealthy. We are working on this.)
4. “And besides — if you already know the gossip, what good does it do you to bring others in on the secret?”
A fair point. But it probably applies more to other people than to us, since the “good” that gossiping does us is that it allows us to earn a living — yes, this is our full-time job (with benefits) — and have a blast while doing so.
Finally, on the “what good does it do you” front, don’t forget the power that’s wielded by leading gossips. While former Page Six scribe Jared Paul Stern — recently let off the hook for possible extortion / blackmail charges, by the way — may harbor a grandiose and inflated view of the power of gossip columnists, it can’t be denied that widely-read gossips wield SOME amount of influence (the exact amount can be debated).
Allow us to toot our own horn. We believe it is safe for us to take credit for the transformation of Gallion & Spielvogel’s website from this to this.
And if THAT doesn’t count as power, sufficient to earn us our place in history, we don’t know what does.
An Online Experiment: Take the Legal World, Add Gossip, Shake [PrawfsBlawg]
Matthew Bodie bio [Hofstra University School of Law]