Blogging as an intervening variable for stupidity

Jonathan Saltzman has a front-pager in the Boston Globe about an unusual court case in which blogging factored into the denouement: It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age. As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Jonathan Saltzman has a front-pager in the Boston Globe about an unusual court case in which blogging factored into the denouement: It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age. As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question. Was Lindeman Flea? Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day. In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing. With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea. The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston's tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement -- case closed. The case is a startling illustration of how blogging, already implicated in destroying friendships and ruining job prospects, could interfere in other important arenas. Lawyers in Massachusetts and elsewhere, some of whom downloaded Flea's observations and posted them on their websites, said the case has also prompted them to warn clients that blogs can come back to haunt them. Still, Andrew C. Meyer Jr., a well known Boston personal injury lawyer who followed the case, said he had never heard of a defendant blogging during a trial. "Most of us investigate whatever prior writings our clients might have had, so they are not exposed to their inconsistencies in their testimony," said Meyer, who has begun warning clients against the practice. "But it's impossible to do if you don't know that your client is blogging under an assumed name."Saltzman suggests that thiscase is indicative of how blogs can impact, you know, real life. And there's a grain of truth to this charge. Reading on, however, one begins to wonder if blogs are not the cause per se, but rather one of many enablers for people with poor impulse control: Lindeman, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine, according to the Natick Pediatrics website. In recent years, he has shared his medical views on local television news programs, on the "Manic Mommies" podcast produced by two Ashland mothers, and in magazines. He is also the author of drfleablog, in which he calls himself Flea and identifies himself only as a pediatrician in the Northeast. A flea, he told the Globe this year, is what surgeons called pediatricians in training. The Globe's medical blog, White Coat Notes, has occasionally included links to Lindeman's blog, which he has recently taken down. Mulvey, who said she only learned of the blog a couple weeks before the trial, said after reading scores of back postings that it was controversial yet intellectually stimulating. Over the past year, Lindeman increasingly used it to rail against the malpractice suit.... Shortly before the end of his second day on the witness stand, while focusing on Lindeman's views of a pediatric textbook, Mulvey asked him whether he had a medical blog, she recalled. He said he did. Then she asked him if he was Flea. He said he was. The exchange may have been lost on jurors, but Meyer said Mulvey had telegraphed that she was ready to share Lindeman's blog -- containing his unvarnished views of lawyers, jurors, and the legal process -- with the jury. The next day, the case was settled.So, lessons learned: 1) If you're a defendant in a court case, try not to blog about it; 2) Blogs don't hurt people. Poor impulse control hurts people. More blog reaction from Suburban Guerilla, Michael Froomkin, and HubBlog. [Might there be more of a correlation than you're letting on? Perhaps people with poor impulse control are more likely to blog?--ed. There's something to this, but blogs are merely one of many new forms of personal expression available to people. If the blog is not the outlet, perhaps the MySpace page, or the podcast, or the YouTube moment will be. Still, I leave this possibility to commenters -- who clearly have no problems with impulse control.]

Jonathan Saltzman has a front-pager in the Boston Globe about an unusual court case in which blogging factored into the denouement:

It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age. As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question. Was Lindeman Flea? Flea, jurors in the case didn’t know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day. In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff’s case and the plaintiff’s lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing. With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea. The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston’s tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement — case closed. The case is a startling illustration of how blogging, already implicated in destroying friendships and ruining job prospects, could interfere in other important arenas. Lawyers in Massachusetts and elsewhere, some of whom downloaded Flea’s observations and posted them on their websites, said the case has also prompted them to warn clients that blogs can come back to haunt them. Still, Andrew C. Meyer Jr., a well known Boston personal injury lawyer who followed the case, said he had never heard of a defendant blogging during a trial. “Most of us investigate whatever prior writings our clients might have had, so they are not exposed to their inconsistencies in their testimony,” said Meyer, who has begun warning clients against the practice. “But it’s impossible to do if you don’t know that your client is blogging under an assumed name.”

Saltzman suggests that thiscase is indicative of how blogs can impact, you know, real life. And there’s a grain of truth to this charge. Reading on, however, one begins to wonder if blogs are not the cause per se, but rather one of many enablers for people with poor impulse control:

Lindeman, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine, according to the Natick Pediatrics website. In recent years, he has shared his medical views on local television news programs, on the “Manic Mommies” podcast produced by two Ashland mothers, and in magazines. He is also the author of drfleablog, in which he calls himself Flea and identifies himself only as a pediatrician in the Northeast. A flea, he told the Globe this year, is what surgeons called pediatricians in training. The Globe’s medical blog, White Coat Notes, has occasionally included links to Lindeman’s blog, which he has recently taken down. Mulvey, who said she only learned of the blog a couple weeks before the trial, said after reading scores of back postings that it was controversial yet intellectually stimulating. Over the past year, Lindeman increasingly used it to rail against the malpractice suit…. Shortly before the end of his second day on the witness stand, while focusing on Lindeman’s views of a pediatric textbook, Mulvey asked him whether he had a medical blog, she recalled. He said he did. Then she asked him if he was Flea. He said he was. The exchange may have been lost on jurors, but Meyer said Mulvey had telegraphed that she was ready to share Lindeman’s blog — containing his unvarnished views of lawyers, jurors, and the legal process — with the jury. The next day, the case was settled.

So, lessons learned:

1) If you’re a defendant in a court case, try not to blog about it; 2) Blogs don’t hurt people. Poor impulse control hurts people.

More blog reaction from Suburban Guerilla, Michael Froomkin, and HubBlog. [Might there be more of a correlation than you’re letting on? Perhaps people with poor impulse control are more likely to blog?–ed. There’s something to this, but blogs are merely one of many new forms of personal expression available to people. If the blog is not the outlet, perhaps the MySpace page, or the podcast, or the YouTube moment will be. Still, I leave this possibility to commenters — who clearly have no problems with impulse control.]

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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