Interpersonal Ethics: Why I am a Zephyr Apologist

I’ve been batting back and forth this weekend whether I needed to explain why I am a "Zephyr apologist." I posted on Thursday night by criticizing the Wall Street Journal, on Saturday on her blog Zonkette, and exonerated her again by analyzing Joe Trippi’s comments on the matter.

My assistance didn’t go unnoticed. Friday I was called "Zephyr apologist" on the Zonkette, and Sunday on a Daily Kos diary.

I’d respond, But I don’t have an account yet. So, for the next 23 hours until my account allows me to post, I’m watching it all unfold. People are discussing me, without bothering to read anything I’ve written. I sent a couple of the posters on the thread some helpful pointers. Even the original poster, Paul Lukasiak (posting as "bushsux"), must have been aware that I agreed with him on a discussion thread.

Zephyr’s in a similar situation. It’s even more surprising to me how few people have been to actually come to her defense. Zephyr was the public image of the Dean campaign. There may well be thousands of "Deaniacs" who joined a political campaign because of her work. In Friday’s thread on Zonkette, there were almost a hundred comments, mostly negative. A few Dean campaign volunteers offered a few words of praise for Zephyr, but by begging her to apologize, appeared to just pile it on.

I wasn’t a Deaniac. My assistance to the Dean campaign was sporadic and short-lived. Zephyr and I had conversed in a few Internet threads over the last year: April on Greater Democracy, November on Personal Democracy.

I just had a strong feeling that the right thing to do was to protect someone who was being beaten down. Call me an old fashioned bleeding heart.

Do I really need to explain my interpersonal ethics? I don’t see anything wrong with that.


Let me review some of my fundamental basic interpersonal ethics, which I think about on a daily basis. The first of which come from a rabbi of two thousand years ago, the great Hillel:

If I am not for myself what am I?
If I am only for myself,
If not now, when?

Hillel also devised a radical interpretation of the Golden Rule (Love your neighbor as yourself), by stating the contrapositive: That which is harmful to you, do not do to your neighbor. The Talmud teaches that a Gentile approached the great Rabbis to ask if they could convert him while standing on one leg: Hillel’s rival Shammai chased him out; but Hillel offered his statement of the golden rule and said "That is the whole Torah. Now go and study."

On other lesson from my Jewish observance. At the beginning of the Amidah, we say "Open my lips, oh lord, so that I may declare your praise." And then we give. prayers of praise, of petition, of gratitude. After the Amidah, the Rabbis added an additional prayer, which begins:

O Lord, guard my tongue from evil
And to those who slander me, let me give no heed.
May my soul be humble and forgiving unto all.

I once noted the neat parallel here to my synagogue’s cantor, the great Scott Sokol. We open our mouths at the beginning– since we really have a lot to say to God, and at times may shoot the moon in our requests– and then at the end, we realize we have to deal with mere mortals once again, and watch what we say.

Let’s look at Hillel’s famous axioms, and how they apply here:



From Daily Kos: "Garfunkle appears as one who, like Teachout, is try to carve out a place for himslef in the blogging or internet journalism spheres."

Well, duh, that’s a no-brainer. We all are looking out for ourselves; who else will, asked Hillel? What’s great about blogs– or civs— is that you can build up an online portfolio. Now, Zephyr is quite new to this, but I have a lot of respect for her opinions, and I suppose she’ll refine her blogging skills.

On the other hand, I have been writing online for a year. I’ve written 150 separate essays, and I spend anywhere between a couple of hours on them to a few days. (Contrast that with Instapundit, who makes 150 posts a week.) These pieces are written to represent me and what I know.

Now, am I promoting myself beyond reason? Who’s to say? If I make claims that I can’t readily backup, then I’ve overextended myself. I don’t want to be in a position where I have more email and attacks than I can answer. And I think that was Zephyr’s error here. She had the evidence, but wasn’t in a position to post it when people needed it.


I try go to synagogue on most Saturdays. I didn’t this Saturday. Many times my excuse is no better than getting up late and saying to myself "If I go this late, I’ll just show up for the Kiddush (food at the conclusion), and I’ll look like a schmuck." This weekend I knew that Zephyr was getting beat down, and I felt she needed help.

The first email I ever got from Zephyr was Thursday night– I emailed her the previous day, noting that she had . She told me that she was about to get ripped limb from limb by the WSJ story, and that she didn’t have a feeling there were going to be many supporters.

Now, what would you do?

Ok, assume that you didn’t get that email. Still, somebody is getting beat up out of proportion to what they did. I can’t believe the language that was used. It’s enough to frighten anybody who is demanding that blogs be taken more seriously. I’d like somebody (a third person?) to collect all of the nasty comments lodged at Zephyr. It would be a cautionary lesson.

It worried me a bit when I saw that Zephyr didn’t make clear her apology on Zonkette about mis-stating the relationship with Jerome Armstrong. She had originally referred to "bloggers" in the plural, but he had stopped blogging. She conceded the error by Wednesday, but didn’t clear it up. I started to wonder if maybe I had made a mistake in sticking up for her.

Somehow I trusted Zephyr. I knew that she had more information than she was giving. In the end, she posted in full, and she showed that she had the evidence for what she was saying. And I even dug up some more evidence to support her (I’m in the process of fact-checking it now).


From Daily Kos: "He seems to gloss over Teachout’s obvious shortcomings and tries to frame this entire mess as something of a new industry going through its formative years."

This world revolves around each of us glossing over each other’s shortcomings, obvious or not. As for the second part, this is was exactly the point that Trippi and Winer agreed to in their conversation yesterday.

The world of online media is still young– immature, I’ll say, given the language used in personal attacks at Zephyr. It needs some maturation if "the media" or "the people in power" are to take it seriously. If not now, when?


From Daily Kos: "While he and Teachout seems so enthralled by the academics of blogging and other internet info dissemination, real people are getting hurt."

Exactly. Exhibit A, or should I say, Z, Zephyr Teachout.

Do I reach out a hand because I hope that somebody else may think to help me in the future? Don’t be so cynical. I write and I research in the hope that in advances the knowledge and reveals truth People volunteer on campaigns in the hope that they’ll get jobs. Campaigns treat journalists (and now bloggers) nicely in the hope that they’ll get more favorable coverage. Americans give money to tsunami victims, for many hopes. The world of charity and lovingkindness is built on hope.

The "politics of personal destruction" are not.


I am pretty sharp in my criticism sometimes. But I always make sure I make it up with evidence. And I use my own real name. If I were to use a pseudonym that people will have a difficult time tracking, it would encourage me to say things I wouldn’t say. And if one person levels an anonymous slur, the door’s wide open.

I also make sure to critique the practice, and not the practioner. When I critique someone, I often just let their own words speak for themselves– whether it’s the President, or Dave Winer. I suppose when you bring attention to other’s words, you send a signal to that person just how precious their words are.

There’s a lesson that Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in his compendium Jewish Wisdom (1994), a Hasidic parable about gossip. A man slanders his rabbi. One day he realizes his mistake, and he goes to the Rabbi to ask forgiveness. The rabbi says, yes, on one condition: "First, go home, cut up a feather pillow, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man does so and comes back to the Rabbi, asking if he is forgiven. "One more thing: Now gather the feathers."

Telushkin quotes the Haffetz Hayyim, the rabbinic sage and expert on gossip: "There are people in the adjoining room preparing a telegram. Notice how carefully they consider each word before they put it down. That’s how careful we must be whe we speak."

There’s a wider lesson here to be discussed, perhaps in an essay of its own. We forget that the original electronic text-messaging sytem, the telegram, was pay-per-word. It used to be very expensive to communicate long distances, or to broadcast to many people. Today the meter is off, and one can compose as much email, write as much blog, and have unlimited long distance on their cell phone plans. And our common fear of public speaking (as Jerry Seinfeld quipped: "That means that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy") is rendered obsolete by this full throttle on public writing.

Of all the sins, this is the most common; in Hebrew it is called lashon hara, literally "evil tongue." My college roommate, the sagacious Matt Gordon would often remark: "I’d say something about that person, except for my strong ethical bounds regarding lashon hara." The best I can do is "This is lashon hara and we shouldn’t be saying this, but…" A friend spells out the Hebrew acronym for the two words and builds a cute rhyme: "Lamed-Hey, go to hell, the easy way!"

Maybe that’s what Kos was talking about when he said that Zephyr can go to hell.

Everyone has their own way of approaching ethics. I do so through my engagement of Judaism; it’s a sacred tradition, of perhaps a hundred generations, that I will not let down.

I was going to write this sometime for the public record. If not now, when?