The Problem With Blind Items

Colleen Doran talks about the danger of blind items [link no longer available] and points out the major problem with them:

The tricky thing about writing blind items is some people guess the blind item is about the wrong person. Every time you mention a “woman in comics” the assumption is that you are talking about Jill Thompson, someone I don’t really know very well.

The people I know always guess, confusingly, Colleen Doran. Perhaps the best-known example in recent history of the danger a blind item can do is the 2006 Taki Soma groping scandal. Because of the way the blind item was irresponsibly reported by Ronee Garcia, there were only a handful of people who could be identified as the supposed sexual harrasser, and many readers jumped to the wrong conclusion, that it was Jim McLauchlin. Reportedly, this caused so much consternation for him that legal action was considered. Especially since he was the head of a deserving charity, ACTOR (now the Hero Initiative), which could have been negatively affected by one person’s rumor-mongering.

There are plenty of people who, for a variety of reasons, think they can identify those alluded to, and they won’t be shy about sharing their assumptions. And then, because a rumor is always juicier with a name attached, especially a big one — and what’s the point of guessing an unknown in cases like this? — that version’s going to spread.

Should people stop running blind items because of the danger they might do? Well, asking for that would be like asking people to stop gossiping: never going to happen. It’s too ingrained in human nature to enjoy playing “I know something you don’t know”. (And people who think that all kinds of gossip are negative and destructive except for those they have the access to indulge in are the best example of that delusion.)

More importantly, some people really do mean well by them — they want to talk about the nature of the incident or the lesson of the behavior without getting into personal politics. Unfortunately, too many people are distracted by id’ing the culprit. As Colleen goes on to say:

… then you play twenty questions, which is not what you wanted to be doing. You just wanted to have a conversation about equity, or economics, or gender issues, or promotions, or late payments, or whatever. And instead, you created a blind item that will keep everyone guessing on blogs ’til time immemorial.

So lots of caution should be used with blind items, because if someone seriously wants to discuss issues, they risk their message being lost in the guessing game. Maybe the best avenue is to focus on the positive and avoid the personalities.

One comment

  • You know, when I read this I think about all the time I’ve spent protecting the identities of people who completely don’t deserve the protection. They are protected by one person after another, leaving them to make the same mistakes over and over, taking down person after person in their wake like a runaway train. Nobody does a post publicly condemning their actions, but Colleen does a post condemning my actions in trying to find some outlet to express these awful things that happen. Not angry at you, Johanna, I’m just struck by the irony that Colleen writes something like this about me when she was attacked on the Internet several years ago for something similar; and that it was reading about those attacks and also her own words that convinced me to stand up for myself in my own situation. Her own “blind items” actually helped me.

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