OJ Debate Over Lawfare's Comments Policy

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, January 3, 2012, 7:39 AM

My post from last night has given rise to an interesting debate over at Opinio Juris over Lawfare's comments policy, with Kevin Jon Heller opposing our policy and Marko Milanovic giving it a qualified defense. I'm going to largely stay out of this; Lawfare's comments policy is fair game for criticism--though I am a little bewildered that this is a ripe topic for a blog that describes itself as "a forum for informed discussion and lively debate about international law and international relations." But Kevin did make one remark that warrants a brief rejoinder:

I continue to believe that refusing to allow comments on a blog is indefensible — just as I believe that it is indefensible to comment on a blog anonymously (except in situations where one’s job could be threatened).  Ben describes Lawfare’s no-comment policy as “editorial judgment.”  It seems to me that the only editorial judgment involved is that no one other than the contributors to Lawfare — and those whose emails Lawfare deigns to post — have anything of value to say.  Indeed, the elitism drips from Ben’s post; just consider his claim that to allow comments on Lawfare would be “to operate a free-for-all for anyone who fashions himself as having something to say.”  How dare readers have the temerity to think they’re good enough to respond to Ben — on Lawfare, no less!

. . .

Blogs are not, as Ben assumes, simply fora for “experts” to make themselves heard — the online equivalent of the New York Times editorial page (which Ben never tires of attacking).  They are places for discussion and debate, where some voices may be more important than others but no voice is excluded.

Notice here how Heller presumes to define blogs and then hold us accountable for defying his definition. If Heller wants to call Lawfare something other than a blog, he is perfectly free to do so. I have often toyed with the idea myself. As we've expanded the site to include new sections, it has often seemed to me more like a thematically-oriented magazine than a traditional blog. But whatever one calls it, I fail to see why we are under some obligation to design this forum to Heller's specifications.  Put simply, this blog is exactly what Heller says a blog is not; it is a forum for certain experts to make themselves heard, a forum with which other voices can engage (or not, as they choose) as readers but from which they are excluded--except subject to the specific decision of the authors--as writers. In the last month, we have seen more than 130,000 visits from people who are willing to engage the site on those terms, comprising nearly 100,000 unique visitors. I'm sure we would have many more if we changed our comments policy and made the site into a forum from which "no voice is excluded." But that's not going to happen. Elitist or not, the site will grow on our terms, not Heller's.