Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dr. Strangeblog

My friend Justin Izzo alerted me to a bizarre court case from Boston, Massachusetts, where a pediatrician on trial for malpractice was caught blogging about the proceedings -- or, more specifically, a fictional trial that bore a striking resemblance to his own -- under a pseudonym. The doctor's blogs on the trial were so revealing, and opinionated, that, once the prosecutor "outed" him in court, he was forced to settle the case out of court or face a now highly suspicious jury (of whom, unsurprisingly, the blogs are highly critical).

The Boston Globe (via relays the story of Dr. Robert P. Lindeman, of Natick Pediatrics, who was sued by the parents of Jaymes Binns after Jaymes died from a severe condition known as diabetes ketoacidosis. The Binnses' case rested on the fact that Dr. Lindeman had failed to diagnose their son with diabetes six weeks before he died.

Throughout his trial Dr. Lindeman kept a blog, now taken down, in which he commented on his case using the pseudonym "Flea," a nickname supposedly given by surgeons to pediatricians in training. Globe writer Jonathan Saltzman points out that "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." He had also given the character based on the Binnses' lawyer the name "Carissa Lunt" -- which, it goes with saying, is vulgar yet sooo Ally McBeal. Perhaps most important, though, Flea had steadily garnered sympathy for his side of the story (in this fictional case) among the many visitors to his blog.

When news of the blog reached the prosecution, I imagine they recognized it for what it was: a damning indictment of the doctor's character, regardless of his "intentions" in writing it. Shrewd, flippant, a self-styled victim: Flea may have had a sound case to make, but his attitude left much to be desired.

For example, in one quoted passage from the now-defunct blog, Flea writes, "We've said it before, and we'll say it again: If the basis of this case is that Flea is an arrogant, uncaring jerk who maliciously neglected a patient, resulting in his death, the plaintiff will not win, period...As much of a cocky bastard that Flea may appear in the blogosphere, the readers who have a personal acquaintance with the real 3-D doctor understand how such an approach cannot succeed."

And yet it did succeed -- the prosecution was able to cast doubt on Lindeman's character -- precisely because "Flea" and "the real 3-D doctor" turned out to be the same person, the same "cocky bastard." Here Lindeman's metacommentary doesn't realize its own ironic condition of possibility: that forcefully stating the difference between Flea and the "real" doctor only serves to underscore their inextricability. (You know the type: "Really, I'm not like that -- in fact, I did it just to remind myself how different I really am!") This rhetorical move amounts to Lindeman denying his very real investment in Flea as both a cathartic release and an agent, however modest, of public opinion.

I don't know the details of the malpractice suit against Dr. Lindeman, and so I refrain from judging his "character" based on the Binnses' claims. Furthermore, I don't even have that strong of an opinion about his decision to publish a blog about his case. It may have been an ill-considered decision with regard to "winning" the case, but I don't think Dr. Lindeman did anything ethically dubious -- it was at most a costly strategic error in legal maneuvering (and public relations).

I'm writing this entry, then, mainly to draw further attention to this dynamic of virtual embodiment -- how what we know as a "real" person is becoming increasingly figured as a networked, virtual entity. In this case, a man's inhabiting the blogosphere to reflect on his "real world" situation ultimately confuses the two, rendering them inseparable. That "he" (Flea, Dr. Lindeman) continued to maintain their separation was not so much an act of deception as a lack of perspective.

"Dr. Lindeman is Flea": this is what the prosecution said. But the situation seems to me more complex: Dr. Lindeman and Flea, the "real" world and the virtual, are each other, and though Dr. Lindeman's very real pocketbook will take a massive blow from the settlement, Flea will always have his secret desire. Of Ms. Lunt, Flea ruminated, "Wonder if she's a pillow biter, too?"

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