Death be not bloggy

SANDRA TSING LOH is a contributing editor to Opinion. Her commentaries are heard on KPCC-FM (89.3) and American Public Media's "Marketplace."

IT IS TRUE that I am an Old Media person, with slow-moving Old Media ways. Less than a week ago, at the end of her battle with lung cancer, I hugged my friend Cathy Seipp goodbye and walked heavily, in the soul-shattering sunshine, to my car in its far-flung parking lot, lost in a Cedars-Sinai maze of gray concrete , feeling betrayed by even George Burns and Gracie Allen, whose sparkling comedic names grace such grim boulevards....

And then the phone began to ring.

It was time to snap out of it. In New Media terms, on the Cathy Seipp story, I was already way, way behind.

Understand that Cathy was a blogger. For the remaining two people who don’t know what that means, for the last five years, Cathy had been regularly posting her views on culture, politics and life on her website, Cathy’s World. Although she did mention her cancer on her blog, particularly as an impetus to rail against Blue Cross (as she also did effectively on this page), Cathy stopped far short of Timothy Leary, who webcasted his own death. However, when her daughter posted a short note on the website the weekend before last explaining that her mother had been moved to Cedars-Sinai, into the silence of Cathy’s World the bloggers stepped.


The first tsunami of Seipp-inspired blog posts was rousing. As early as March 19, premature announcements of Cathy’s death began appearing, but the bloggers did seem sincere, and sad. Cathy, a longtime contrarian member of the local and national commentariat (at the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Salon and more), was perhaps the only Republican living in Silver Lake. She was well liked, not just by those she praised but by those she had not always written about kindly. (P.S. Did you see the lovely tribute to Cathy written by ... Susan Estrich?)

Another frenzied wave of posts and hits and “Cathy Seipp” began climbing the Technorati search ratings, past Paris Hilton, MySpace, YouTube and “American Idol.” She eventually reached No. 1, meaning “Cathy Seipp” was the most-searched-for entity in Technorati’s index of about 80 million blogs. Even her grieving friends were forced to admit that she would have loved that.

Into this heartfelt swaying and singing of “We Are Cathy’s World” entered the cyber-squatter. This is the disgruntled blogger who years ago bought the domain name; as a result, Cathy blogged from What he did on varied -- first he posted as Cathy, and then he merely posted disparaging comments about Cathy, Photoshopping her and her daughter’s heads atop various bodies.

On the one hand, it would be hard to confuse with her actual site. On the other hand, when the cyber-squatter last week reverted to his earlier ways, posting a “last blog entry” signed “Cathy Seipp” in which Cathy supposedly begged final forgiveness for her politics, her friends and her parenting ... this seemed to cross a new line.

By week’s end, Cathy’s family and friends were debating whether to take legal action. Everyone was offended, exhausted and still staggered with grief. The public expression of which -- Cathy’s funeral -- was, of course, recorded without our knowledge and posted by another blogger. Yep, it’s all out there on the Web, just start Googling -- you’ll see snot pouring out of my nose as I wail helplessly through my eulogy, which, along with everything else involving the ceremony, has all already been critiqued online.

“It’s like Cathy was the only thing that kept these people civilized!” was the horrified comment of friend Andrew Breitbart who, one should note, edits the Drudge Report. Even he!

And yet, I suppose the whole carnival is fitting. In the high-water days of Old Media, a writer’s passing involved a duly-agreed-upon period of reverence, reticence and literary self-restraint. Our grief over a lost talent would dictate a certain vague lionization, and a certain dullness. Not so in this brave new Cathy’s World of New Media, in which, as fishbowlLA calls it, Cathy’s “funeral rites in Blogistan” have involved a verbal flaming pyre. That’s right, highly searched Technorati entities literally have little flames next to them, and the initials WTF -- “Where’s The Fire?”

Which leads me to think that, for bloggers, death is not proud. How could it be, when no one is searching it.