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We hear that after a recent redesign of the story pages, the level of reader commentary at BusinessWeek's site has dropped precipitously, whether for technical or aesthetic reasons. This prompted exec editor Kathy Rebello to perform some field tests:

From: Rebello, Kathy
Sent: Thursday, October 19, 2006 6:56 AM
To: Litscher, Ross; Meersschaert, Niels
Subject: RE: Reader Comments aren't working


I kicked it around this morning posting comments here, there, and everywhere — and it blessedly works. Thanks so much. This is such an important part of our site and I know that getting it working again was a bear. We really appreciate it.


The potential problem, as we're informed, is that Rebello may be testing the comments with a sock puppet alias by the nickname of "Martin Smithers," who does nothing but sing the praises and defend the honor of BusinessWeek Online. If true, Mr. Smithers has been busy long before the recent redesign. After the jump, Smithers's potential origin and samples of "his" work.

Of why Rebello might use "Martin Smithers" as a name for her sock puppet, a tipster hypothesizes:

See, her deputy is a guy called Martin Keohan and he's known around the place as Martin Smithers after the suck-hole aide to Homer's nasty boss in The Simpsons. It would be just like Rebello to make fun of an underling, especially one as slimy as Keohan, whose only job was writing press releases before she fired all the real journalists and made him her deputy editor. He couldn't get another job, so he has to put up with whatever humiliation he throws at her. He's also known as "The Napkin Folder" because he used to plan parties when McGraw-Hill had a unit that organized trade conferences.

Even if "Martin Smithers" isn't Rebello, the Smithers comments are startling and suspicious in their ... er ... well, their suck-holeyness. For example, regarding BW's widely mocked cover story on Digg:

The criticism of Business Week is unfair. This is actually a very good and insightful article. Keep up the good work, BusinessWeek Online.

Or this comment on the YouTube sale:

If a site like Youtube is worth that much money, just imagine what wonderful site like must be worth! You guys would be squillionaires!

Or another response to an article on social networking:

One more example of why is my favorite site for business and media news. Insightful, beautifully articulated, visionary — that's what I get from these days. Keep up the superb work!

Then there's this gusher from a piece about the most recalled cars of 2006:

More courageous journalism from the Web's hottest site for business news. With so many car companies advertizing on the WWW, it's wonderful to see a site that doesn't hide the truth., you're the best!

Jesus you two, get a room. But the clincher has to be this one, from an article about, uh, tires:

Thank you, BusinessWeek, for finding the time to pass along such valuable advice, especially when it has nothing to do with stocks and portfolios. Advice on tires is a public service, and your enlightened editors are to be praised for roaming outside the boundaries of normal financial journalism to explain the intricacies of axle-load ratings, what the little letters near the rim mean and also for suggesting that the time has come for the debate that has been avoided far too long: Are Wrangler ALC OK's superior to Goodrich Mud-Terrains? Personally. I favor the latter. But thank you for initiating this conversation.

At this point, we're just as ready to believe that "Martin Smithers" is a brilliant, unappreciated satirist, toiling in complete obscurity. Get in touch, Martin, we need you over here.