Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

On 'Big Peace,' Andrew Breitbart's Newest Venture

July 5, 2010

On the Fourth of July, Andrew Breitbart launched a new Web site, Big Peace, adding another vertical to his  media empire. Its introductory post explains the timing. “It took nine months because this site has to be done right, and with Hoover Institution Research Fellow and bestselling author Peter Schweizer, we found the perfect editor,” Mr. Breitbart writes. “Because I am not a foreign policy or military expert, I needed to create a core editorial unit that represented the highest-end understanding of policy while at the same time bringing, at a time of war, a “boots-on-the-ground” perspective.”

What I find most interesting about Mr. Breitbart’s post is his invocation of journalistic standards. Here’s another key excerpt:

As the site’s resident skeptic of main stream media accountability, I have noticed that the amount of reporters and media outlets covering national security and the war has dwindled and skepticism over American military commitment has waned now that there isn’t a Bush or a Republican in charge. The war beat is getting short shrift. Big Peace was created to fill this void and to provide biased coverage.

The site is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, and pro-American but will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda. The unique mix of Schweizer, Gaffney, and Blackfive and our collective reputations will provide a check and balance.

Note that Mr. Breitbart doesn’t say he is launching a site to motivate the conservative base, or that he’ll publish propaganda so long as it serves conservative ends, or that the audience should treat the content on Big Peace as entertainment more than journalism — on the contrary, he is promising that Big Peace “will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda.”

He should be held to those standards.

And if it turns out that the site doesn’t live up to them, it should be noted that he has misled his conservative audience.

Should that happen, it wouldn’t be the first time. On Big Government, another site published by Mr. Breitbart, there remains a blog post wherein ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera is shown on hidden video. Mr. Vera appears to be offering to assist James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border so that they can work in a brothel. That is the impression that the audience of Big Government is given to this day, because Andrew Breitbart is convinced that ACORN was irredeemably corrupt — in all likelihood he is is right about that — and the moral code he is practicing in this instance is “the end justifies the means.”

What indefensible means does Mr. Breitbart employ? Well it turns out that Mr. Vera, confronted with undercover filmmakers claiming to be a pimp and a prostitute engaged in sex-trafficking, pretended to be willing to help them out only so he could gather information, which he quickly turned over to police, expressing concern about the possibility of human trafficking. In all likelihood, Mr. Breitbart didn’t know this when he published the video from ACORN’s San Diego office.

But he has long since become aware of Mr. Vera’s innocence. It is documented at length in this report published by the California Attorney General’s Office. If you read the narrative beginning on page 13 of that report, and compare it to the uncorrected blog post that still appears on Mr. Breitbart’s site — despite the fact that he and Mike Flynn, Big Government’s editor, have both been notified about the significant discrepancies — you’ll see how much you can trust the journalistic integrity of Mr. Breitbart and his sites.

Their unwillingness to correct the record on this matter, whatever their reasoning, is causing an innocent person, Juan Carlos Vera, to be unjustly portrayed online in a horrific manner that does not correspond to reality.

It is also interesting to read the lofty language that Mr. Breitbart uses to describe his newest site, and to compare it to the actual content on offer.

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Writing That Influenced Me

March 20, 2010

1) A Homage to Catalonia, Shooting an Elephant, Politics and the English Language, and other non-fiction by George Orwell. He confronted the most important issues of his time – imperialism, fascism and communism – with an acute moral compass remarkable because it guided him past even moral pitfalls that typically ensnared his fellow socialists.

How did he managed to avoid so many orthodoxies of thought that his ideology made him particularly susceptible to? As a young man, Orwell noted that he had a great facility with words and an ability to confront uncomfortable truths, even those inconvenient to his worldview. Years later, when he penned Politics and the English Language, he explained how those talents are inextricably related:

It [the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

That ethic helped Orwell to oppose fascism, communism and imperialism as effectively as any writer then or since. And his mistakes, most notably his support of socialism, are of little consequence, indeed barely remembered, because a man who strives to present his ideas in an intellectually honest fashion does all he can to mitigate the harm done when he errors by advancing a wrongheaded cause. However imperfectly, I’ve tried to avoid the mistakes cataloged in Politics and the English Language, to attack falsehoods and intellectual dishonesty even when it is perpetrated by folks “on my own side,” and to write intellectually honest prose — and I tend to admire and associate myself with writers who operate in the same spirit.

2. The Sun Also Rises. This is one of my favorite novels, both because there is something to be learned from the way that Jake comports himself while living out a tragic life, and because it’s the novel that made me want to study abroad in Spain, a decision that significantly improved my life for reasons I explain here.

3. The Bible. I’ve never actually read it cover to cover, but after 13 years of Catholic school, I’d familiarized myself with a lot of its passages, and its ethic infused the schools I attended until college. The good book didn’t turn me into a practicing Catholic. Often I’d read passages in the Bible and say things to my religion teachers like, “So Jesus had dinner with his friends and followers, served bread and wine, said ‘do this in memory of me,’ and I’m supposed to believe that the modern Catholic mass somehow fulfills that request?” Truth be told, I also doubt the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, and especially transubstantiation. But the preaching found in the Gospel is powerful stuff infused with wisdom that is perhaps unequaled. It certainly informs my morality and attitudes about life, and I wish I were better able to live up to its messages. Finally, knowledge of the Bible has always made me suspicious of most organized Christian religions and ever Christian political group. Almost inevitably, I see their claims, reflect on what I take the Bible to mean, and find little overlap.

4. Atlas Shrugged. So many people raised on Catholic education are riddled with guilt. And so many who take Ayn Rand as their gospel lack it entirely. Like a graduate student who drinks coffee to finish a paper and balances it with a glass of wine to take off the edge before bed, I took from the gargantuan novel a new awareness of how people use guilt to manipulate others — never would I date a Lillian Reardon or be manipulated by a James Taggart — without becoming a sociopath. I also gained an understanding of how rewarding it can be to do even mundane, entry level jobs exceptionally well.

The philosophy presented in Atlas Shrugged is flawed in many ways. And really, Dagny, you’d rather be with John Galt than Francisco D’Anconia? Have you no appreciation for wit, humor or brevity? Still, I found it so stimulating as a sixth or seventh grader to read a forceful, uncompromising challenge to conventional morality and social norms. That I didn’t adopt all of Ms. Rand’s beliefs as my own doesn’t mean that certain insights, assertions and critiques weren’t worth assimilating into my worldview. I’d still recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it. Just skip the John Galt speech — you’ll know when you come to it.

5. The Road to Serfdom and Free to Choose. Obviously it is oversimplifying to characterize these books as the practical and the moral case for the free market, but on first reading the texts, that’s what I took from them. In hindsight, it’s Hayek’s work that I’ve found far more valuable, because the arguments it makes about the nature of power aren’t at all obvious, it seems that they should’ve been in hindsight.

6. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. This was my introduction to The New Journalism, and it blew me away. I’d never imagined a non-fiction writer could do stuff like that. The New New Journalism by Robert Boynton. I suppose this book showed me that lots of non-fiction writers are doing stuff as impressive now. It opened my eyes to a whole new cannon of non-fiction writing, the Gay Talese interview taught me never to be embarrassed of any writing method that works, and indirectly, the book led me to living legends like John McPhee, perhaps the best non-fiction stylist ever.Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Joan Didion is the reason I hedged that last sentence — her reported essays are majestic. And The Atlantic archives. I spent many a late night holed up in a small room within the magazine’s offices at The Watergate, reading old issues, marveling at some of what I found, and remarking to myself that James Fallows has written a superhuman number of cover stories.

7. War and Peace. Tolstoy has no equal. His insights into human life are too numerous to mention — and it is impossible to say whether I gleaned more from this book or Anna Karenina, especially the storyline about Kitty and Levin. But the single thing that stands out most from either book is Pierre’s line about how men of ill will join forces to accomplish there ends — and so men of goodwill must do the same to oppose them. I love the Brothers Karamazov too, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I think Tolstoy is better than Dostoevsky, even though both are better than everyone else.

8. Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean. Wouldn’t it be crazy if understanding it is the surest path to flourishing?

9. Trinity by Leon Uris. I’m named after the protagonist, which led to a lot of reading and reflection as a kid.

10. East of Eden. John Steinbeck did such a beautiful job in that novel capturing the sublime rewards one can glean from curiosity and wonder, even in a life as difficult as the ones led by Sam and Lee.

People Often Mean Something Different Than What They Say

February 23, 2010

In a welcome return to blogging, Jay Rosen turns his attention to the recent New York Times article on the Tea Party phenomenon, lauding reporter David Barstow’s fine work, but critiquing one paragraph.

The excerpt at issue:

It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny. This narrative permeates Tea Party Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. It is a prominent theme of their favored media outlets and commentators, and it connects the disparate issues that preoccupy many Tea Party supporters — from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership.

Here is Professor Rosen reacting to that passage:

David Barstow is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times. He ought to know whether the United States is on the verge of losing its democracy and succumbing to an authoritarian or despotic form of government. If tyranny was pending in the U.S. that would seem to be a story… Seriously: Why is this phrase, impending tyranny, just sitting there, as if Barstow had no way of knowing whether it was crazed and manipulated or verifiable and reasonable?

Professor Rosen adds:

In a word, the Times editors and Barstow know this narrative is nuts, but something stops them from saying so — despite the fact that they must have spent over $100,000 on this one story. And whatever that thing is, it’s not the reluctance to voice an opinion in the news columns, but a reluctance to report a fact in the news columns, the fact that the “narrative of impending tyranny” is ungrounded in any observable reality, even though the sense of grievance within the Tea Party movement is truly felt and politically consequential.

On reading Professor Rosen’s post, I thought immediately about The GOP Speaks, a Web project where I asked Republican leaders at the local level to share their beliefs about current controversies. Before the replies stopped coming back (for reasons I still can’t entirely figure out), I received 27 replies to my questionnaire. In response to my second question — “What is the most worrisome part of Barack Obama’s presidency?” — I received replies including the following:

+ “Without question the country has elected a Marxist that hates capitalism and liberty.”

+ “It appears the president is preparing to become dictator.”

+ “The unbridled horse race to Fabian socialism on the one hand, and the fact that there are avowed and unapologetic Communists in the White House being paid by US Taxpayers who are advising the president on domestic policy issues.”

+ “His swift moves towards socialism. He is moving so fast that we may not be able to counter much of what he has done.”

As it happens, I disagree rather profoundly with President Obama’s approach to domestic policy, and on foreign policy I am increasingly dismayed by his assertion of extraordinary, imprudent powers like the ability to assassinate United States citizens without judicial oversight, or his administration’s contention that the federal government doesn’t need a warrant to track the movements of any American so long as it’s done via their cell phone carrier. Put another way, I myself think that on several important issues President Obama is moving us marginally closer to tyranny, as so many recent presidents have done.

Even so, I find it preposterous that anyone believes the United States is on the cusp of impending tyranny itself, or that President Obama is uniquely bad on this metric, or methodically preparing to seize dictatorial power, or that his actions as president are somehow so radical as to be irreversible. Indeed I couldn’t believe that my more animated GOP correspondents believed these things to be true either, even when they seemed to state as much. So I followed up with some of them, pressing them about what exactly they believed, and did additional reporting among other conservative citizens as well, hoping to understand the gap separating the rhetoric they use from whatever their actual beliefs turn out to be.

I found a few things of interest. Foremost is that extreme words like tyranny are almost always useless if the goal is figuring out what on earth someone actually thinks. Five people might tell you that their biggest worry about Barack Obama is his tendencies toward tyranny. Buzz words like this tend to spread. On further questioning, you’ll find one guy means he’s upset that the president might seek a tax hike, while another is literally worried that he’s building secret prisons to house American patriots. The former invocation of tyranny is by far more common, and it doesn’t strike the people who use it as imprecise because they marinate in a political culture of hyper-adversarial cable news, Barnes and Noble bestsellers with hyperbolic titles, and talk radio hosts who cast the political battles between American conservatives and liberals as an epic battle between liberty and tyranny. As the volume of political rhetoric gets turned up, folks eventually lose perspective, and having listened to their very loud stereo for hours, it doesn’t occur to them that on talking to folks outside the room they seem to be shouting. Pin these folks down on their actual beliefs, concerns or objections, however, and often as not they are basically reasonable people whose opinions are no more or less grounded in fact than anyone else.

In the comments to Professor Rosen’s post, Paul Davis writes:

I don’t need a reporter doing Barstow’s job to tell me that the views of the tea party “movement” are nuts, but I do very very much want to get to a deeper understanding of how the people who believe what it espouses can hold the worldview that they do. This is critically important since its reasonably clear that their worldview feels internally consistent to them, just as mine does to me. Barstow doesn’t need to write “Yet this notion of impending tyranny is completely unjustified by the facts of contemporary America” – what he does need to write is a clear account of the things that lead others to believe that it is completely justified by whatever they know about the world.

I’d go a step father: Mr. Barstow, who wrote an excellent story as is, could’ve improved upon it by telling us not just why Tea Party advocates believe we’re on the road to tyranny, but what exactly they mean when they say tyranny. In some cases, their answers will betray a factual misunderstanding of the world, at which point it’ll be appropriate to respond as Professor Rosen would like. Other times, however, they’ll explain that by impending tyranny they believe, for example, that the combination of America’s growing debt and its imploding financial sector mean that Wall Street elites and creditors in China are going to wield ever increasing control over the material well being of American citizens. In other words, fear of “impending tyranny” is sometimes going to be less easily dismissed than Professor Rosen imagines.

I do think Professor Rosen’s observations about the desire of journalists to be innocent in reporting on controversial subjects is often accurate, and that it frequently causes them to refrain from offering relevant information to readers who’d benefit from it. All I can conclude at present is that extra reporting on what exactly participants in political debates believe mitigates the problem. The higher the level of abstraction, the harder it is to judge whether something is a matter of fact, interpretation, or opinion. Would you rather disprove that Barack Obama aims to be a tyrant or that he’s coming to take your guns?

On False Charges of Anti-Semitism

February 11, 2010

I’m heartened to see so many bloggers defending Andrew Sullivan against the insinuation that he is anti-Semitic. It is an impressive feat to levy a charge so wrongheaded that Daniel Larison, David Frum, Matthew Yglesias, James Joyner, Brad DeLong, Alex Pareene, and Robert Stacy McCain all agree with one another in finding it ridiculous. Is there any other instance of those folks all writing on the same side of a single issue? Mr. Sullivan adds a definitive refutation here.

Awful as it is to see anyone wrongly accused of bigotry, perhaps it is best that this meme finally got raised in a prominent enough venue to be thoroughly aired and utterly refuted. Where it began I cannot say, but I’ve watched it appear in less esteemed venues than The New Republic repeatedly in recent months. Did the posts I saw inform Leon Wieseltier’s piece? I have no idea. Suffice it to say that how Mr. Wieseltier formed his opinions about Mr. Sullivan is a subject far too complicated for me to understand. What I can say with certainty is that too many blogs cynically use the charge of anti-Semitism in the most dishonest, disgusting ways imaginable.

Over the years, I’ve done my best to call out racism and race-baiting. These mutually reinforcing evils are as destructive to civil society as anything I know, and although racism remains the bigger problem among the two, that doesn’t diminish the odiousness of folks like Al Sharpton, Kerry Dunn, Mike Nifong, and Rush Limbaugh, to name check four people whose different kinds of race-baiting I’ve written against over the years. As this episode ends, it is fitting to examine but one example of how this kind of meme spreads upward in the blogosphere. It starts with a blog post like this one, an attack that makes Mr. Wieseltier’s piece seem well-reasoned. Its title: “Andrew Sullivan: Anti-Semite, Anti-Israel, Anti-Jew.”

Full disclosure: I know about this obscure blogger only because sometime later, he wrote a post titled “Why Does Conor Friedersdorf Support An Anti-Semite,” which popped up on my Google Alert.

Its reasoning:

Andrew Sullivan is his mentor and his mentor has gone after Jews and Israel many times, as I note here.

Real Conservatives support Israel and Jews, why is Conor silent on this?

I guess silence means he agrees with Sullivan.

Okay, big deal, this is a transparently absurd post at a truly fringe blog, right? But do you know who is markedly more popular, and garners regular links from mainstream blogs like Instapundit? Dan Riehl, who dislikes both Mr. Sullivan and me, an animosity that caused him to link the post from the truly fringe blog. Here is what Mr. Riehl titled his post, dated November 18, 2009: “Friedersdorf Digs Sullivan’s Crazy Anti-Semitism.”

Valley of the Shadows has been on this angle.

I detest such vile displays. It’s a good thing it isn’t allowed on Talk Radio where they police such things for appropriateness. Why do these young post-menstrual, or whatever they are, faux conservatives support hate speech? Are they anti-Semites at heart?

Friedersdorf … hmm, is that a German name?

Gosh, I hope that isn’t it.

That pissed me off at the time, for obvious reasons, and I said so privately in e-mail exchanges with a few other bloggers. What causes me to recount all this now, when I didn’t “feed the troll” at the time, is Mr. Riehl’s latest post on Andrew Sullivan, which concerns the current controversy: “Andrew Sullivan Is Not an Anti-Semite.” An argument for that proposition follows.

What I find remarkable is that by his own account Dan Riehl doesn’t believe that Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite, let alone that I “dig” Mr. Sullivan’s “crazy anti-Semitism,” but on November 18, 2009, Mr. Riehl nevertheless breezily asserted that Mr. Sullivan engages in “crazy anti-Semitism” that I support. What a stark dearth of integrity. Is there any more cynical kind of race-baiting?

Again, I make no claims about what led Mr. Wieseltier to write his piece, or whether he argued in earnest. What do I think? That earnestly but wrongly arguing someone is a racist is relatively rare — and that far more commonly, false accusations of racism are made maliciously by folks who engage in character assassination so frivolously and reflexively that they can’t even remember them well enough to avoid contradicting themselves a couple of months later.

This is important because most bloggers aren’t like Andrew Sullivan or even me — that is to say, they don’t have established reputations, large bodies of work to draw on in defending themselves, and a lot of people with relatively big platforms willing to take notice if ever they’re wronged in a particularly egregious way. Usually someone targeted by a post like that from an established writer like Mr. Riehl can only look forward to a few angry pieces of hate e-mail from his audience, an indignant reply on a low traffic blog that hardly anyone ever sees, and a Google page that suddenly includes a frivolous charge of anti-Semitism that will be seen by their next three dates and the employer to whom they just submitted a resume.

I actually think race-baiters intend merely to score short term rhetorical points by trading on the power accusations of racism retain, as opposed to deliberately damaging someone’s reputation in a lasting way, but that is hardly an excuse for the direct harm they do to their targets, and the pernicious effect that have on the blogosphere generally, as intelligent folks start to avoid certain arguments — or even refrain from blogging at all — so that they can avoid immature, petulant bullies for whom public discourse is a cage match. If every blogger knows as many folks as I do who shy away from writing for this reason, the cost that these people impose on us is staggering if invisible.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Publishing Industry

December 8, 2009

When I heard that Jonah Goldberg inked a $1 million book deal, I naturally wanted to read the column that apparently inspired it. Having done so, I see that Mr. Goldberg is primed to write a jeremiad against “the tyranny of cliches” such as “better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished,” “unless you’ve walked in a man’s shoes… you have no right to judge,” and “when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.”

I share a distaste for cliches, and I can’t fault Mr. Goldberg for taking a million dollar advance to tilt against them. Unlike most of the nonsense that passes as “a conservative book” these days, it is difficult to see what harm it could cause. It isn’t as if his wrongheaded premise make him complicit in bringing Sarah Palin closer to the presidency!

But the premise of the article is surely wrongheaded, so it’s only natural to wonder if the book is going to share its flaws. How does it go astray? By asserting, as though it requires no proof, that cliches are some sort of deciding factor in America’s debates — so much so that we’re under their tyranny!

Let me give you the example that made me want to write this column in the first place. Because I’m skeptical about slippery-slope arguments, because I’ve argued that America is largely immune to becoming a totalitarian state, and because I don’t particularly care if Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, or Richard Reid ever get a lawyer, a lot of people keep telling me that when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.

You wouldn’t believe how many famous people have offered or repeated this observation. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eli Wiesel, Captain Jean Luc Picard, as well as countless politicians have said something to the effect of “we are only as free as the least free among us.”

Yes, people are so bowled over by the cliche about only being as free of the least free among us that Gandhi and Martin Luther King had merely to utter it, never fleshing out the sentiment with any sophistication, and as a result the Indians and black Americans respectively were free from injustice, so powerful, even tyrannical, was the faulty reasoning.

The column goes on:

It sounds nice, of course. Unfortunately, it’s also a crock, factually, logically, and morally.

First, facts and logic: Remember how we all agreed at the beginning of this column that there’s undoubtedly an innocent person in prison right now? Well, he’s not free. Are you only as free as him?

There are undoubtedly innocent men in prison?! And we’re not all obsessed with identifying them? In fact, almost none of us are? Why it’s almost as if literally no one in America behaves as if they believe that we’re only as free as the least among us… which is sorta what Mr. Goldberg is arguing, weirdly, because his larger point is supposed to be that cliches — specifically, the “only as free” cliche that inspired his column — are so tyrannically powerful.

It is going to be quite a trick to earn a seven figure advance by extending this argument in a way that doesn’t cause every halfway conscious reader to realize that they can hardly think of a single instance when someone offered a cliche as their main argument, and it won the day. Wait a moment, hasn’t every English teacher I’ve ever studied under in fact commanded that I strike cliches from my writing? And wasn’t the most shameless purveyor of cliches in recent American politics, Sarah Palin, just defeated in her bid for the vice-presidency, despite such marvelous cliches as “America must not waive the white flag of surrender ” and “You can’t blink”?

I’ll leave you with a parting sample of the column that an actual American publishing company is paying a million dollars to get at book length:

The same moral logic powers clichés like “first they came for the Jews” or “we’re only as free as the least free among us.” It is not an appeal to conscience but an appeal to the self-interest of those who fear they might be next.

Indeed, the adage “first they came for the Jews” is often used as part of an argument for the state to never “come” for anybody. I can’t tell you how many fools write me to say that the government cracking down on terrorists is akin to the government cracking down on Jews (or blacks, or gays, etc). In effect, not only does this logic hold that the government is so inept and immoral that it will be forced to “come” for other people once it’s through with the terrorists, it also implies that Jews and terrorists are somehow similar. After all, if cracking down on the Jews first is indistinguishable from cracking down on terrorists, what’s the difference between Jews and terrorists?

Admittedly, this book might actually be worth $1 million dollars if Mr. Goldberg is compelled to persuade the partisan book buying audience that we should in fact judge some books by their cover.

The Purpose of Journalism — Attacking A Common Definition

November 21, 2009

David Cohn, an acquaintance from my journalism school days in New York City, is an innovative thinker whose work I follow eagerly, and whose success I desire greatly, but I disagree vehemently when he defines the goal of journalism as follows:

At its best the aim is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” This is one of my favorite quotes on the purpose of journalism.

That’s one of my least favorite quotes about journalism. Sometimes the comfortable achieve their perch justly. And the afflicted occasionally get their just deserts. Captain Sullenberg is awfully comfortable these days. Osama Bin Laden is hunted by the most powerful military on earth. Is it journalism’s goal to bring balance to that situation? When the distinctions are finer than the ones in the extreme examples I’ve cited is journalism even capable of deciding who it should afflict and who it should comfort? Doesn’t asserting that the end of journalism is “comforting” and “afflicting” imply that truth is incidental, insofar as lies can often comfort and/or afflict better than anything else?

The goal of journalism is to convey reality as accurately as possible, and as enjoyably as possible so long as accuracy isn’t sacrificed. Or at least that is a much better purpose than pretensions about deciding who should be comforted and who should be afflicted, and manifesting one’s value judgments. Journalism is not the earthly incarnation of God on the day of reckoning.

That said, the journalism David Cohn does is top notch. And check out his project Spot.us. He is helping to figure out what’s next.

Falling Out

September 15, 2009

Strange things are afoot in the right blogosphere among the subsection of writers for whom occasional purges are the norm. Right now the target is Charles Johnson, who runs the blog Little Green Footballs. It isn’t a site I’ve followed very closely over the years, though I know it played a role in debunking the CBS news documents that purported to show that George W. Bush got special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard. LGF also took a hard line against radical Islam — its critics argued it was itself an anti-Muslim site. I got word of the recent dustup when Power Line Blog delinked LGF. Are formal de-linkings something that bloggers do? Well it’s news to me too, but apparently so.

Here is Scott at Powerline:

We have slightly updated our blogroll for the first time time in a long time. We have deleted Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs. We long ago stopped reading LGF Suffice it to say (suffice it for me to say, anyway) that Charles’s political inclinations and interests now diverge widely from our own.

At the same time we welcome Gateway Pundit and Big Hollywood. GP’s Jim Hoft is an indefatigable source of political news. He deploys exclamation points like the ancient Greeks scattered particles in their speech for emphasis. Big Hollywood is doing important work to inject diversity and political smarts to the world of popular culture. Introducing the site this past January, Andrew Breitbart described it as a big group blog that features hundreds of the big minds from the fields of politics, journalism, entertainment and culture. Big Hollywood’s modest objective: to change the entertainment industry. I have found it both instructive and entertaining.

Meta Blog is suspicious of unqualified praise of Big Hollywood!

Charles Johnson of LGF responds here:

Since the people at Powerline have made a big public announcement about it, I’ll just say that I’m not the least surprised that they’ve delinked LGF. Powerline has been going in a very bad direction recently; the “all Obama-hatred, all the time” focus is bad enough, but worse are their articles supporting European extremists like Geert Wilders (who wants to deprive Muslims of the freedom of religion and ban books) and outright fascists like the Belgian Vlaams Belang party.

I’ve been considering removing them from my links for quite some time because of this kind of disturbing stuff, but I was foolish enough to believe they might come to their senses. I’ve written emails to them about it (which weren’t returned), and I wrote a post laying out my case, that they completely ignored. Clearly, this is a direction they’ve chosen, so I’ve removed all links to Powerline from LGF.

When the blog Gates of Vienna did a roundup outlining all this, one line caught my eye: “Charles was loaded for bear back in those days, and when he de-linked a blog, many others would follow suit or lose all hope of being linked by him.”

Is it really longstanding practice in the right blogosphere, I wondered, to enforce blog reading preferences by withholding links? I e-mailed Gates of Vienna to ask about that. The response via e-mail:

Here’s how it worked: if a small blogger supported Pamela or us (or even continued to keep us on their blogroll), Charles would warn them that they would be banned, cut off, and never, ever linked again by LGF. This happened openly in the comments at LGF; I saw it myself.

When he de-linked us, a lot of his fans who were bloggers immediately de-linked us, too.

IMHO, the large blogs failed to challenge Charles about what he was doing because they feared the damage he could do, even to them. That’s when I discovered what cowards they really are. Some of the little blogs — especially those who had already been banned by Charles — stuck with us and posted about the whole affair, but the big blogs ignored it. Only Robert Spencer de-linked us, however, as far as I know.

If it hadn’t been for the increase in European readers, our traffic would probably have dropped by a third. As it was, thanks to Europe, it stayed about the same, and has grown somewhat since then.

As yet, Metablog has been unable to reach Charles Johnson, but we’ll update if he cares to contest this.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson has posted a series of items asserting that conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain — who often writes insulting and provocative things about your humble Metablogger — is a racist. In the last couple years, Metablog’s author has witnessed all sorts of offensive blog posts written by Mr. McCain. We’ve never seen anything racist, however, so we’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially since actually investigating his past would require reading a lot of tedious Inside the Beltway reportage on long forgotten political squabbles.

Mr. McCain has fought back by asserting that he is not a racist, and attacking Mr. Johnson.

Reading all these right-leaning blogs that used to fawn over one another, and are now attacking and trying to disappear one another, I am reminded of that part of 1984. “We have always been at war with Little Green Footballs!”

Metablog is glad it doesn’t inhabit a corner of the blogosphere where occasional purges are carried out, prompting ugly ad hominem battles among the people involved. Someone is no doubt right and someone else wrong in all this, but everyone loses.