The brouhaha over the "conversion" of Charles Johnson, proprietor of the "little green footballs" blog, from a rabid party-lining rightist to an equally rabid party-lining Obama-oid is being given a lot of attention, by the liberal media for obvious reasons – it confirms their own narrative of the redemptive power of Obama-worship – and by the right wing of the blogosphere for equally obvious reasons, i.e. there’s nothing like an apostate to get the blood of the true believers boiling. So we have a huge spread in the New York Times Magazine, and a spate of anti-Johnson polemics coming from Johnson’s former cohorts.
In reality Johnson was never that big a deal as a blogger: his posts were (and still are) 98% cut-and-paste, with very little original writing – and what writing he did was typically overwrought invective. So insubstantial are his contributions to the zeitgeist that Google doesn’t even bother aggregating his stuff. This led to a complaint from Johnson, who typically charged Google with being a "left-wing" outfit, which is why, you see, they didn’t bother with his slight and highly unoriginal output. Johnson and Glenn Reynolds, another "war-blogger" with a big ego and little literary capacity, called for a boycott of Google – and we can see how successful that was.
In any case, Johnson’s web site achieved a kind of fame for two reasons: 1) The level of vituperation aimed at Muslims, which was always over the top, and 2) During the 2004 presidential elections, Johnson was instrumental in exposing the so-called "Killian documents" – memos purporting to show irregularities in George W. Bush’s National Guard service – as forgeries.
All this by way of introduction to the latest Internet controversy: the role of the Internet in enforcing intellectual "rigidity." The issue is raised in the Times piece:
"Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind."
This passage was recently cited by Andrew Sullivan, another mainstay from the "war-blogger" days who did a 180-degree turnabout and is now a frenetic Obama-oid, in his continuing campaign to re-write the past. While claiming to "find the pixel-trail one of the benefits of online writing" because "you really are accountable for your shifts, and you have a constant opportunity to confess or examine them," Sullivan unravels the inevitable "but…":
"But what I find odd is how relatively few people seem to have evolved or shifted their political alliances or views over the past ten years I’ve been blogging…. I perceive not a jot of a change in, say, Glenn Reynolds or Mickey Kaus, two of my early blogging peers whose worldviews remain unaltered. Ditto the vast majority of neocons who seem to have found all their setbacks more proof of their original ideas. On the left, one finds the same kind of rigidity – how has Moulitsas evolved over the years – or Greenwald? I hoped the web would find a way to loosen writers up, jostle them a little out of their patterns of thought. But, for the most part, I was wrong, wasn’t I? The same idiocy that counts all political adjustments to new facts or new circumstances as ‘flip-flopping’ also penalizes those who dare to change their mind in the face of a changing world online. Tant pis."
For Sullivan to ding Greenwald for "intellectual rigidity" is pure chutzpah. Sullivan was the most vehement of the "war-bloggers," so shrill in his rage-and-testosterone-powered self-righteousness that he once excoriated a well-known poet for not toeing the War Party’s line – having completely misunderstood and misinterpreted the poem in question. He also accused this web site of treason, and, more broadly, opined that the coastal "elites" were pro-al Qaeda. He supported Bush down the line, and agitated ceaselessly for the invasion of Iraq. Isn’t it funny how those, such as Greenwald, who were right about everything from the very beginning – the war, the evil of the Bush regime, the neocons – are now disdained by this self-important loser for the very “faults” that gave them the strength to contravene Sullivan and other upholders of the conventional wisdom when it really counted?
Sullivan was so certain Iraq was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks, so absolutely convinced it had to be Saddam Hussein behind it all that he advocated dropping a nuclear bomb on Iraq by way of retribution. Oh, but at least he’s not guilty of "intellectual rigidity"!
The irony is that Sullivan posted his shameless excuse-making on the same day as the publication, in the Wall Street Journal, of a piece by Edward Jay Epstein on the provenance of the anthrax attacks and the ongoing nature of the "Amerithrax" investigation.
Yes, it’s ongoing, even though Bruce Ivins, the biologist who committed suicide when the Feds targeted him as a suspect, received the official blame as the perpetrator. Yet, it turns out, as Epstein reveals, that if Ivins was involved – a highly dubious proposition, as I’ve written here and here – he had plenty of help. Because the anthrax used in the attacks contained a large proportion of silicon – much larger than previously thought – an additive which made it much more effective as a weapon. Ivins had neither the expertise nor the facilities to "weaponize" the anthrax in this manner, which leads us to the conclusion drawn by Edwards:
"If Ivins had neither the equipment or skills to weaponize anthrax with silicon, then some other party with access to the anthrax must have done it…. So, even though the public may be under the impression that the anthrax case had been closed in 2008, the FBI investigation is still open—and, unless it can refute the Livermore findings on the silicon, it is back to square one."
In a Salon piece published in 2008, Greenwald pointed out the often overlooked significance of the anthrax attacks:
"The 2001 anthrax attacks remain one of the great mysteries of the post-9/11 era. After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters … that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax – sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets – that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism."
Sullivan and his fellow war-bloggers cashed in on the atmosphere created by these events to whip up a wave of war hysteria unparalleled in American history, one that has yet to exhaust itself completely – and used the opportunity to push themselves forward as people who ought to be listened to. Yet the ever-"evolving" Sullivan never went back and revisited his call to nuke Iraq in retribution for the attacks, not even when the FBI targeted Ivins: so much for the Internet’s vaunted capacity to induce"confessions," to say nothing of repentance.
Greenwald, on the other hand, did an overview of the investigation in 2008, reviewing the facts of the case, pointing out the political usefulness of these incidents, and going after the "mainstream" news media for hyping the war hysteria generated by the attacks.
Sullivan and Greenwald – it’s the difference between emotionalism and rationality, propaganda and journalism, the conventional wisdom and real wisdom.
That whole generation of Internet writers born in the flames of 9/11, including Sullivan and Johnson, retarded and distorted the development of web journalism, aside from having a deleterious effect on public opinion in the post-9/11 era. They were the progenitors of the intellectual groupthink, and, yes, rigidity, that led us to our present predicament. For Sullivan, or any one of that crowd, to compare themselves favorably to Greenwald, of all people, would be laughable if it didn’t underscore precisely what’s wrong with our media and the culture that it conjures.
Why, one wants to know, is it the ones who were right from the beginning – the prophets without honor, the Cassandras who weren’t listened to – who labor in obscurity, while the idiots who tout the conventional wisdom are hailed and given plaudits without end?
Fools are rewarded, and the prescient are ignored – it’s the way of the world. Okay, I’m willing to live with that. But when the fools start calling out their intellectual betters, disdaining them for their "rigidity," and touting their own foolish selves as having the "flexibility" to "evolve" – that‘s where I have to draw the line and protest.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I’m jazzed that so many of my readers have found my Facebook page and want to be "friends." But please be aware of two things: 1) It takes me a while to go through the friend requests, and if I don’t confirm our budding friendship immediately, it isn’t you, it’s me – I’m slow, but I’ll get around to it eventually. 2) I appreciate receiving invitations to be a "friend" of this or that cause or special interest group, but please understand that I can’t take the time to investigate the nature and purpose of all these groups and so I have a firm policy: I never join any groups, period. So don’t be offended if I don’t agree to join your group. I’m a writer, not a joiner.
By the way, I’m still blogging, sometimes briefly sometimes more at length, over at The Hill five days a week, so please do go check it out.
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