"When I googled the terms ‘Iraq torture prison Abu Ghraib’ – certainly one of the most intensively covered news stories of the year – the first New York Times article was the 295th search result, trailing the New Yorker, Guardian, ABC and CBS News, New York Post, MSNBC, Slate, CNN, Sydney Morning Herald, Denver Post, USA Today, Bill O’Reilly on FoxNews and a host of others news sites.
"What’s more, tons of other non-traditional news sources came ahead of the Times, including a number of blogs and low-budget rabble-rousers like Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, truthout and Beliefnet (a site dedicated to spirituality). So did Al-Jazeera (twice). But the Times still ranked low, even after it plastered an Abu Ghraib story on its front page for 32 straight days between May and June. And Google isn’t the only one to shun the Times: I got similar results from other search engines (AltaVista, Lycos, Yahoo)."
Penenberg wants to know how in heck "the mighty New York Times, which considers itself America’s paper of record, [can] be the paper of record in cyberspace when its articles barely show up on Google?"
But what I want to know is how a computer maven like Penenberg – an assistant professor at New York University, and the assistant director of the Business and Economic Reporting program in the department of journalism – can be so … out of it.
After all, this is old news. Has he ever heard of a guy named Matt Drudge? Everybody knows that Antiwar.com and other "alternative" media are far more popular than the "old media" in our increasingly online world – and Penenberg’s googling expedition underscores the reason why.
If you follow his link, you see that the "low budget rabblerouser," Antiwar.com, comes in fourth place: below the original source of the Abu Ghraib prison story, Seymour Hersh’s expose in the New Yorker, a piece by Julian Borger in the Guardian focusing on the role of private contractors in the torture scandal, and an article in Rotten.com’s indispensable library of atrocities (complete with a timeline).
Antiwar.com comes out ahead of CBS, NBC, and the Washington Post because we showed the actual images, unfiltered by the usual spin, while the "mainstream" media balked at displaying or discussing them in detail. It wasn’t "patriotic," the images were too "disturbing," Americans must be protected from the uncomfortable truth about their government’s actions in the world – or else they might begin to ask questions no one in Washington wants to answer.
We posted the full unvarnished truth about Abu Ghraib, and we did it before anyone else. That’s the answer to the great unsolved mystery posed by Penenberg, the reason why a "low-budget rabblerouser" like Antiwar.com is outpacing and outperforming the big media conglomerates.
People want the whole unvarnished truth: they don’t want to be fed a steady diet of lies. That’s why they come to us, instead of the "mainstream" media. It’s as simple as that.
As George W. Bush and his neocon advisors launched the first phase of World War IV, war opponents bemoaned the government’s ability to deceive the American people while manipulating the "evidence" and the news from Iraq. But we at Antiwar.com had faith in our countrymen: we knew that, as long as we did our job, and continued to relentlessly expose the serial liars at the helm of the ship of state, the tide of public opinion would turn – and it turned out that this faith was fully justified. As Americans wake up to news that they were lied into war, it turns out that the market for truth outweighs the relatively small demand for government-generated-and-approved propaganda.
Penenberg’s Google search confirms what our own statistics have been telling us for quite some time now. With anywhere from 40,000 (during the summer lull) to 80,000-plus unique visitors daily, Antiwar.com is reaching a mass audience internationally – that’s the "rabble" in "rabblerouser," i.e., you.
The online revolution means that the American people can directly access information and decide what they think about it all by themselves, without intermediaries – self-appointed elites in the media and government (or do I repeat myself?) – telling them what they ought to believe.
Penenberg points out the obvious reason for the lowliness of the New York Times on the Google totem pole: it’s because they not only require registration, but also because they put a lot of their content behind the wall that guards their paid archive: you have to shell out about 3 bucks for the pleasure and privilege of reading an ordinary news report.
Now, I don’t hold that against them: that’s their policy, because they’re not primarily an online operation. The Times, and all the other major newspapers and their corporate owners and managers, have invested an awful lot of money in the information-on-dead-tree industry, and they aren’t ready to cut their losses just yet. That’s their decision, and you may or may not agree with it, but what Penenberg doesn’t seem to get is that the editors and owners of the Times made what they believe to be a good business decision. The Times isn’t a public service: it’s a money-making operation that depends on income from advertisers. The news is a product they must sell for monetary profit, or else go out of business.
On the other hand, Antiwar.com and other rousers of the rabble are more than happy to break even – and therein lies our inherent competitive advantage. While the centralized corporate model of the pro-war "mainstream" media must show a monetary profit, the decentralized debunkers of the antiwar opposition are content with the psychic profit involved in exposing the War Party’s lies and turning the tide of public opinion.
Instead of placing ourselves at the mercy of advertisers, investors, or some mega-corporation, our small staff here at Antiwar.com has placed itself directly at the mercy of our readers. Four times a year we go, hat in hand, to our loyal readers and supporters, and ask: have we done a good job? Good enough to pay for?
You’ll notice that we don’t have any content hiding behind paid archive firewalls. That goes hand-in-hand with our editorial policy, which is not to hide the horrors symbolized by Abu Ghraib, but to broadcast them far and wide, until the perpetrators – the would-be bringers of "democracy" to the Middle East – are brought to justice.
If that makes us "rabblerousers," then so be it. What stung me about Penenberg’s remark – oh, boo hoo hoo! – was the "low budget" label. Now that is really rubbing it in, don’tcha think?
Yes, I already know that other journalists are getting pretty comfortable salaries (at least by my wide-eyed standards), not to mention their 401-K retirement plans and stock options, while I‘m sitting here slaving away for a relatively modest salary. That’s another deviation from the corporate model: no perks here! Staff salaries are entirely sufficient for a novice monk, and just perfect for someone on a no-carb, no-fat, nothing-much diet.
If you’re Justin Raimondo, and you’re looking forward to a night out on the town, your first stop isn’t Postrio, (Heck, I don’t have a thing to wear!) or the Top of the Mark – it’s a visit to San Francisco’s world-renowned U-Lee restaurant, featuring the cheapest Chinese cuisine – and the biggest pot-stickers – West of Shanghai. Dig in!
Look, I don’t even want to go to Postrio. What I’d really like, however, is a few more fact-checkers and a new category of literary workers: linkers. As I’ve pointed out before in this space, you can always tell good internet journalism and commentary by the number and quality of the links it provides to back up what would otherwise be a series of arbitrary assertions. A link-less article, posted on the internet, is literally not to be believed. That’s why my columns are rich – often, I realize, a bit over-rich – with links. Better too much documentation than not enough. Many of our columnists utilize this same method, and we try to put as many links as possible in all material generated by our staff and other writers, but we just don’t have the personnel to do a thorough job.
Linking is a skill in and of itself: it is time-consuming, when done right, and requires all sorts of judgements about the credibility of news sources. If an author doesn’t provide his or her own links, then it would be the job of the linker to provide them – without changing the author’s original intent. Indeed, the whole point is to elucidate and document the author’s intent.
A linker, in short, is just an old-fashioned fact-checker, armed with modern computer technology. What gets me is that the Big Media, which already employ fact-checkers in droves, have yet to catch on to the importance of links to the credibility of online journalism – and they have the resources to employ legions of linkers. (The big exception to this unconscionable lack is the Christian Science Monitor, which has begun to regularly festoon news stories with a wide variety of interesting and informative links).
Given the amount of original material published by Antiwar.com every day, such a task would consume more work hours than our present tiny staff could possibly put in. We’d have to at least double the present size of our staff. That’s where this "low budget" business comes in.
Yes, it’s true – we can’t afford to pay an army of linkers, or even our writers, in most cases, and, when we do pay the latter, it’s not nearly what they’re worth. I often envy – I’ll admit it! – the Big Media the relatively enormous budgets they have at their disposal. Boy oh boy, what we could do with that – I don’t even want to think about it!
On the other hand, our lean-and-mean operation is beating the pants off the Big Boys – Antiwar.com is becoming a real thorn in the side of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle, Inc. The noise from the "rabble" is getting louder, the war plans of the neocons are being challenged, and the War Party is increasingly on the defensive. We aren’t taking credit for this, merely noting that our own status as a news source – as measured by our prominence high in the Google hierarchy of knowledge – has grown in direct proportion to rising antiwar sentiment.
It isn’t for me to say which is cause and which is effect, although I would venture a guess that it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. All I know is that when you Google "antiwar" (or "anti-war") Antiwar.com comes out on top. The rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking of history, that’s what we’ll be if we don’t raise enough money to get us through the next quarter. Failure would have to mean making immediate cutbacks, maybe laying off our newly-acquired editor – sorry, Matt! – and perhaps even getting rid of yours truly (I could always go back to … uh, well, maybe not, at least not at my age).
Okay, look, I know I’ve offended an awful lot of people, especially lately. I have dissed just about everybody, on the Left as well as the Right, and on one day last week I counted no less than three blog threads devoted to the Evils of Justin Raimondo. What really got me, however, was that these originated from three widely variant points on the political spectrum, covering all angles: left, right, and center.
That’s what happens when you puncture sacred shibboleths without regard to ideology or party affiliation. Every nut-job from left to right winds up hating you. In most cases, it’s a badge of honor, and, at the very least, it shows that we at Antiwar.com don’t discriminate.
We speak truth to power, and to our own supporters, without sugarcoating or otherwise prettifying what is, admittedly, a fairly bleak picture of what we’re up against. The next few months are crucial. As this administration seeks to manipulate a terrorized America, and the threat of an "October surprise" looms large, we all have to live with an unnerving uncertainty. That’s why stable institutions like Antiwar.com are so important: we’re there, every day, 24 hours a day, constantly updating and informing our widening audience with the truth about the folly of American foreign policy.
Yes, we have our own political views: we’re libertarians (small-‘l’), and we’ve never tried to hide our ideological proclivities. Quite the contrary. But we’ve also never let our libertarianism obstruct the airing of alternative views. Within the antiwar community a wide variety of voices proliferate, and you hear virtually all of them here, on this site. We post – and you decide. We aren’t "gatekeepers" – just compilers and organizers of a continuous stream of information, which we pipe directly into your computer every day – for free.
Except that it isn’t free. Not really. We have to raise at least $60,000 in one week in order to continue providing what is a public service. If we don’t get it, we’re outta here – and that’s the bottom line.
Imagine a world without Antiwar.com – no, no, I don’t even want to go there! I don’t want to imagine it, because that would mean that everyone’s given up, or that the entire staff has been bundled off to Guantanamo, and neither possibility bears thinking about.
No, in spite of everything, I don’t believe the antiwar movement has given up. Far from it. We’ve just begun to fight back – and the exposure of the lies, the manipulation, the blatantly illegal tactics of the War Party is just the first act. The second act – confronting the liars and manipulators with the full record of their crimes – is about to start, and I can hardly wait. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I really and truly believe, as I said in a column some months ago, that the tide is turning.
That’s why it’s imperative that you give as much as you can as soon as you can.
Time’s a’ wasting – and the War Party never sleeps. They don’t ever have to worry about the disadvantages of being "low budget." And you’d better believe that they’re throwing money at their project of organized deception like never before. The neocons realize that their power is slipping, and they’re desperately trying to cover up the tracks of their lies, in a frantic effort to scuttle away from the consequences of the war they prayed for and gloried in.
We can win. We will win. But first, we have to survive the next few months, which are bound to be, shall we say, eventful. In the end, it’s up to you. So what’re you waiting for? Go here now – and I’ll let you know on Wednesday just how we’re doing.