Charles Johnson

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Charles Johnson (blogger)
Charles Foster Johnson (born April 1953) is a programmer, jazz musician and the editor and founder[1] of the right-wing political blog Little Green Footballs. Johnson also co-founded Pajamas Media in 2005[2] but was reportedly fired in 2007.[1] He is credited with producing flak that has undermined journalists or their accounts and widely criticized for producing "hate-speech"[3] that is mostly directed at Islam, Muslims and Arabs (all of which he regularly categorized under an umbrella of "Islamic extremism."[3] Following the Israeli war against Lebanon, when Johnson disseminated flak to undermine the credibility of news accounts about Israeli massacres, Johnson was bestowed a prize for "promoting Israel and Zionism."[4] Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) has referred to Johnson as a "Righteous Gentile" (he isn't Jewish) because of his support for Israel (see Ronen).[5] In 2009 Johnson publicly declared that he was abandoning his extremist right-wing views because "The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff. I won’t be going over the cliff with them."[6]

Contents

Descriptions of Johnson

  • Johnson's blog has been described as follows by Brendan Bernhard, an author and contributor to the right-wing blog aggregator Pajamas Media which Johnson co-founded:[7]
Although it tilts right politically, it provides a cornucopia of information about radical Islam here and abroad that ought to be of use to anyone with an interest in the subject, and Mr. Johnson edits it with intelligence and wit. ("Religion of Peace Kills 14,Wounds 3," is one of his characteristically cutting headlines.) If you believe that the war on terror is necessary, that the occupation of Iraq is ultimately generous in intent, and that the level of Muslim immigration to the West poses a serious threat, then this is surely a Web site for you.[8]
  • American-Jewish political analyst and prominent progressive blogger Richard Silverstein writes:
Charles Johnson was the epitome of the pro-Israel neocon. He could always be counted on to bash Islam and Arabs. He’s even smeared me one or two times. I saw him not as the intellectual leader of the movement, but more as the tough drill sergeant fighting the good neocon fight in the trenches.[9]
  • Following a public declaration that Johnson was parting with his extremist views, he was described as follows in the New York Times:"
By virtue of his willingness to do and share research, his personal embrace of a hawkish, populist anger and his extraordinary Web savvy, Johnson quickly turned Little Green Footballs (or L.G.F., as it is commonly known) into one of the most popular personal sites on the Web, and himself — the very model of a Los Angeles bohemian — into an avatar of the American right wing. With a daily audience in the hundreds of thousands, the career sideman had moved to the center of the stage.[3]

Little Green Footballs

According to Jonathan Dee, "A NUMBER OF SO-CALLED warblogs were born out of the post-9/11 moment"[3] and Little Green Footballs (LGF) came into being the day after 9/11 when Johnson transformed his former tech-oriented blog into a political weblog:[3]

By virtue of his willingness to do and share research, his personal embrace of a hawkish, populist anger and his extraordinary Web savvy, Johnson quickly turned Little Green Footballs (or L.G.F., as it is commonly known) into one of the most popular personal sites on the Web, and himself — the very model of a Los Angeles bohemian — into an avatar of the American right wing. With a daily audience in the hundreds of thousands, the career sideman had moved to the center of the stage.[3]

Peaking with what Johnson reported as "somewhere around half a million page views per day"[3] at the time of the "Rathergate" scandal wherein Johnson allegedly exposed a memo presented by Dan Rather as a fake, LGF reportedly has been in decline with what was reported as 100,000 page views a day in January 2010.[3]

Johnson declines to admit how much money he makes off LGF but he has stated "...If someone were to come to me and offer me a couple million dollars to go tour for six months, I wouldn’t say no. But at this point, the blog is more than meeting my needs, financially.”[3]

Pajamas Media

Johnson created the right-wing blog aggregator Pajamas Media (PM) with Roger Simon in 2005.[2] In 2007 Johnson declared that he was "no longer affiliated with Pajamas Media in a management position, adding that it was a "completely amicable departure."[10]

Some argued that there was in fact more to Johnson's departure. Conservative blogger "Dennis the Peasant" who co-found Tulip Advertising with Simon (Dennis argues that Tulip later "morphed" into Pajamas Media) suggested that Johnson likely left because he wasn't brining enough value to the organization, that his extremist views were damaging to the site's popularity and that the site's actual profits were in decline, hence the cutback.[11]

However, Richard Silverstein questioned Dennis's logic, in effect arguing that PM likely let go of Johnson because profits were in decline:

This begs the question if LGF and Johnson embarrass PJM why do they continue to carry his blog at all? Why not just sever ties cleanly? Could it be that LGF’s Alexa ranking of 25,000 has a lot to do with that? Most PJM bloggers rank far lower than PJM itself. LGF and Michelle Malkin are among the only bloggers with a higher ranking than PJM, much higher. So I’m guessing that PJM can’t afford to lose the readers than LGF provides to pump up the site stats for advertisers.[1]

Parting with the Right?

In November 2009 Johnson published a post on LGF titled "Why I Parted Ways With The Right." In it he listed 10 reasons why he no longer wanted to be affiliated with the American right including:[6]

"1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)"
"9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)"
"10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories..."

Significantly, in a February 2010 interview Johnson states at 3:08 that "if I had to pick on thing that would be the most irritating thing for me about the right-wing it's the anti-science attitude."[12]

Johnson's decision was welcomed by some progressives but also criticized by progressives and expectedly, the Right. Almost two months after Johnson's announcement a long profile of him was done in the New York Times by Jonathan Dee. Dee suggests that a main provocation for Johnson's decision came after he and some of his associates including Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer were invited to a "Counter-Jihad Conference in Brussels" -- an invitation which Johnson declined. Later on Johnson discovered that one of the conference participants included Filip Dewinter, the leader of a Belgian-nationalist political party called Vlaams Belang which Johnson and others have exposed as racist and sympathetic to the Nazis.[13] According to Dee "Johnson first hinted, and eventually demanded, that they publicly distance themselves from both Vlaams Belang and the conference itself, and when they demurred, he publicly distanced himself from them."[3] He also began banning commentators on his site that he did not approve of, arguing: "“I realized you can’t just let it be free speech. It doesn’t work that way on the Internet. Total free speech is a recipe for anarchy when people can’t see each other.”[3] He adds:

Since the days when Pamela Geller commented frequently at LGF, I've made a serious effort to develop tools for effectively moderating blog discussions, so that LGF will no longer become an inadvertent breeding ground for Geller's brand of hatred. The web's inherent anonymity makes it far too easy for extremists and trolls of all kinds to hijack a blog's comments; only by taking more control of the tone of the discussion can sane bloggers start to pull things back toward the centre, away from hate-fuelled internet extremists such as Pamela Geller and her cronies.[14]

Reactions from the Right

Dee summarizes the Right's response to Johnson's decision accordingly:

Glenn Beck has taken the time to denounce him on air and at length. Johnson himself (Mad King Charles is one of his most frequent, and most printable, Web nicknames) has used his technical know-how to block thousands of his former readers not just from commenting on his site but even, in many cases, from viewing its home page. He recently moved into a gated community, partly out of fear, he said, that the venom directed at him in cyberspace might jump its boundaries and lead someone to do him physical harm. He has turned forcefully against Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, nearly every conservative icon you can name. And answering the question of what, or who, got to Charles Johnson has itself become a kind of boom genre on the Internet.[3]

Thus began the Right's attacks on Johnson, sometimes so frightful that he even argued that the reason he moved into a gated community was because he feared for his and his family's security.[3]

  • Pamela Geller: “I loved him. I respected him. But the way he went after people was like a mental illness. There’s an evil to that, a maliciousness. He’s a traitor, a turncoat, a plant. We may not know for years what actually happened. You think he changed his mind?”[3]
  • Peter Collier: “Not exactly Whittaker Chambers, is he? I must say I was pretty put off by the profligate and kind of lame use of the word ‘fascism,’ a word that has been systematically denuded of its meaning, so that now it just signifies somebody you don’t agree with. I don’t want to say that it didn’t take some bravery and forethought and all that stuff — it just didn’t seem like a very considered and certainly not a very theoretical break. More of a take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.”[3]

Reactions from the Left

Political analyst and prominent blogger Richard Silverstein accepted Johnson's move as genuine but added:

Now Johnson calls himself an “independent.” That’s all right by me. I’d rather have him as an independent than a neocon. But what does it all mean? Of course, you can see in Johnson’s turning (the original meaning of the word teshuva) a statement about the meltdown occurring within the Republican Party amidst internecine warfare between the right and the farther right. Those like Johnson who’ve retained a certain amount of reason and common sense have come to a parting of the ways with the incipient insanity. That’s the way the [little green foot]ball bounces...I think it also signifies the end of the War on Terror and the Bush national security agenda. People like Johnson are beginning to understand that the 9/11 era is over and our country is returning to a more normal set of political priorities. While this by no means that Obama’s political agenda will succeed (though it can’t hurt that neocons are deserting the sinking ship), it does mean that the ranks of the far right are thinning.[9]

Johnson's Ulterior Motives?

Some analysts including Dee have suggested that Johnson's decision to part with the Right may have come as a matter of necessity, since elements of the American Right (such as the Christian Right)[15] are increasingly moving towards indefensible positions. Writes Dee:

Thus in retrospect it also seems clear that the Vlaams Belang blog war, with its attendant scary buzzwords (“fascist,” “racist,” “Nazi”), gave Johnson the intellectual cover to do something he wanted to do anyway, which was to conduct a kind of public self-purge of the alliances he acquired on the road to fame.[3]

In a January 2010 Vanity Fair article where he first provided a summary and overall positive portrait of Johnson, author Barrett Brown announced that he would be embarking on a new "crusade"[16] with Johnson which intends to apparently improve the way "Americans are informed about crucial issues" by increasing "both the reach and efficiency of the blogosphere, as well as to bring pressure to bear on the media at large."[16] This event was similar to the "self-congratulatory media frenzy"[1] Johnson and and former associate Simon Roger created prior to their launch of Pajamas Media.

As Johnson recently reminded me, he once attempted a similar improvement on the blogosphere in 2004 by co-founding the conservative blog compendium Pajamas Media. He later repudiated it as “just another right-wing parrot organization” and sold off his share in 2007. I suggested to him that, in contrast to that particular project, we try to recruit bloggers who aren’t completely deranged. He agreed that this might be an effective approach.[16]

In Johnson's Words

During his interview with the NYT's Jonathan Dee, Johnson argued that his beliefs are in line with "classical liberalism" and:

"It’s not that the war on terror has finished,” he said. “It’s never going to be finished, but I think things have reached the point now where it’s not as pressing as it was. Some of the measures we took to protect ourselves against extremists have been pretty effective. And so I realized, you know, that maybe it’s time to tell people that I’m not onboard with a lot of this social-conservative agenda. And I think that I actually speak for a lot of people.” Though our conversation took place in the fall, he told me in a subsequent e-mail message that the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing “doesn’t change my opinion about that.”[3]

From an April 2009 piece in the Washington Independent:

“I don’t think there is an anti-jihadist movement anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s all a bunch of kooks. I’ve watched some people who I thought were reputable, and who I trusted, hook up with racists and Nazis. I see a lot of them promoting stories and causes that I think are completely nuts.”[17]

Chapters

Sinking Dan Rather

From the New York Sun article:

Mr. Johnson's biggest coup so far came when, together with some other bloggers, he exposed the forged documents with which CBS's 60 Minutes sought to undermine President Bush’s claim to have served honourably in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam War. It was Mr. Johnson who, copying the forgery from a PDF file CBS posted on its Web site, retyped the memo using Microsoft Word’s standard settings, and found that his version was identical in every detail to the one Dan Rather claimed had been typed on a manual typewriter some three decades earlier.
As he typed the first sentences and found that the lines were all breaking the same way, Mr. Johnson said he felt chills running down his spine. "In a way it’s bigger than Watergate, because Watergate wasn’t an attempt to influence an election," he told me, adding that he is still stunned by CBS’s gullibility and ineptness."It shows you the amount of desperation at work. It overrode all of their journalistic impulses. They lost all their ethics. That’s the big story -- they did it because they wanted Bush not to be elected."[8]

Undermining news about Israeli massacres in Lebanon

After the Israeli attack on Qana that killed many civilians (mostly women and children) a story about fake photographs was spread via Little Green Footballs and Richard North in Europe. The intention of these stories was reportedly to undermine the credibility of news accounts about the Israeli massacres and other depredations. For his efforts, Johnson received an award for "promoting Israel and Zionism".[18]

Affiliations

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Richard Silverstein, "CHARLES JOHNSON AXED FROM PAJAMAS MEDIA MANAGEMENT", Tikun Olam, 3 December 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pajamas Media, "About Us", Pajamas Media, accessed on 27 October 2010
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 JONATHAN DEE, "Right-Wing Flame War!", New York Times, 21 January 2010, accessed on 27 October 2010
  4. Israel ups the stakes in the propaganda war, Stuart Purvis, The Guardian, 20 November 2006
  5. Gil Ronen At Israel's Right Arutz Sheva, IsraelNationalNews.com, 11 May 2004, accessed 24 August 2010
  6. 6.0 6.1 Charles Johnson, "Why I Parted Ways With The Right", Little Green Footballs, 9 November 2009, accessed on 27 October 2010
  7. Pajama's Media, Author: Brendan Bernhard", Pajamas Media, accessed on 27 October 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 Brendan Bernhard, The Blogger Who Helped to Dislodge Dan Rather: Little Green Footballs Was an Innocuous Web-Design Site — Then Came September 11, New York Sun, 3 February 2005. Accessed 24 August 2010
  9. 9.0 9.1 Richard Silverstein, "CHARLES JOHNSON, POLITICAL BAAL TESHUVA?", Tikun Olam, 2 December 2009
  10. Charles Johnson, "Change is the Only Constant", Little Green Footballs, 1 December 2007, accessed on 28 October 2010
  11. Dennis the Peasant, "And Then There Were Two...", Dennis the Peasant, 2 December 2007, accessed on 28 October 2010
  12. Dangerous Minds, "CHARLES JOHNSON: WHY I PARTED WAYS WITH THE RIGHT", Dangerous Minds, 28 February 2010
  13. Charles Johnson, "About Vlaams Belang and Sweden Democrats", Little Green Footballs, 24 October 2007
  14. Charles Johnson, "Pamela Geller and the bloggers of hate", The Guardian, 14 October 2010
  15. Democracy Now!, Chris Hedges on "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America", Democracy Now!, 19 February 2007
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Barrett Brown, "Ex-Conservative Charles Johnson's Next Crusade", Vanity Fair, 22 January 2010, accessed on 28 October 2010
  17. David Weigel, "Civil War Raging in Right-Wing Blogosphere", Washington Independent, 21 April 2009, accessed on 28 October 2010
  18. Israel ups the stakes in the propaganda war, Stuart Purvis, The Guardian, 20 November 2006
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