The Evolution of Blogging: An Interview with Charles Johnson
Few bloggers have had quite as controversial a career as Little Green Football’s Charles Johnson. Johnson began blogging in earnest back in 2001 after the attacks on the twin towers, and continues putting out content at a furious pace nearly a decade later.
He is perhaps best known for playing a key role in the resignation of CBS’s Dan Rather following the forged Killian document scandal. He also played a role in bringing attention to altered photographs in the Adnan Hajj photographs controversy. In July 2008, LGF identified that photographs of Iran’s nuclear missile test had been altered.
More recently, Johnson has locked spears with many on the right over issues such as Obama’s birth certificate, creationism in schools, and “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
He helped found the popular new media site, Pajamas Media, though he has since fallen out with the publishers and, as of September, has removed all links from Little Green Footballs to Pajamas Media.
I had a chance to exchange emails with Charles Johnson about his experience as a blogger and the current state of affairs on the war on terror and the conservative blogosphere.
Little Green Footballs was launched as a web design firm in 2001. What inspired you to change course and begin using the site as a blogging platform?
I started the LGF blog as part of the web design business. Blogging was still pretty new back then in the depths of the past; most people still called them “weblogs” and not “blogs,” in fact. I wanted to learn about the technologies involved, so I originally started with Blogger, then moved to Graymatter, one of the first open source blogging tools.
So was LGF initially a web-design blog, or did it have a political angle to begin with? When did it begin to take its current shape? And what eventually led you to co-found Pajamas Media?
LGF did cover some political stuff, but it was primarily a techie sort of blog before 9/11. After the terror attacks, I began focusing on the threat of radical Islam.
By the way, a postscript to the previous answer: the entire LGF blog is now composed of my own custom-designed software.
At that point in time you were fairly well aligned with much of the conservative blogosphere which unified behind the war on terror. Lately that seems to have changed. More and more LGF seems to be distancing itself from the right. What’s changed? Has national security become secondary to economic issues, or does it run deeper than that?
National security is still an important issue. But the main reason I can’t march along with the right wing blogosphere any more, not to put too fine a point on it, is that most of them have succumbed to Obama Derangement Syndrome. One “nontroversy” after another, followed by the outrage of the day, followed by conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, all delivered in breathless, angry prose that’s just wearying and depressing to read.
It’s not just the economic issues either. I’ve never been on board with the anti-science, anti-Enlightenment radical religious right. Once I began making my opinions known on issues like creationism and abortion, I realized that there just wasn’t very much in common with many of the bloggers on the right. And then, when most of them decided to fall in and support a blogger like Robert Stacy McCain, who has neo-Nazi friends, has written articles for the openly white supremacist website American Renaissance, and has made numerous openly racist statements on the record … well, I was extremely disappointed to see it, but unfortunately not surprised.
I’ve always written the truth about my opinions, and I have no intention of changing that policy now, just to fit in with a “movement” that has gone completely off the rails.
Do you think there is any chance the right can reorient itself, or is the right-wing blogosphere’s daily outrage symptomatic of deeper failures from within conservatism?
Also, where do you see yourself politically these days now that the War on Terror is under the purview of the Democrats?
Without making any prediction — that’s above my pay grade — I think the Republican Party has a serious deficiency of real ideas, and the few popular ideas they do have are about pandering to the religious right and regulating private morality: abortion, gay marriage, etc.
I always thought “conservatism” meant the opposite — staying OUT of people’s private lives. In fact, in my opinion this is one of the main problems with the conservative movement today – the dominance of the religious right, which seeks to impose its own narrow belief system on the entire country.
Where I see myself politically — same as I ever was, Independent. George W. Bush in 2004 was the first time I ever cast a vote for a Republican President.
Little Green Footballs has helped break some big stories, do you think there’s room for bloggers to play a role not just as opinion-makers but as investigative journalists as well?
Yes, definitely. Bloggers with significant followings can call on the “group expertise” factor as well, to find out information and get perspectives from many angles. There’s a downside too, though — because bloggers on the fringes may try to make a name for themselves by floating poorly investigated or even false stories. We saw this recently in the story about Barack Obama’s supposed “college thesis,” a story with no credibility that originated at a blog known for posting unlabeled hoaxes, that was picked up and reported by Michael Ledeen and Rush Limbaugh.
Just as with news organizations, there are some bloggers that are more credible than others. Usually, they’re the ones who’ve built an audience and a reputation by being scrupulous about fact checking, and by quickly admitting and correcting errors.
Do you think the blogosphere has had a net positive effect on journalism at large?
One way to answer that: five years ago, not a single newspaper or broadcast journalism website had a blog. Now they all do. The rapid success of the format argues pretty convincingly that it’s a positive development — although it’s probably also contributed to the financial downturn for print and broadcast journalism as well.
As with most human endeavors, it’s a mixed blessing, because the rapid dissemination of information through blogs, and the possibility of remaining anonymous, also enables the spread of conspiracy theories and other fringe ideas. But on balance I believe the decentralization of reporting and journalism has been a very positive development for the free flow of information — one of the most important functions of our modern technological society.
Charles, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.
Other interviews with bloggers can be found in the sidebar.