Despite the fact that I never got the impression that Charles Johnson was a conservative, there was a time when Little Green Footballs was amongst the biggest and the best of the conservative blogs.
After 9/11, Charles Johnson started covering the radical Islam beat. He didn’t do a lot of commentary, but he was an excellent researcher, was very quick, and he put out a lot of material. Even before the Rathergate story – which, along with Power Line, he was instrumental in breaking – LGF was must-read material.
But eventually, something started to change. There are people who have followed the descent of Little Green Footballs more closely than I have who could give you an excellent timeline, but I’m just going to talk about it as I perceived it happening.
At first, I noticed that Charles Johnson was getting into feuds with the other anti-radical Islam websites. Early on, as far as I could tell, it was all Charles attacking websites like Atlas Shrugs, Jihad Watch, and Gates of Vienna over these European political parties that they supported because they were anti-radical Islam.
At the time, I didn’t know who was right and who was wrong. In fact, I still don’t because Charles’ arguments were all very “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Some European political party I had never heard of was terrible because it had a high ranking member that I had never heard of who freely associated with some other people who were REALLY BAD that I never heard of and — all these bloggers were terrible, horrible, awful racists and fascists for liking these political parties.
Eventually, the bloggers Charles was picking fights with started firing back at him and I started to notice that Charles had a huge beef with Christians. At one point, I looked over at LGF and noticed that literally half the posts on his front page were edged pieces about creationism. This struck me as extremely odd given that creationism wasn’t a hot topic at the time. You could read through 30-40 blogs, not read one word about creationism, and get to LGF and there were 10 posts about it.
This, I found to be a very troubling sign. There are certainly plenty of atheists and agnostics who are good conservatives. However, inevitably in my experience, when you have someone who has a huge beef with Christians, they turn to the Left. That’s exactly how it happened with Andrew Sullivan and John Cole from Balloon Juice and it’s how it happened with Charles, too.
Around that same time, I was hearing incessant complaining about Charles kicking people out of his comment section for flimsy reasons. In fact, there are multiple bloggers from Right Wing News who have been banned from the comment section at LGF. Now, as someone who seldom thinks twice about banning people from my comment section, you wouldn’t think this would be much of an attention-grabber. However, it was because in the past, LGF’s comment section was notorious for being completely out-of-control. Liberal websites constantly — and unfairly — took wild comments from LGF and treated them as if they were representative of what Charles Johnson thought. Now, Charles Johnson was banning people for disagreeing with him?
Anyway, back in May, one of the bloggers at RWN, Lee Doren, wrote a post called Why in the World Was I Banned from Little Green Footballs?. It closed, like so:
So, I know this is a long post, but I think I understand the rules of LGF now:
1) Don’t ever support Ron Paul’s economic policies, even if you don’t support Ron Paul;
2) Don’t ever support Glenn Beck;
3) Don’t ever support Michele Bachmann;
4) Don’t ever support someone who believes in Creationism even if you yourself believe in Evolution; and
5) Don’t ever question Charles even if you supported him for 2 years.
You will be banned
I knew that if Charles noticed that post, he wouldn’t be happy with it. But, it lined up with what I had been hearing from other people and I believe in giving bloggers who write at RWN a lot of leeway to say what they think and very seldom do I ask them to change things (Exceptions: Obama/Hitler comparisons, etc). So, I decided to leave it up.
Well, Charles did catch wind of it, he was unhappy about it, and he wrote to voice his displeasure. When he did, despite the fact that I don’t know Charles that well, I took the opportunity to try to respectfully point out to him the direction that he was going in. Out of respect for Charles, I am not going to post his replies (Nothing I said seemed to faze him or give him pause in the slightest), but I do want to post what I said in that email because it’s very relevant:
I really don’t think he’s trying to smear you — he’s somebody who likes you and appreciates your website, but who feels like he got unfairly banned. To be honest, I’ve been hearing similar stories all over the place lately.
Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I think I need to give it a shot anyway: I have tremendous respect for you and what you’ve accomplished. I think you’re a blogging pioneer. What you did with Rathergate was outstanding and you’ve been the premier anti-radical Islam blogger on the Right for a long time. What you’ve done is very important.
That being said, I realize it may be a little tough for you, who I perceive as being very near the center, to come to terms with having a very conservative fan base.
However, the problem I think you are setting yourself up for — and I say this with great respect — is that you are making it very clear that most conservatives aren’t welcome on your website anymore.
For example, I think of myself as a mainstream conservative. I’ve been one of the loudest people in denouncing conspiracy theories. I’ve attacked racist organizations. I ripped Ron Paul up one side and down the other when he was running for the GOP nomination. I’m a Christian, but I don’t think I try to slam it down anyone’s throat.
However, I went to the local Tea Party, thought it was great, would note that it wasn’t run by the Ron Paul crowd, and look forward to going to more. I believe intraspecies evolution occurs, but not
interspecies evolution. I like Michelle Bachman, Glenn Beck, and although I don’t agree with Ron Paul on a lot of things, I don’t think he’s wrong about everything or a horrible person. I also like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and while I don’t agree with them on everything, I think they’re decent people trying to stand up and do the Right thing. These are not particularly controversial positions on the Right.
Point being: I get the feeling that even someone like me isn’t welcome at LGF anymore. It’s not just me either. When your name comes up amongst other conservative bloggers — people tend to think you’re going Andrew Sullivan on us and in a year, you will be just another anti-conservative blog.
What I am trying to get across here, as someone who respects you and thinks you have done very good and very important work, is that you should think about where this is going to ultimately lead one day. You have a lot of friends on the Right who have stood behind you over the last few years. It’s probably not too late to mend fences with them. If that’s not the direction you’re going in, are you trying to change over to a left-wing anti-Islam blog? Could that even work? An anti-religion blog? An anti-conservative blog?
I throw that out there, not because I am trying to tell you what to do, but because whether you realize it or not, your blog has been going in a radical new direction and I hope you’re thinking about where it’s going to end up. I understand that you have to follow your conscience and do what you think is best, but at a certain point, you have to realize you’re shoving many of the conservatives who’ve been fans of your work away from you, not vice-versa.
Sorry if you think it was presumptuous for me to write something like this, but I think it needed to be said.
PS: If you want to talk about this some more, let me know.
PS #2: Feel free to show this to any of your conservative friends to get a 2nd opinion, print it, whatever.
Fast forward to the present day. The number of anti-radical Islam posts on LGF’s front page? 1. The rest are ripping on birthers, creationism, the tea parties, conservative bloggers, etc.
While I would note that I am no fan of birthers and think that people who bring racist and/or “Obama is Hitler” signs to a tea party are morons, it’s also worth noting that the content on LGF is functionally little different than you would find on any liberal blog. They hate conservative bloggers. He hates conservative bloggers. They hate Christians. He hates Christians. They hate the tea parties; he hates the tea parties. If you took the names off of everything and put the content of LGF in with 9 liberal blogs, I seriously doubt that the average person from the netroots could tell the difference. There’s not even much of that pesky anti-radical Islam content to get in the way any more. That’s just an afterthought on what used to be the best anti-radical Islam blog on the planet.
What happened to Charles Johnson? I don’t know. I think he has always been a little to the left-of-center and maybe because of that, he was never really comfortable with his almost universally conservative compatriots in the fight against radical Islam. Then, as the economy went in the toilet, the Dems rose to prominence, and the war on terror became less of an issue, he started to become much more outspoken about what he really thought.
Whatever the case may be, I would have preferred not to say anything about it. However, after his incessant smearing of other conservatives, his willingness to be used by the Left, and the vicious way he has treated a lot of people who don’t deserve it, I thought it was time to speak up. Maybe it doesn’t matter at this point, because from the numbers I have seen — he still has a big audience — but, it looks like about 75% of his former readers have already voted with their feet and stopped reading his website. In a sense, that’s too bad. Charles Johnson had something great going on with Little Green Footballs. He was making a difference in the fight against radical Islam. He was making a difference in American politics — and you can ask Dan Rather about that — but now, he’s just left-of-center attack blog #854. What a waste.