Friday, November 26, 2010
On Living In The (Im)Material World
Blog swarms are a fact of online life. They tend to be nasty things, sometimes with a coherent point, but just as often they are wildly chaotic attacks designed to cause as much harm as possible to the weakest online targets.
There have been many blog swarms in my experience. I don't try to hold on to memories of them, but one that comes to mind was the swarming attack in January of 2006 on Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell, triggered by her clearly uninformed claim that Jack Abramoff had made campaign contributions to both major parties, a factoid you might say that was simply -- and demonstrably -- false.
The blogospheric OUTRAGE!!!!™ was immediate and immense, innundating the Post with hundreds and hundreds of comments and emails, almost all of which denounced The Howell Woman (as I came to call her) in the most virulent and vituperative terms.
The point was made within a few minutes of her first posting on the matter (this was when "blogs" at major newspapers were still pretty new, and comment sections were not necessarily monitored) that she was in error. But she did not respond to her critics the way a blogger would, more or less in real time. She didn't respond to emails. She could not be reached at the Post by phone. The level of OUTRAGE!!!!™ grew exponentially. Other contacts were made at the Post, demanding an immediate response, retraction, correction, apology, whatever. Nothing. The Post was simply ignoring this INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT MATTER THAT HAD TO BE ADDRESSED RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!!!
As the days dragged on with no response from the Post, the level of vituperation and venom from the Blogswarm continued to increase. Days into The Howell Woman Affair, she emerged from seclusion to make a brief statement in which she claimed she should have said Abramoff 'directed' donations to both parties, which re-triggered the OUTRAGE!!!!™, which in turn led to the shutting off of comments to her column, which led to more OUTRAGE!!!!™. Finally, a week or more into the Controversy, Howell issued her now infamous "Thank you and fuck you" statement in which she repeated her claims that Abramoff was an equal opportunity corrupter and she told her critics to pound sand, she had a "contract" and there was no way she was going to get fired over a simple mistake.
At first, this Blogswarm might have been useful or appropriate, but it became very ugly very fast, essentially becoming the online equivalent of a lynch mob, especially as The Howell Woman did not immediately respond, and when she did respond, it was with an arrogant and contemptuous attitude toward her critics.
I have a propensity to intervene when I sense that incidents like this are turning into mob actions, and so I made some statements in some of the venues where Howell Woman Hate was being stirred up. Of course, that sometimes subjected me to the same sort of vituperation, but you know, I've rarely been goaded by personal attacks. But I found the whole thing very distasteful and said so.
That was then. There have been other more recent Blogswarms, and one of them was engineered (or appeared to be engineered) by Glenn Greenwald the other day in response to what he claimed was a "smear" of John Tyner, the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy from the TSA Uprising Battles.
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the eXile wrote an investigative article for The Nation in which they presented some information about Tyner they had gleaned from a profile in his hometown paper, his many television appearances, his blog, and an interview with him. They were, they said, suspicious of the timing and media focus on the TSA Porno-Scan and Sex Assault "uprising" because it looked to them too much like the other faux uprisings that had proliferated since the installation of the Obamas in the White House. They'd previously investigated the "uprising" phenom and had discovered-- and reported on -- an intimate interplay between certain named billionaires, some Libertarian and rightist activists, a concentrated media focus, and various "grassroots-populist movements," particularly the TeaBaggers. They saw the same pattern unfolding again, and they wrote about it.
Because they mentioned Tyner and what they had found out about him -- without accusing him of anything and specifically citing his denial of any funny business -- Glenn launched one of his typical broadside attacks on Ames and Levine, accusing them of "smearing" Tyner, and in the process smearing Ames and Levine.
It was nonsense, but it's what happens with Glenn when he senses an ally needing his "protection." He did the same thing when John Burns wrote about some of the accusations against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
After reading the article, it was obvious to me that there was no "smear" -- except by Glenn -- and that the purpose of the article was to focus on the Koch financing and ties to so many of the "uprisings" since Obama's advent, and to question the timing and media focus on the TSA "uprising."
I said as much at Glenn's place, but by that time, the Blogswarm was in full swing and the OUTRAGE!!!!™ was unstoppable. The Nation and the authors were hit from all sides running, and in fact have since been taken to task not solely by Glenn and his cheering squad, but by a range of ostensibly professional voices in the field. Jeremy Scahill of The Nation among others.
Of course, after Ames and Levine offered a detailed response in which they stated their inclusion of Tyner in the article should have been clarified and some of the information about him that they included was inappropriate, the Blogswarm, if anything intensified.
They were now "admitting" that they had "smeared" Tyner, an innocent man who meant and did no harm, a Civil Liberties Hero, yaddayadda, and for that there was no forgiveness.
What was striking to me is that most of those among Glenn's commentariat who were attacking Ames and Levine for "smearing" Tyner had not read the article and had no idea what it was about. When it was repeatedly pointed out by me -- and many others, including Cuchulain2007, Publican, 23Skidoo, Milton Wiltmellow and more -- what the article was about, the information was met with a blank stare, or -- in the case of Glenn and other attackers -- with a yawning dismissal or mockery. It was of no concern or interest to those who were so intent on ATTACK!!! It was most intriguingly of no interest to -- and indeed it was subject to ridicule and mockery by Glenn Greenwald himself.
Well. That was interesting. Why would he have no (apparent) interest in what Ames and Levine were focused on and writing about? Why would his entire interest be on defending John Tyner from this Horrible Smear?
I wound up repeating over and over what was in the article itself and suggesting that people actually read it and other works by Ames and Levine that touched on the same topic and others. Some people seemed to do that, but like Glenn, they were entirely focused on defending Tyner the individual, and anything else Ames and Levine had to say was simply irrelevant. Besides, who cared?
This was very interesting. After I read Yasha Levine's investigation into the connections between the Koch fortune and Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union, it hit me. The Kochs, who have essentially created the Libertarian "movement" and continue to finance it handsomely, along with many rightist and libertarian political activities and think tanks and so on, want these two trouble makers to be exiled, if you will, from the mainstream. They want them shut up and shut down, much as they were -- at least partially -- in Russia.
And the Blogswarm attack has been very effective in accomplishing that goal, at least from appearances. It appears to be a case of the "left" eating its own, always a pleasing sight to bloodsoaked rightists and libertarians.
But simply by asking "who benefits?" we realize what is likely going on. The Kochs, who are the moneybags for the Libertarian "movement" and all sorts of other anti-(this)-government "movements" are the ones who benefit. The public is the loser.
As far as I know, this is the first time Ames and Levine have been published in The Nation -- as staid an old line Liberal mainstream magazine as the United States has -- and this incident will probably make it impossible for Ames and Levine to be published there again. Likely they will be denied a mainstream venue in perpetuity. Who benefits? The Kochs do.
This isn't over. But to date, it has been very interesting. To say the least. And it's not a little chilling.
Some sites for more information:
There is much, much more. But this is a start.