By Frank Moher
You might suppose that as the editor of an online magazine, I’m glad to see the collapse of the old-school, dead-tree print guys. You might suppose wrong. I say that partly because I still write for what we used to quaintly refer to as “the papers” (ask an anthropologist near you), but also because, when I look around at their would-be online successors, I don’t see a worthy among them. It’s not just that they don’t have the money to pick up where print journalism will soon leave off, but because they haven’t the ethical testicles to do it either.
A case in point is dailykos.com, as presided over by publisher Markos Moulitsas. For a guy who claims to be a Democrat, Moulitsas acts an awful lot like the boy-emperor of a walled kingdom. Odd behaviour for the author of a book about the power of web-driven populism.
Moulitsas’ tyrannical instincts manifest themselves most plainly, and shamelessly, in his ban on discussion of 9/11 on his site. Correction: you can discuss 9/11, but only so long as it’s within the parameters set out by Mr. Big:
“DailyKos accepts that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by agents of Al-Qaeda. It is forbidden to write diaries that:
1. refer to claims that American, British, Israeli, or any government assisted in the attacks
2. refer to claims that the airplanes that crashed into the WTC and Pentagon were not the cause of the damage to those buildings or their subsequent collapse.
Authoring or recommending these diaries may result in banning from Daily Kos.”
I like that “forbidden.” Dr. Evil, pinky raised: “Don’t you know that disagreeing with me is . . . forrrrbiddddennnnnn!!!?”
Readers of this section of backofthebook.ca will know that I’m sympathetic to 9/11 scepticism, but mostly what I’m sympathetic to is scepticism in journalism. The notion that the publisher of a major website would forbid discussion of a topic, any topic, is anathema to me. Not that this sort of thing hasn’t gone on for eons, but at least traditional print publishers could claim they only had so many column-inches available and so couldn’t accommodate every point-of-view. Moulitsas has no such excuse, which makes his behaviour all the more retrograde. (Let’s also mention his sidekick, Timothy Lange, who, as “Director of Community” — pretty fancy name for a censor — often takes care of the banning.)
Moulitsas may have learned this behaviour in the U.S. military, in which he enlisted immediately after high school. As he wrote when he first delivered his edict: “I can’t imagine what fucking world these people live in, but it sure ain’t the Reality Based Community.” (“Reality Based Community” is his handle for the site, and only about 10 times more overweening than The New York Times‘ “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”) Translated into army-ese, this would be: “SOLDIER! THAT SOUND LIKE SOME KINDA COMMUNIST FAGGOT BULLSHIT TA ME!” And his decrees haven’t been limited to 9/11. “[Hillary Clinton] doesn’t deserve ‘fairness’ on this site,” he advised his audience in March, 2008. He had various internecine Democratic party reasons for saying so, but mostly his beef was that she couldn’t win the presidential nomination. Of this are Kossian principles made.
Moulitsas’ defenders say it’s his website, so he can do what he wants with it. Sure. And William Randolph Hearst was able to use his papers to plump for war, but that didn’t make it good civic practise. There have always been sleazoid publishers who’ll pursue an agenda not just via convincing argument but also by suppressing dissent, but why Kos wants to join their ranks is beyond me. Maybe he needs to re-read his own book.
Or perhaps what he should do is institute a ban on all conspiracy theories. Here’s one now, uncovered just the other day on Daily Kos: “Something is not quite right here: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a fundraiser for Francine Busby, who previously ran for the deeply-Republican Fiftieth District and came close to winning in the 2006 special election and subsequent regular election, was raided by sheriffs after an unnamed neighbor made a noise complaint . . . . Here’s the twist: The fundraiser was hosted by a lesbian couple, and shortly before the sheriffs came a particular neighbor had shouted anti-gay slurs at the assembled crowd . . . . So San Diego cops usually respond to a noise complaint with eight patrol cars and a helicopter? Really?”
Sounds like the author might be on to something. His name? Markos Moulitsas.
“Something is not quite right here.” Said like a true Truther.