The Evolution of Blogging: An Interview with Charles Johnson

CJFew 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.

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43 thoughts on “The Evolution of Blogging: An Interview with Charles Johnson

  1. E.D.:

    My theory on LGF–and I have to admit, it’s self-analysis,too–is that he was never really a conservative at all. His original understanding was that the War that began on 9/11 was ultimately a LIBERAL war, i.e., a defense of those Enlightenment values he mentions above.

    However, because the radical and/or pacifist and/or multi-cultural left was opposed to that war for their own reasons, Johnson found himself in a strange-bedfellows coalition with illiberal anti-Enlightenment conservatives (I’m including GWB himself in that category).

    At some point–I guess me earlier than CJ earlier than Tom Friedman and Christopher Hitchens apparently never–he must have figured out that the post-9/11 War(s) weren’t in defense of liberal values at all, or, at least, the War wasn’t being prosecuted as if it was.

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    • Yeah, one of the things that brought a lot of folks together was the whole “enemy of my enemy of my enemy of my enemy of my enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing that lasted a surprisingly long while.

      “I’m not liberal/conservative, I’m anti-idiotarian.” Remember that? Good times.

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              • I caucused for Gephardt (or, close enough, I called people I knew who lived in Iowa and tried to get them to caucus for him) because he struck me as someone who would be good for the country, could carry the Midwest, would handle the War on Terror like an adult, and would get Bush out of the White House.

                Well, he came in 4th.

                It’s a pity that Badnarik didn’t win.

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                • JB:
                  [Gephardt] would handle the War on Terror like an adult

                  How did you see an adult (over the 9/2001 to late 2003 time period) handling the WoT?

                  Did Gephardt’s being the lead D sponsor (with Hastert for the Rs) of H.J.RES.114 (AUMF Iraq) increase, decrease, or not affect your estimation of his adulthood regarding the WoT?

                  I assume you were in favor of the invasion, but opposed to poorly delivered rhetoric lifted from bad Westerns and idiotic stunts like the carrier landing?

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                  • Sorry, didn’t see this until now.

                    I saw (and see) an adult handling of the War on Terror thusly:

                    1) Objectives Defined
                    2) Objectives Achieved/Abandoned
                    3) Pull The Aitch-Eee-Double-Hockey-Sticks Out Of There

                    I had thought that if we had pulled out of Iraq on the day of the “Mission Accomplished” stunt, we’d have done what we set out to do.

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    • but to attack your defense of him, the anti-war libs were against the Iraq war because it had nothing to do with fighting AG, was likely to be a clusterfuck, and Iraq was not a danger to us. Now of course in retrospect all those ideas have proven to be completely wrong……and by wrong i mean absolutely correct. but LGF was one of those places where saying “gee maybe invading iraq isn’t the bee’s knees” led one to be called a traitor, etc.

      There was overwhelming agreement about fighting AQ.

      Johnson seemed to be one of those caught up in war fever and flushed his brains down the toilet. much like andrew sullivan he at least had enough sense to wake up.

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      • greg:

        ….one of those caught up in war fever and flushed his brains down the toilet.

        Welllllll … me too.

        In my defense in response to your attack of my defense of CJ–perhaps because I had too many real friends in the anti-war Left–I never saw the point of the “you’re a traitor” position. Just letting them dissent and assuming good faith was always the correct way to deal with it, even for the most pro-War folks.

        Like ANSWER was ever going to impact policy anyway?

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      • And have you noticed, with the drawdown in Iraq, the RIFs are all flocking back to Afghanistan, which is an even worse place to conduct combat operations?

        We weren’t attacked by North Africa on 12-7, but few people would argue now that it was the wrong strategy.

        First hint for strategy: If your opponent wants to fight you in impenetrable mountains using tactics of his choice, you should probably try to relocate the fight somewhere else.

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  2. Charles Johnson is a hateful, spiteful little man who uses his ‘custom-designed software’ to form and shape his hand-picked commentariat to echo his own thoughts. It’s a classic methodology to assauge his desire for positive feedback. He’s selected Robert Stacy McCain as his target du jour, and in fairness, Ordinary Gentlemen, you should give RSM an interview as well.

    RSM is a better writer and blogger than Charles Johnson (who would have you believe his numerically superior ‘following’ warrants him more attention than his intellect deserves).

    Anxiously awaiting your interview with Robert Stacy McCain.

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      • Certainly, ifxgillis, you are entitled to your opinions. But you are not an ‘Ordinary Gentleman’, so perhaps one of the blog authors would have more of a sense of fairness towards Mr. McCain, and do an interview.

        Since they’ve allowed one of the worst serial slanderers on the internets to defame him on their dime and all.

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  3. I’d love to see an interview with RSM — ask him point blank if he finds interracial relationships nauseating, or respects those who do. And keep asking that until he gives a clear unambiguous answer.

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  4. CJ’s a charlatan. His political 180 should have alerted the boneheads who, for some inexplicable reason, post on that site.
    Just wait, as soon as the horror of the Fort Hood shootings have subsided, he’ll be back to smearing Christians and posting about the dangers of “right-wing’ extremists.

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  5. “There was overwhelming agreement about fighting AQ.”

    er, not amongst progressives. the coalition of progressive “antiwar” groups which were so popular after 2-15-2003 were formed on 9-12-2001 and had their first “national action against war and racism” seven days later. the radical narrative about the war in afghanistan was already being gaining momentum in the mainstream by the time troops were committed to war three months later (including the ludicrous “rush to war” meme, but also the uncal gas pipeline conspiracy theory included in michael moore’s f911, fretfull doomsaying about inevitable defeat in the “graveyard of empires”, and crass libel narratives about u.s. troops suffocating taliban suspects in oil barrells. )

    the fact of the matter is that if we had never gone to war against saddam’s iraq, progressives would have been marching in the streets to protest the invasion of afghanistan as a “war for oil based on lies”. if we had taken george clooney’s advice and gone to war to end the genocide in darfur, progressives would dismiss the genocide as another “spreading freedumb” smokescreen to conceal a “racist war for oil based on lies”.

    with one caveat: if al gore was sitting in office the day of 9/11/2001, then every argument which brought us to war with saddam’s iraq (and there’s no question that gore would have made these arguments as he had just months prior to 9/11) would have sounded reasonable and just to most progressives. there would be no nightly counting of the dead of “gore’s war” though he surely would have placed the u.s military in iraq.

    “Like ANSWER was ever going to impact policy anyway?”

    well, let’s see.

    the major player in ANSWER, saddam hussein’s attorney, ramsey clark, was president johnson’s attorney general.

    our current president, known for his oratorical spellbinding was an unknown until his first national coverage – coverage of his speech at the 3-18-2004 ANSWER rally in chicago.

    i don’t think “moderates” can disaggregate themselves so neatly.

    as for charles: charles is right about a lot of things; rs mccain, for instance. the trouble is that he is also wrong about a whole mess of other things. the idea that he’s remained heroically consistent to his epistemic schema and moral compass is a self serving narrative. it’s also just not true. he does operate with a huge bias, and that bias has shifted from right to left. dramatically so. much of what he now decries as “bad craziness” is comprised of stuff he was blogging himself right before the election.

    and indeed this radical pivot happened on practically the day of the election: one day he was posting about antisemites on obama’s campaign website, obama’s pallin’ around with ayers and rev. wright, and – yes – obama’s birth certificate, and the next day he was banning users from his site and making war with other sites over these same issues. conservatives left him when he bent over backwards to rationalize van jones’ trutherism as innocent “just asking questions” behavior.

    and that’s the answer to your question: charles’ political affiliation is not and has never been “conservative” or “progressive”. it’s never been “anti-idiotarian” either, if that term is to have any meaning other than to refer to anyone charles thinks is an idiot from any discrete moment to the next.

    charles is pro-president. like the effect i noted with progressives and the war on terror, only pivoting around the executive personality rather than the policy. if john kerry had won in 2004, we would have seen the same pivot then. in other words, charles johnson is the sort of “authoritarian personality” kevin phillips warned us about.

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  6. It’s much easier than that: Charles Johnson is in desperate need of the money (your claim that his 180 started around election time is incorrect – it started when the economy turned from gloom to doom, and his investments crumbled) to be siphoned from various “consulting” positions opened up by friends & family in the Hillary (not Obama) camp. With the prospect of 8+ years of Democrat rule in Washington he hoped to strike a deal and pay off his debt.

    Alas, the job didn’t materialize yet, and that’s the simple explanation for his frantic desire to punish, and to push it even more. CJ is as desperate as an almost 60 year old broke man can get.

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    • Really? And you know this how?
      That is one of the most unsubstantiated posts I’ve seen in a long time.
      What he do, lose some of your money? Sleep with your partner?
      I understand progressives wariness of his change in direction (if that’s even accurate), but the vitriol he generates from the right is pretty stunning, and kind of funny, in a sad way.
      I visited LGF a while ago and was turned off, then wandered over there again just before the exodus of long timers and as the “flouncing” (long winded diatribes outraged over how the place changed and sold out or whatever).
      Now LGF is one of the few right leaning places where people actually discuss different points of view.
      Maybe the unreasoning and unreasonable antipathy to Obama made it stark, but it’s now a site that tolerates diversity of opinion, and that’s a good thing, right?

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  7. LGF has turned into a politically correct blog that has no value anymore. They make fun of Michael Savage whose intelligence and savvy hovers above the little wanna-be Charles Johnson. Nobody cares about the double entendre bow to the lizard mastah minions at LGF. And who cares about your opinions anyway Mr. Johnson. Not anymore.

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  8. Johnson is and always has been a phony conservative. He lucked into 9/11 and used it to promote his blog, then with Obama’s election thought he detected a shift in the political winds and opportunistically tried to take advantage of it, systematically denouncing all his previous “allies”. And this interview is a phony interview. It is a blatant promotional piece which assumes Johnson’s views as the “correct” views, as evidenced by this question: “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?”

    Give us a break.

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  9. I’ve been a fan of CJ and LGF for a long time, and I think it was clear from the beginning that he was not a “mainstream conservative” or a Republican, but rather someone very focused on the single issue of fighting radical Islam. You can see this in his pre-9/11 archives. He’s been remarkably consistent and unwavering in his criticism of the backwardness of social conservatism. It puts him in an odd spot because the vast majority of people see politics as a team sport. “Oh, he’s not on their team? Okay, then I’ll root for him. Wait, he’s not on my team either?” This whole notion of political betrayal is nonsense; CJ is who he is and he often has interesting and insightful commentary. If that’s not reason enough to read him, then what is?

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  10. The problem with Charles is the same problem with the Republican Party. Sometimes they’re right. But they’re too obsessed with purging their ranks of undesirables. See how LGF treated McCain. See how the GOP treated Ron Paul.

    Since CJ determined that McCain is a racist, a denunciation was stickied on the front page of LGF. I don’t know about the validity of the claim. Frankly, I don’t care enough to investigate. The only time I’ve ever heard of him was through LGF. Besides, we’ve all said stupid things about race. Any discussion of it brings up topics not mentioned in polite company: physical appearance, wealth, social status & religion. Race is a difficult concept. I tend to cut people (regardless of race) a lot of slack on this matter.

    When people called Paul a crypto-anti-Semite, it was worthwhile to investigate the claims. Ron Paul was running for President. So he’s held to a higher standard than McCain. The GOP should have openly discussed those concerns in the Presidential debates. It would have been revealed that the claims were nonsense. Instead they tried to keep him off the stage.

    During the 90’s, the Republican movement proudly boasted of defying PC campus speech codes. Today, that dedication to robust debate is gone. Which brings me back to CJ. He is one who wanted to keep Ron Paul off the stage. And he attempted it with the same stupid tactics he’s using against McCain: guilt by association. It doesn’t work anymore.

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