Photo Courtesy of Charles Johnson
When Charles Johnson, a jazz musician and software developer, first started blogging at Little Green Footballs, he wrote mostly about web design, programming, and quirky stories he saw online. That all changed on 9/11. After the world trade center attacks, he began immediately blogging about politics. He was hawkish on the wars, strongly pro-Israel, and deeply critical of the media. His site won acclaim in 2004 after it played a key role in exposing "Rathergate."
Like most political bloggers living in Los Angeles, far from the partisan rules of Washington, Johnson is an iconoclast. He has, of late, devoted more and more time to criticizing the right wing fringe.
On Monday November 30th, Johnson wrote a post, Why I Parted Ways With The Right, listing ten reasons for his change of heart, taking specific aim at Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, James Inhofe, Michele Bachmann, the Christian Right, the tea parties, the birthers, and so on:
"The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.
I won't be going over the cliff with them."
The post received more than 1,400 comments, and was re-tweeted over 9,000 times. I interviewed Johnson over the phone on Thursday, and asked him about the controversial post.
How long had you been thinking about writing it?
Actually, it had sort of been brewing in my subconscious for a long, long time. At least the past two years. But I really didn't intend to it really just all came out in about three minutes.
You just wrote it in three minutes and hit post? You didn't deliberate?
That's about it. I wasn't expecting all this furor, because what I said was basically just an encapsulation of pretty much everything I've been writing for the past year. Something just triggered it off, I don't know what it was. I guess it was just time.
Your views have evolved over the last couple years. Is that safe to say?
Well, to be honest, the main issues that I have with the right wing these days are things that I've always felt. I've been telling people for a long time, if they wanted to listen, that I was a social liberal. I actually fought against being classified as a right-wing blog for a long time.
But your views on Global Warming have changed, right?
Well yeah, that definitely has changed. No question about it.
Was there a moment where you started to change your mind?
Yeah. There was a documentary that came out of the UK called The Great Global Warming Swindle. When that was released I looked at it and I thought, 'Wow, this really is a hoax. All these evil scientists are lying to us.' Within about six months or so, I started to read articles that were debunking the movie. And I realized that a lot of the information that was in that movie was not only false, but deliberately misleading. I understood that this was gonna be a huge issue. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject. Scientific journals, books. And the evidence just piled up and piled up, until I could no longer be a denier.
What about the jihadist debate? I feel like you've softened on that as well.
Well, I kind of have. What started the break for me was when I realized a lot of the right wing bloggers, the so-called anti-jihad bloggers, were making alliances with groups, in Europe, that I consider to have fascist roots. And I didn't want to be part of that.
It's pretty rare today for a blogger or pundit to come out and say, I've changed my mind about something.
It sure is.
Why is that?
Human beings have a strong resistance to change. For most people, it's a lot more attractive to just stay where you are, as long as it's comfortable. But I've always been a contrarian that way. I like to shake my beliefs up every few years. I wish that more bloggers would start to think critically about what they're writing. Blogging was originally an alternative to mainstream media, but now it's kind of been dominated, especially on the right, by people who are emotionally driven, and not very rational about a lot of things.
Do you still own a piece of Pajamas Media, which you founded with Roger Simon in 2005?
No I don't.
Did you get bought out?
What was the reason?
It was actually a mutual decision, because I wanted to spend more time on Little Green Footballs. And also I saw PJ media going in a direction that I didn't really agree with anymore.
What direction is that?
Look what it's become. It's pretty much World Net Daily
lite. The vision that we had when we started it was that we were gonna bring both left wing and right wing bloggers on board. And I think that that's pretty much been left by the wayside.
I haven't spoken to Glenn is quite a long time. I don't know how he feels, but I'm kind of disappointed in the direction he's taken lately. He's been posting a lot of articles about revolution. He's basically promoting the tea parties. All kinds of stuff that I just can't be on board with.
I know you voted for John McCain, and after the election, I think either your first or second post you noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was pleased.
Well that was true.
There's not a part of you that cringes when you hear that post?â€¨
No, I think it's important for people to know these things. Because it's true that the Muslim Brotherhood was pleased when Obama was elected. But I don't think they're quite as pleased now. He's pretty much kept a lot of the foreign policies of the Bush administration intact.
How do you think Obama's doing so far?
I've actually changed my mind quite a bit about Barack Obama. You know how things are during an election, everybody gets hyper-partisan, and I guess I was guilty of that as much as anyone. But I've seen him be a lot more centrist than I ever expected during the election, based on his background, and the people that he got his political start with, you know, Bill Ayeres, Reverend Wright. If I had to go back, knowing what I do now, I probably would have voted for him.
Also, I've become extremely negative toward Sarah Palin.
Didn't you feel that way in the beginning?
I was skeptical of her, but I was ready to defend her, because it was hyper-partisan time.
What's going on with the Republican Party? Is it about to split into two?
I don't pretend to be some genius political analyst. But I do think the Republican Party is on the ropes big time. It's been dominated by zealots. And the religious right has far too much influence. Who knows what's gonna happen, but I think that if it continues down the course it's going we're gonna see Democrats in power for the next 20 years.
Why is there such a difference between the two parties' relationship to their fringes?
For one thing, look at the leaders of the Republican party, they all seem to be 60-plus years old. And the country itself is getting younger. And attitudes are changing. Attitudes toward homosexuality, science, the whole bit. And a lot of these people who run the Republican Party are reactionaries of the first order. They can see themselves losing power, so what they're doing is going further to the right, in an attempt to appeal to the dwindling base.
Does Little Green Footballs make money?
From advertising, yes.
And from donations?
And you make enough money on the site to get by?
Yes. Our traffic has remained high despite the fact that I've told the right wing to take a flying jump.
Despite? I'm sure because of.
Well partly because of, yeah. I think for all the people I've lost, I've also managed to attract people from the other side, or from the middle, who missed having people that are rational. We're still in the neighborhood of over a million page views a month.
Well they have you down on Wikipedia as center-left.
Oh, that's good. You know they had a big argument
about that on Wikipedia.
As of last night you were center-left, I don't know what you are now.
I think it goes back and forth, depending on who's editing it.
That's right where you want to be, right?
Absolutely, I don't like being easy to classify. I don't like being put in a box.
Note: Little Green Football's "political affiliation" on Wikipedia has since been changed to "Independent."