CAN'T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN
hadn't felled him, and neither would this: he picked himself
up off the floor and started Electronic Orchard, which marketed
accounting software systems for agribusiness. In 1991, Robinson
began to become interested in politics, and this naturally
melded with his computer skills: he started posting articles
and comments on the electronic bulletin boards maintained
by Prodigy, and various Usenet groups, and in particular was
active on the "Prodigy Whitewater News" board. In
spite of officious attempts by the Clintonian yuppies at Prodigy
to censor commentary, a group of conservatives began to make
contact with each other. Some of the board's habitués
began to coalesce around the idea that the Clinton administration
was rife with corruption, focusing especially on the scandals
involving large contributions to the DNC by the "Lippo
Group," controlled by Indonesia's wealthy Riady family.
A cyber-community began to form around an idea that has since
been more than confirmed that William Jefferson Clinton
is the most corrupt President in the history of these United
States (yes, even including President Ulysses S. Grant!)
THE EAST BERLIN OF CYBERSPACE
and his friends were beginning to chafe under the increasingly
severe constraints placed by Prodigy on free discussion of
the Whitewater scandal, then exploding onto the front pages
of the nation's newspapers. To begin with, Prodigy was one
of those closed-system dinosaurs, a self-contained centrally-controlled
cyber-universe modeled after the corporate entity that had
founded it: You had to subscribe, and in return you were given
a maze of politically correct "chat rooms," bulletin
boards, and other features. This was all controlled by omnipotent
cyber-enforcers, who could silence dissidents with the flick
of a button, by literally editing out speech deemed un-PC.
There was no portal to the Internet. Like the residents of
East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, the unhappy prisoners
of Prodigy were trapped in a dreary world run by bureaucrats
(albeit of the corporate variety), where conservative views
were banned as "hate speech" and the colors were
strictly earthtones. Conservatives and other dissidents, increasingly
frustrated by growing online constraints, dreamed of making
a break for freedom. Until the day the Wall came down . .
LIBERALISM AS A CLOSED SYSTEM
saw early on that these closed systems Prodigy, AOL,
and other would-be cyber-moguls who failed to understand that
the Internet was already out there would soon
be left in the dust. Like the centrally-planned and controlled
economy of the Soviet Union and its satellites, Prodigy and
its corporate brethren were doomed the future was not
in these sealed off backwaters, but in the wide-open spaces
of the Internet.
HIGH THE BANNER
was there that Robinson hoisted the banner of Free Republic
an Internet posting site that soon attracted hundreds,
then thousands, and eventually tens of thousands of individual
visitors. Not only refugees from the other side of the Prodigy
Wall, but thousands of newbies pouring into cyberspace, eager
for engagement and ready to rumble. As the Clinton scandals
began to overwhelm all other subjects so that the debate
over the Great Pants-dropper and his legacy of shame became
a national conversation and collective soul-searching
Free Republic became the catalyst of a national protest movement,
a rightist revival that soon began to attract a fair amount
of attention. This was Matt
Drudge's original audience, the ones who visited his site
before he started scooping the media, on Monica-gate
and other big stories. A cyber-community of like-minded souls
began to develop with astonishing rapidity: friendships were
formed, the result of long "threads" (conversations
on posting boards) that were more binding and more intimate,
in a way, than all too many "real world" affiliations.
As opposed to the artificial, controlled, and fully-moderated
"discussions" in the dead world of Prodigy, what
evolved on Free Republic was a natural, spontaneous, and almost
completely unmoderated (but orderly) cyber-community,
united not only by politics but by mutually-observed rules
of behavior, otherwise known as social conventions: in short,
an online subculture was being born.
MONOPOLISTS STRIKE BACK
not everyone was happy with the expansion of the Internet
into the political and journalistic realm two professions
once thought to be the sacred precincts of our self-appointed
elites. Faced with competition from Matt Drudge, unnerved
by the rapid expansion of the Internet as a news source, and
hostile to the right-wing populism that seemed to animate
these rambunctious electronic "netizens," the Media
Monopolists began to strike back.
first target was Matt Drudge, and their weapon of choice was
a lawsuit: the Sidney Blumenthal libel suit that was nothing
more than a political attack on a dissident journalist, no
different in principle from the persecution of the samizdat
publishers by the Communists in the old Soviet Union. This
battle was fought in the midst of a vicious campaign to discredit
Drudge as an "amateur" who had dared to usurp "legitimate"
media professionals: they bitterly resented that he had bypassed
the corporate media, and escaped the ideological filters imposed
by editorial gatekeepers such as themselves. And, most of
all, they envied his immense popularity, his ability
to dig out the dirt on the Clintonistas and spread it all
over his very un-corporate looking website, with its
bares-as-bones nongraphics and Courier typeface. They just
hated him for it, you could see it their faces when
sneering journalists and other TV talking heads pooh-poohed
his unfailingly accurate reports as "gossip."
THE NEXT TARGET IS . . .
not only survived, but prospered albeit not without
a lot of legal bills. His television and radio appearances
supplement his wildly successful website , and he is an example
of a modern day hero a dissident publisher of samizdat
who won his battle against the journalistic nomenklatura.
But Drudge wasn't the only target in their sights: Robinson
was next, and in very short order.
FREEPERS VERSUS THE GOP ESTABLISHMENT
Robinson's political troubles, as the central figure in a
growing cyber-community of online conservatives and libertarians,
really began when he dared to cross the Bush campaign. Robinson
and the Free Republic community were generally hostile to
George Dubya, and the whole tradition of Rockefeller Republicanism
represented by Bush senior. The Kosovo war had radicalized
the Freepers, as they called themselves. They are instinctually
anti-authoritarian, increasingly anti-internationalist, supporters
of Buchanan, Forbes, Keyes, and Bauer anybody but the
candidate of the Republican Establishment. And what's more,
there are thousands of them. As Bush senior said in a different
context: "This cannot stand." And it wasn't long
before the lawyers came gunning for Jim Robinson.
a noisy split that prefigured the Buchanan bolt months later,
the few Bushians on Free Republic left, and set up their own
The site is named after their Lider Maximo, Lucianne Goldberg,
York City literary agent who played a role in publicizing
the existence of the notorious tapes made by Linda Tripp.
The L-dotters, as they might be called, are a small group,
but they had friends in the media who were more than happy
to chronicle their complaints against their former comrades.
In another development that prefigured Buchanan's split with
the GOP, Salon
published a long article using Lucianne Goldberg and her
friends as a major source smearing Robinson and Free Republic
as anti-Semitic racist homophobes. To listen to Lucianne and
her cyber-coven, it seemed that not only Robinson but also
thousands of other cyber-heretics were guilty of every single
variety of political incorrectness imaginable. The Clintonistas
over at Salon gleefully lapped all this up, just as
they now provide a platform for every imaginable slur against
Pat Buchanan and the so-call "far right."
the cyber-organ of Clintonian soccer-momism, with its anorexic
graphics and insipidly self-righteous left-liberalism, is
really the continuous thread that runs throughout this story.
When Robinson and Free Republic were sued by the Washington
Post and the Los Angeles Times for "copyright
infringement," Salon exulted:
and several other Free Republic stars have left; visits are
reportedly down to less than half what they were a year ago;
Free Republic's founding guru, Jim Robinson, has been sued
by the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times;
and a swelling number of haters have turned up the volume
of death threats, gay-bashing, name-calling and conspiracy
course, the appearance of a smear in the snooty cyber-parlors
of Salon made Robinson and Free Republic all the more
popular among principled grassroots conservatives but
the Media Monopolists weren't through with Jim Robinson and
Free Republic just yet. The "copyright infringement"
lawsuit is a legalistic cover, and a threadbare one at that,
for outright political persecution of cyber-dissidents: its
goal is to stanch the free flow of information. It is clearly
a political attack, a move perfectly in line with this Administration's
persistent attempts to regulate and moderate the Internet.
The Clintonian hostility to free discussion on the Internet
was underscored by Matt Drudge in his famous speech to the
National Press Club:
first lady of the United States recently addressed concerns
about Internet during a cyberspatial Millennium Project press
conference just weeks after Lewinsky broke. She said, 'We're
all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet.
As exciting as these new developments are, there are a number
of serious issues without any kind of editing function or
gatekeeping function.' I
wonder who she was referring to.
"Mrs. Clinton continued, 'Any time an individual leaps
so far ahead of that balance and throws the system, whatever
it might be-political, economic, technological-out of balance,
you've got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes
which we have seen historically.'
she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas
Edison or Henry Ford or Einstein? They all leapt so far ahead
out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these people,
faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination
take over. And if technology has finally caught up with individual
liberty, why would anyone who loves freedom want to rethink
for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, they want to
control not only the dissemination but the discussion of the
news. As someone who goes by the screen-name "Ditto"
put it on Free Republic recently:
small handful of multi-billion dollar media conglomerates,
not unlike a handful of Detroit auto makers, hold monopoly
power over the news reporting and dissemination. Unlike the
auto industry, however, the insider contacts the media has
are government employees and the information they supply is
public property. The media also receive extraordinary protection
from product liability under the First Amendment that other
industries do not enjoy.
does not reproduce the Sports Page, the Classified Ads, the
Entertainment or the Cooking sections from any paper. We focus
on news relating to government affairs which is generated
by those papers with tremendous tacit subsidies of government
time and money.
of their extraordinary access denied average citizens, the
concentration of power in fewer and fewer corporate media
hands, and the very nature of the news and information they
provide, the only rational view is that it is not theirs to
keep. They are a Public Utility that demands citizen oversight."
said, Ditto. The above is a succinct and incisive description
of the plaintiff. Now let's look at the defendant a
53-year physically disabled Vietnam war veteran, out in Fresno,
California, with practically no money and no media insider
allies to take up his cause. Arrayed against him we have the
liberal upper crust of the journalistic nomenklatura,
two mighty corporate giants, who together represent both the
political and economic interests with the most to lose from
the unregulated development and expansion of the Internet.
Could there be a clearer case of the heroic individualist
versus the greedy Corporate Establishment? Not to hear Salon
In a stunningly clueless article by Mark Gimein, "'Fair
use' versus Foul Play," [November 10, 1999], it is
the poor put-upon Media Giants, and their bought-and-paid-for
scribblers, who are the real "victims" in this case.
Gimein starts out with a complete fabrication:
does tell readers the writer and source of the stories posted.
But it does not bother even with the minimal Web etiquette
of linking to the publications' Web sites. It simply reprints
the stories, with a boilerplate disclaimer that the works
are copyrighted and used under the "fair use" provisions
of copyright law."
above paragraph appeared in the first version of Gimein's
story, but was deleted after I called Gimein's editor and
emailed the author, correcting this gross inaccuracy. No correction
or acknowledgment of the error ever appeared in Salon,
of course. Now, while providing URLs does seem to be beyond
the technical ability of a very few Freepers, anyone
could have gone to the site and seen that the place is fairly
bristling with links to original sources. Gimein did
not even bother to check, or even familiarize himself with
the site before writing about it. Indeed, as he admits, he
sat down to write his piece with a preconceived idea.
so much of the self-indulgent navel-gazing tripe that appears
in the pages of Salon, this piece starts out with a
prolonged self-examination, in this case of the writing process
itself: here was a man facing a deadline who had neglected
to do even the most rudimentary research. What to do? Wing
Margaret Morrow clearly disagreed with Robinson's contention,
and no wonder. There is no "fair use" provision
in copyright law that lets you reprint entire articles, no
matter how much discussion they are intended to spur. As a
writer, I was all set to cheer the decision: The notion that
somebody could take my words and simply redistribute them
on the Web without my permission or my publishers' was not
one that I found appealing."
a minute what kind of a writer, especially a lowly
wordsmith like Gimein, with nary a bestseller to his name,
is anything but flattered by the posting of his work
as the focal point of a discussion? Give me a break! Gimein
is either the most dishonest writer who ever lived, or else
he is not really a writer at all but an accountant, or perhaps
just a corporate lackey, who doesn't really write so much
as take dictation.
REPUBLIC: A CITIZEN'S CYBER-LIBRARY
Free Republic is no more redistributing materials than a public
library or a collector of old newspapers, or an archivist
who is collecting information of any sort. No one pays to
view the files collected by the Free Republic cyber-community:
all you have to do is register. And isn't it funny, but the
Los Angeles Times seems to be realizing that charging
for this "service" is not economically viable, since
they are now offering free searches of their files
allowing everyone free access to their supposedly precious
and jealously-hoarded copyrighted materials. Some "copyright
is almost pathetic, what Gimein is trying to pull:
I sat down to write about FreeRepublic.com with the idea that
what Robinson was doing was a flagrant abuse of the power
that the Web puts in the hands of the independent publisher.
I also had the idea that I would compare what Robinson was
doing copying and illegally reprinting work that other
people had written with the work of Robert Lane, the
operator of Blue Oval News, a Web site devoted to news about
Ford cars and the Ford Motor Co. I wanted to write about Blue
Oval News because the site, unlike FreeRepublic.com, represented
what was best about independent news on the Internet."
STRANGE STANDARD OF JUSTICE
it seems, ripped off internal documents from Ford a
great idea, in Gimein's book and was successfully sued
by the company, which claimed copyright protection. This,
contends Gimein, is not good everyone knows
the evil makers of polluting un-PC cars don't deserve anything
like property rights. By Gimeinian standards of "justice,"
let us be clear, a plain thief is a moral hero, but a guy
out in Fresno in a wheelchair who dares to stand up against
the corporate and political Establishment is a villain. Now,
doesn't that sound about right to you?
RADIO AND THE INTERNET
idea that a posting site violates the copyright laws involves
a complete misunderstanding of the technology. For in posting
an article the site is not redistributing it, or reselling
it, or republishing it, or even making multiple copies of
it the most accurate analogy is that it is being read
aloud, like Rush Limbaugh sometimes likes to read entire
newspaper articles over the air, as a take-off point for his
own commentary. And this is very much the style of Free Republic,
which after all has its roots in talk radio. The two mediums
follow similar formats: a news item, followed by a cacophony
of commentary, with each caller registering his or her own
take on the topic at hand. Why is this form okay on the radio,
but prohibited on the Internet? One answer may be that the
same big corporations that own the newspapers are also heavily
invested in radio: but the Internet is virgin territory, outside
the control of the media conglomerates. Internet institutions
like Free Republic threaten to break their monopoly. Their
response is to call in the State, in the form of Judge Morrow,
in an effort to make an example of Free Republic.
JUDGE UNDERMINES THE CONSTITUTION: SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
there can be little doubt about the political motivation behind
this legal persecution: Judge Morrow has a record as one of
the most liberal of a whole platoon of Clinton appointees,
Inhofe and others pointed out on the Senate floor. (Click
here for a fascinating glimpse into the role the Los Angeles
Times played in the confirmation of Judge Morrow.)
case has to be political persecution for it
is obvious to any reasonable person that posting a news article
on Free Republic or any other posting site is no more a copyright
"infringement" than borrowing a copy of the Los
Angeles Times or the Washington Post and engaging
in a discussion about it with a friend over a cup of coffee.
If posting an article on a website is a crime, then all you
book-borrowers out there (and you know who you are)
will soon find yourselves in the slammer, where you belong.
DOCTRINE OF "TRANSFORMATION"
to Judge Morrow's rejection of the "fair use" argument
made by the defense was her argument that this did not apply,
since the posting did not "transform" the original
text and make it into something entirely new some articles,
she noted, were posted with little or no commentary. Many
items are posted that are simply not worth commenting on:
so what? But when an article inspires a long and contentious
thread or perhaps, in some cases, even a long and thoughtful
one then the original text is in truth transformed
by the commentary. It is impossible for me to read one of
my own columns posted on Free Republic without seeing the
text in a new light, and I am proud of the extent and thoughtfulness
of some of the threads my pieces have provoked, and deeply
flattered (writers are so easy to flatter!) by all the attention.
And that is what really grates on the nerves about the Gimein
article all this posing as the great defender of writer's
rights! What a crock! As if the writer and his readers could
possibly be at such cross-purposes. No, this has nothing to
do with "writer's rights," and everything to do
with the alleged "right" of our corporate elite
to control all political discussion in this country and clamp
down on the Internet.
HAVE ALL THE CIVIL LIBERTARIANS GONE? LONG TIME PASSING .
are all the civil libertarians? The ACLU seems to be missing
in action perhaps they're too busy trying to free convicted
(and self-admitted) murderer Mumia abu Jamal to notice that
the Corporate Elite/Big Government alliance is commandeering
TIME TO SPEAK OUT!
are the presidential candidates on this question? They need
to be asked, it is that important. Where is Mr. Hi-Tech
"no tax on e-commerce" Steve Forbes on this vital
question of the future of the Internet and free speech in
America? And surely if anyone takes up the cause of the ordinary
guy against the corporate barons of the mediaocracy, it will
have to be Pat Buchanan. And what about Alan Keyes
surely he is not the type to remain silent. And what about
you, Gary Bauer? Why are conservative politicians letting
a liberal judge close down such a revered institution as Free
Republic? Congress has so far ignored the protests of
conservatives who say that the IRS has been harassing WorldNetDaily.com,
which was forced to go commercial as a result: will they stand
by and let the Left make a martyr out of Jim Robinson? It's
THE LEGAL LYNCHING OF JIM ROBINSON
legal lynching must be stopped. We hear all this guff about
how "free" the Internet is supposed to be, and everybody
holds endless conferences about it and puts blue "free
speech" ribbons all over their sites well, now
is the time to put up or shut up. This is nothing but political
persecution masquerading as a civil trial: what is at stake
here is not just the fate of Free Republic, but nothing less
than the future of free and open discussion on the Internet.
Please contact Free Republic for information on how to contribute
to their legal defense and spread the word. Today it
is Jim Robinson tomorrow the corporate oligarchs will
lay claim to the exclusive right to direct traffic to their
own sites, forbidding the posting of any links without permission
or without paying a fee on the grounds that they lose
money because the advertising they cram the front pages of
their ill-constructed and graphic-heavy websites with will
never be seen by readers. The Media Monopolists are capable
of anything and the case of Jim Robinson is
the proof of it. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand,
before it's too late.
LAST MINUTE ADDITION
this column was posted on Free Republic, the poster added
his own comments, as follows:
Folks, this is important. We have to give this matter our
maximum attention. Raimondo is a champion of Free Republic,
and his advice deserves to be taken seriously. Free Republic,
WorldNet Daily and Raimondo's own Antiwar.com are the three
most important sources of information on the Internet, and
the first two are under attack by the Clintonistas. Like Raimondo
suggests, let's get Buchanan and Keyes on the case they
have the necessary moral stature."
which I replied:
for posting my piece, but your comment above gave me pause:
gee, if the first two are under attack, it won't be long before
they come for Antiwar.com! Yikes!
though, Antiwar.com is nowhere near as big and influential
as this place and WorldNetDaily, and so I doubt whether the
big boys will bother.
a different thread, someone asked: Well, what can we DO to
help Free Republic fight off this political attack. I thought
to myself: well, I know what I'M going to do. So naturally,
I wrote an article. Aside from giving money, however, I thought
about the concrete question of what action to take. I think
the most important thing is to get a sympathetic member of
Congress to initiate an investigation into the systematic
pattern of political repression undertaken by this administration.
Conservatives have a right to organize and that should
be the slogan of a campaign to intiate a congressional inquiry
into the harassment of "right-wing" groups, and
not only by the IRS (as in the case of Joe Farah's WorldNetDaily)
but by the FBI and other federal agencies under the guise
of "anti-terrorism." The same thing happened in
the 60s to left-wing groups remember COINTELPRO? The Y2K
scare has given them another pretext hardly a day goes
by without hearing of some announcement by the feds that the
"threat" of "extremists" is ever-present.
I'll tell you this if you don't fight back you'll be destroyed.
For nothing less than that is the goal of the regnant elites:
to obliterate all opposition and all hope of ever organizing
one. If you don't fight for your right to organize, then who
will? By taking this lying down, the Right (that's us, you
guys) is asking to be trashed by the State apparat.
to do? I repeat: we need to find a sympathetic member of Congress
with sufficient clout to organize a full investigation that
will put this administration on the hot seat and expose the
ugly story of official government repression of dissent on
the Right. And then we need to publicize the committee's findings,
far and wide. Don't cede the civil liberties issue to the
Left and the squishy liberals. We need to send a message to
the Clintonians and their media handmaidens: conservatives
have the right to organize and will fight to keep it.