A View From Outside the Gates – Published on Dissident Voice, by John Halle, January 7, 2011.
… Counterpoised to these brute force tactics, a more traditional and effective means of information management is to prevent positions judged unacceptable from finding their way into print in the first place. In its internet variant, this takes the form of editorial decisions with respect to the content of front page postings at the major left websites. Central among these was the topic of the open letter; namely, the maintenance of “critical support” with respect to the Obama campaign and subsequent administration. Those who viewed the Obama phenomenon with grave suspicion both for its stated policies and for its likely effect in undermining opposition movements, almost never found their positions represented on the front pages of any but the most marginal internet outlets, and, for that matter, in left print publications.
It is true that the far left spectrum of the internet represented by Counterpunch allowed challenges to this conventional wisdom. But even here, leftists such as Norman Solomon, David Michael Green and others could be found making the case for “critical support” and in some cases expressing unbridled enthusiasm at the prospect of the nation’s first African American president. In the months after the election, as predictions of even Obama’s most unenthusiastic supporters collided with the hard right reality of the Obama administration, pieces stating the obvious fact of the matter — that virtually the entirety of the mainstream left and much of the so called “radical left” — got it wrong remained hard to place. Again, speaking from my own experience, what I regard as one of my better pieces “Who Got it Right” was consigned to the far fringes of the web, having been rejected for publication from the all of the major left sites I sent it to.
It is obvious that no single rejection by itself, or, for that matter, a boxful of them, constitutes censorship. As stated earlier, articles can, and should, be rejected based the quality of the expression, factual accuracy, logical consistency and relevance among other factors. Proving censorship requires demonstrating that a piece meeting normal standards for publication was rejected purely on the grounds of its content having been considered as outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, which meant in this specific case challenging what had become a widespread left conventional wisdom with respect to the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign.
Circulating the open letter was a useful exercise in that it demonstrated conclusively through some of the responses it received that the leading left wing sites engaged in censorship in the service of this agenda. That there is a paper trail attesting to this was due to a unique circumstance. Had the letter been merely an over the transom submission by a relative unknown such as myself it would have been summarily rejected without any acknowledgment of its existence. As it was, however, the letter was signed by a rather large cross section of leading left intellectuals and activists forcing some of those sites which ignored it to to reveal their grounds for doing so. Or, insofar as they lacked such grounds, they were required to invent them.
The latter was the case for Znet which found its proprietor Michael Albert accusing the authors of “deliberately misleading” himself and other potential signatories, “fooling” them into believing that those receiving the letter (and criticized by it) were, in fact, endorsing it. Albert would evidently use this canard as a justification for removing the open letter from the site after having ran it on the site for a less than a day, replacing it with a rebuttal by Bill Fletcher which was front paged for a full three days. The original piece was subsequently purged from the Znet website — a google search bringing up a link to a blank document.
While Counterpunch ran the open letter, that it did so grudgingly was revealed in a note rejecting a follow up piece from editor Alexander Cockburn who described the “bleats out to progressive leaders” as “uninteresting.”
A more peculiar response came from the somewhat marginal website Portside which, while failing to run the letter, published both Fletcher’s rebuttal and a subsequent one by Meredith Tax which had initially appeared in the Guardian.
Perhaps the most revealing reaction came from Truthout which, to its credit, ran the original letter, though it appears that they did so, like Znet, having mistakenly assumed that the recipients of the letter were supporting the letter. Suspicions along these lines were reinforced by their also having rejected a follow-up piece on the grounds that a ”sense of fairness has compelled us to allow (only) a single articulate response to such letters. . . (and) not to publish any further rebuttals.”
The rejection contained the suggestion that the submission could be ”rewritten as an op-ed without reference to the open letter and its response” (my italics) and that this would be considered for publication. While on the one hand gracious, it would be hard to find a more transparent example of censorship directed at the issues raised in the open letter. They also, it should be noted, rejected the submission which they had previously indicated they would consider publishing … (full long text).