slowly making progress

Regular readers may remember an unpleasant contretemps a while back with regards to the Little Green Footballs weblog. Well, being of the mindset that one ought not complain about something without trying to fix it, I thought I might involve myself in trying to remedy the problems I had noted, by taking Charles’ (and his supporters’) defenses at face value, and assuming they don’t operate with the intention to group all 1 billion+ muslims of the world in with the virulent minority that has spread messages of hate and violence.

So I started to observe how Charles does his work. In addition to a thorough job of scouring less-common media sources such as MEMRI, Charles maintains a list of regular Google News Searches, on phrases like “Yasser Arafat” and “Palestine”, which draw results from most mainstream news sources, like the common news wires. Another common source for readers like me to see such wire stories is the Yahoo Most Popular page, where wire stories are filtered and ranked by popularity. It’s a good bet that anything that makes the Yahoo Top 10 is of interest to a broad number of people, given the sheer number of readers who frequent the site. I thought it might act as a useful control on the relative "importance" of a story to people who have an interest in a given subject.

I found a relevant story a few weeks ago where Mahmoud Abbas criticized violence by Palestinians. A striking statement, coming from Arafat’s second in command, since it was effectively a condemnation of Arafat’s policies. The article I linked to was on Yahoo’s Top 10 at the time, and also showed up in 2 of Charles’ pre-built searches. Yet, after a day, this story relating a Palesitinian leader’s opinion on violence still hadn’t shown up on Little Green Footballs, despite its focus on the threat of violence by muslim extremists. So I submitted the link and headline through the form on the site, and received an aknowledgement of the message. As of today, about 3 weeks later, it still hasn’t passed muster for inclusion on the site.

That could easily have been an editorial judgement call, so I tried again. This story on Palestinians rethinking violent uprising had percolated to the Top 10. I submitted the story to the form, along with the headline, “Jibril Rajoub comes out against violence”. I figured that had to be newsworthy, as LGF readers had posted their thoughts on Rajoub multiple times in the past. This was clearly a man of interest to LGF readers, talking about a topic that’s the very core of what the site is about now. Still, Charles didn’t think that fit the bill.

It’s possible that it’s just coincidence. Maybe some part of these stories wasn’t relevant to the subject of the threat of violence from muslim extremists. But I have to admit that it seems as if Charles may be more than a little selective in his choice of which relevant stories he prints, and it’s not based on the reliability of the sources, but rather on the message of the articles. Of course, anyone with a private site can be as selective as they want. That selectivity, though, comes at the cost of credibility when relevant information is deliberately omitted. Claims of bias aside, this hit-or-miss style of selectively reporting information doesn’t do justice to this important subject, and when viewed in a context where Charles precedes his discussions of the threat of terrorism with descriptions of his company’s upcoming products, it begins to seem downright irresponsible.

Criticisms aside, Little Green Footballs has inarguably been improving. Despite protests that commenters are completely independent of the site, and that they’re all individuals with opinions, not a "community", they’ve been doing a good job of organizing social outings that almost suggest that there’s a common mentality that binds them together. My entreaties for a chance to show up and talk to some folks in person were ignored.

Also, despite the fact that discussions of technology and lighter matters were so vehemently insulted by his own audience, Charles bravely returned to these topics, posting things like an in-depth reviews of OS software. What’s more, he tolerated questioning of his own site, when a reader said, "Are we morphing into a homophobic site?" Last time someone asked a question about LGF’s commenters’ words, Charles labelled it a smear campaign, falsely blamed it on me, and called upon the hundreds of readers upon whom he has no control to follow his instructions on silencing the questioners. I think that’s showing a lot of progress.

In a larger sense, there’s progress, too. President Bush recently reiterated the important distinction between the millions of peaceful muslims of the world and the violent extremists with which they are too often grouped. On a smaller scale, increasing numbers of webloggers, of all political stripes, are starting to make important distinctions between useful and important criticisms of extremism and biased, selectively-edited catalogs of grievances against an undifferentiated enemy.

We’ve come to realize, or at least to hold onto the recent pretense, that weblogs are truly impacting the real world. As a person who’s worked for years to build the tools and communities that make personal publishing possible, I’ve always hoped that such results were what this medium is capable of. What I’d like to ensure is that the actions that come of the words on our weblogs are a promise, not a threat.

Update: Charles sends in a correction:

Your latest attempt to smear LGF is just as inept as all your others, and it won’t get you a link. Please see:


Charles Johnson
LGF web design

Well, what he lacks in tact he makes up for, in this case, with accuracy. Thanks for the info.