[Welcome, FDL members! --lambert]
I wish to relate a story. It may not be an important story but it is one I wish to tell and have out on the net. I was a long time commenter and sometime poster at Firedoglake. On September 11, 2010, the anniversary of 9/11, the site had a book salon with Bruce Fein on his new book on the rise and fall of the American empire. Glenn Greenwald, who touts his career as a First Amendment litigator, hosted and praised Fein as an "ethical conservative". I have to say I have always thought that such appellations like "compassionate conservative", "ethical conservative", and "thoughtful conservative" were largely oxymorons. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem working with conservatives or Libertarians for that matter on specific issues, but I never delude myself into thinking that because they, for their own reasons, happen to agree with some progressive positions, they aren't batshit crazy most of the time.
I knew very little about Fein. From what I have seen and heard of him, he seems like the mildly critical voice of a thoroughly corrupt Establishment. I did bother to read his wiki though before the salon. What struck me was a section which discussed his status as a denier of the Armenian genocide, what has often been described as the first of the 20th century's, the great century for genocides, many genocides. You might wonder, as I did, how genocide denial is consistent with ethical conservatism? Or what credibility someone has writing on the decline of a current empire when they so hopelessly missed one of the salient events of the fall of an empire of the not so distant past?
So I asked Fein and my comment was censored. I was told it was "off-topic". It was inconvenient. It was uncomfortable. It was embarrassing, but it was not off topic. I went to the Seminal, the part of the Firedoglake site where commenters can post diaries on subjects of interest to them. I raised the point I made about Fein and also the issue of censorship. That post too was censored.
Think about that. It's really rich from so many perspectives. It has always been something of a myth that the left blogosphere was the transparent, fact-based side. There have been, in fact, two left blogospheres running for years in parallel with each other. You might consider them the front porch which faces the street and a back porch which is private and for members only. The front porch is what most of us see when we go to the various big name liberal blogs. Many of us probably don't even know there is a back porch. Even among those who do, it's importance is minimized. It is just bloggers talking to each other on the side, much like you or I might do having a side conversation on a topic. There is a significant difference, however. When you and I talk to each other privately we aren't setting agendas and creating policies. Obama's accession to the Presidency fragmented this system but did not end it. The pieces go on. If the left blogosphere were anywhere near as transparent as it would like to think, at a minimum, it would admit to the back porch, and the nature and results of its back channel deliberations would be reported in a timely fashion. Not going to hold my breath on that.
At the same time, an argument based on facts may not get you anywhere fast. The great recent example of this was the healthcare debate where single payer advocates faced heavy seas and storms of criticism. We were not just shut out by what Jane Hamsher so aptly called the liberal veal pen but faced fairly uniform opposition from the main posters at sites like Jane Hamsher's Firedoglake as well. Just as it never helped the left blogosphere vis-à-vis conservatives, it did not help us at all with this segment of progressives that events proved us right. Indeed Jane's belated opposition to Obamacare was declared a great victory for progressive thinking.
Censorship fits into this because it is part and parcel of this system of opaqueness. It is insidious, not just because it is arbitrary and prevents discussion. It is hidden. You don't know what's been censored or why because it has been censored. How can you even know censorship is a problem if any discussion of it is itself censored? This was the position I was in at Firedoglake, a progressive blog. I found it to be intolerable so I decided to leave. I wrote a farewell post again at the Seminal to let some of the people I had got to know there that I was leaving. I had a terrible time even getting the post up. There was a barrage of various error messages, but at last I succeeded. In the post, I had expressed some fear that it too would be censored. I was correct. There was just time for one person to comment before it too was pulled.
As I said, the ironies abound. I, a serious and long time commenter, got censored three times in one day at a progressive blog which has no censorship problem because it not only practices censorship but censors discussion of its censorship, and this began immediately under the nose of one of the progressive left's major free speech defenders. If there is a lesson in this, I would say that the left needs to stop trying to be a player, making dubious alliances, and engaging in even more dubious practices. It needs to get back to its core values. Without them, we are just another player on the make, and as history has taught us there are so many others and they are so very much better at it.