Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Out-foxed: DU, the NYT, and Fox News.

There were "conspiracy theories" featured in reports in the New York Times and on Fox News today. These were in regard to theories that the U.S. military was responsible for the earthquake that caused the tsunami that destroyed so much of southeast Asia. According to this theory, the military exploded nuclear weapons in the ocean, thus setting off a chain reaction.

This theory has been reported in recent days as making the rounds with militant Islamists in the Middle east. Today's articles tied it to the Democratic Underground, a left-wing discussion forum found on the internet. Many on the DU are concerned, and for good reason. This seems like an attempt not only to discredit the site by exposing some rather paranoid and delusional thinking. But more, it kind of identifies DU as not unlike the Nation of Islam of the 1960s: extremists that give comfort to the enemies of our country. And that's a shame, because the membership of DU is actually composed of primarily patriotic Americans who are very concerned with the political, social, and economic problems this nation faces.

In fact, there have been a series of DU threads that have discussed the diseased theory that the US military purposely caused the tsunami. Most DUers that responded on these threads strongly rejected this "theory." But it was still used, on the same day, by two of the major main-stream media to discredit DU.

"Skinner," the person who owns/runs DU, has responded with a thread that details his writing a letter to the editor of the NY Times; his decision to ignore Fox News; and his decision to delete any future threads that propose any connection between WMDs and earth quakes.

On one hand, this seems boldly undemocratic: not only should people be encouraged to write to the Times and Fox, because in theory the forum is not supposed to be limited to what Skinner deems correct, but it also precludes the discussion of traditional Native American and "New Age" beliefs about the earth being alive, and reacting as a living organism to things such as pollution and the explosive destruction of its surface. In traditional thought, human beings certainly do not "control" earthquakes; yet human behavior may indeed be part of the cause of environmental shifts, including global warming. Yet that topic is no longer allowed on DU. I view this as a victory for those who seek to discredit DU.

The "how" to disrupt is easy enough to understand. DU is a relatively open forum, with members across the United States and in Canada. For several years since the 2000 election, it grew in popularity with the "democratic left." While it does not tend to attract conservative democrats, DU served as a meeting place for the elder hippies from the 1960s and early '70s; for a wide range of well-educated young adults who came of age between 1976 and 1996; and to the young and often angry "younger generation."

These are the people who tend to recognize that George W. Bush was not elected president in 2000. Rather, he was installed by conservative right-wing republicans. Many DUers in 2004 went to see Michael Moore's movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," and were active in the presidential campaign. And so they attracted the attention of conservative right-wing republicans.

Many DUers believe that the United States played some role in 9-11. The two most popular theories are LIHOP (let it happen on purpose) and MIHOP (made it happen on purpose). Of course, a number of DUers, like myself, do not subscribe to either of these theories. But that is far less important to republicans than the fact that others do believe what main-stream America would rapidly identify as a paranoid conspiracy theory.

During the election campaign, some main-stream democrats attempted to tap the potential of DUers to become a grass-roots political force. Indeed, DU had a window of opportunity to serve much in the manner that the Howard Dean supporters had. And many did just that, although their activities were largely outside of DU. Yet the democrats were not the only ones who saw this potential to activate and to organize the democratic left.

Just before the election, for example, a republican disrupter attempted to get DUers to "make the news" with reports of a nuclear attack being planned on an American city. The same DU administrators who today feel that a theory that US bombs in the ocean is so foolish it must be deleted, did not feel the same about the theory that Dick Cheney had planned a nuclear attack on an American city. I trust the reader will recognize that if the NY Times or Fox News reported on the numerous long threads describing this pre-election attack, it would discredit DU much in the manner of the current foolishness.

It is interesting to note that just after the election, both Chris Heinz and Elizabeth Edwards posted a number of interesting comments on threads on DU. And around then, TIME mentioned DU as a source of democratic opinions in a nice article.

Yet, as the energy from the election was leaving DU, and many of the more experienced and insightful members faded away, its membership grew. As this happened, DU became somewhat more bureaucratic, creating "groups" for certain subjects that the administrator was in favor of, and discouraging others. The combination of factors created fertile ground for those who wanted to disrupt and discredit DU.

In fact, the true target likely is not DU. Rather, it is to discredit those, such as Edwards and Heinz, who were somehow associated with it. Perhaps no one more so than Will Pitt, the most creative voice on the forum. Pitt is a gifted author with the ability to reach -- and actually convince -- a group that goes far beyond the democratic left. And it goes beyond that. "Oh, you question the election results in Ohio? But aren't you one of those nuts who says the army caused the tsunami?"

The sad thing is that those few republicans who attempted to pull this off were easily able to. This wasn't the work of any high-level operatives; it was more likely a bunch of "young republicans" with a little insight into history. They likely remember that it was easy to infiltrate and disrupt that old Nation of Islam in the 1960s. The leadership was too busy counting the contributions from the new members to recognize what was happening.


At January 5, 2005 at 11:34 PM, Blogger Me. said...

It is becoming worrying about DU. There seems to be a lot more censorship and threads being locked. And I still don't understand why MB didn't get his group. For God's sake there is practically a group for everything but "conspiracies". And let's not forget that all "conspiracies" are not necessarily bunk. I refer to Northwood here. Du was great for the election, and I loved the way it was organized for polls etc. I also like how you can get news first there, before anywhere else, so I hope they don't let freep infiltraters and freep mods shut the place down by discrediting it as a looney bin. As you say, most people on there are very patriotic, smart, savy and have excellent bs detectors.

At January 6, 2005 at 9:14 PM, Blogger Patrick O'Waterman said...

Yet nothing can stay exactly the same as it once was. DU was bound to grow after the 2004 election. The only question is will it grow more or less relevant? Will it progress or will it become a more rigid, oppressive "discussion forum"? A thread was locked earlier today; the moderator justified this move by saying the thread might -- in the future -- not amount to much of a discussion.


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