It is now nearly a week since we launched our new website, DiscoverThe Network: A Guide to the Political Left. This is the first web attempt to define the left and to map its networks of funders, organizations and individuals along with their agendas (both overt and covert). We are gratified by the initial comments we have received in some quarters for this effort in the taxonomy of political movements. We wish to stress that it is still a work in progress, and that we expect to make it better and better.
As we expected, the left has not taken the news presented on our site well. A pro-Islamic jihad writer for Alex Cockburn’s CounterPunch regards it naturally as “David Horowitz’s Smear Portal” and objects to our linking noble champions of social justice like himself with the “resisters” in the Sunni triangle he supports. But other, less politically deranged exponents of the leftist persuasion have also weighed in with objections to these inclusions. This article is by way of answering their complaints.
In the first place it should be pointed out that even though DiscoverTheNetwork consists of thousands of files, and is the product of years of work and decades of experience, these critics have launched their attacks within hours of its appearance on the web and before any serious person could have digested a fraction of its contents. It is difficult not to regard such attacks as politically motivated attempts to stigmatize, tarnish and yes, smear, the new website, and thus bury the enterprise in a way that would preclude having to deal with the information it displays.
Thus, instead of parsing and analyzing the actual contents of the site – the detailed profiles of individuals and organizations and their links to networks defined in the site -- these critics have seized on a quirk in the format, an entirely innocent feature of the site, as an opening for their attacks. This is the “Individuals” search page, which functions as a table of contents for one section of the site. Actually it is even less than that. What they have attacked is a picture grid on the Individuals search page which was intended as a kind of visual enticement to enter the actual profiles of the site. Thus if one were to click on the picture of Barbra Streisand or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Michael Moore on this page one would be immediately directed to their individual profile pages.
The mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals. On the other hand, Michael Moore has called the “resisters” in Fallujah “patriots” and “revolutionaries,” while denying that they are terrorists. Do Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Michael Moore have a common agenda? Evidently Michael Moore thinks so. Let’s name it: defeating the Great Satan -- the imperialistic, invading and occupying war machine of the United States. It should be obvious that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods. She also is a fan of Moore's anti-American propaganda piece, Farenheit 9/11 and is not on record so far as we know condemning Moore's film or his sympathies for the terrorists. If one were to read the profile of Ms. Streisand in the database, however, one would never make the mistake of regarding her as a Muslim fanatic bent on exterminating infidels. Our critics so far have not bothered to take this step or check what DiscoverTheNetwork actually says.
Here is a typical reaction from the blogger Rox Populi: “Listed along with Bill Moyers, Barbra Streisand and Cornel West, you’ll find the Ayatollah Khomeni, John Walker Lindh and enemy-of-the-state Pete Seeger on the “Individuals” page. Read it for a good laugh. I must admit I haven’t had this much fun since I was handed a Lyndon LaRouche tract that tied the Hapsburgs to the Challenger explosion.”
Of course there’s nothing to “read” in the picture grid on the “Individuals” page which is the only page about which Rox Populi cares to comment. The laugh, in other words, is self-reflecting. The picture grid is not a list of anything, except a small fraction of the raw contents of the site. It is an enticement not a thesis. It does not suggest any connections between these individuals, except in the sense that they all belong in a database about the left. Would Trotsky and Stalin belong in a database on Communism? Yet Stalin denounced Trotsky as an “enemy of the people” and put an ice pick in his head. Within the political left – as in the right -- there can be differences that are both deep and that final. To exclude either Trotsky or Stalin from a database of Communists let alone leftists, would preclude creating a comprehensive database of Communism or the left and ultimately reduce it to the description of one faction. To include anything else, in the minds of these critics, would be "guilt by association."
Is it conceivable, for example, that a leftist would attempt a comprehensive portrait of the right, and include such media conservatives as George Will, Pat Boone and Bob Hope but leave out David Duke or (inevitably) Mussolini or Hitler? (Conservatives, of course, regard both Hitler a national socialist and Mussolini, a disciple of Lenin who became an economic corporatist, as properly belonging to the political left.)
At this point in time, no critic from the left has bothered to look at any of the actual individual profiles on the DiscoverTheNetwork site. None has argued that a single profile is inaccurate or makes invidious or unreasonable connections between the individual in question and other individuals or organizations or ideas. If the profiles of Bill Moyers, Cornel West and Barbra Streisand are fair and accurate, then what is the problem?
In our introduction to the site we made a specific pledge not to do what we are now being accused of – smearing individuals through guilty association (something the left does instinctively, relentlessly and all too well): “We are aware that this base may raise legitimate concerns about the effect of the categorizing and labeling that such an enterprise entails and the possibility of inaccuracies creeping into the data. We share these concerns and have provided a contact link on the homepage of this site (Contribute Information) where corrections can be submitted. We want to assure both the public at large and those individuals and organizations whose names appear in this base that we will take immediate steps to correct any and all factual inaccuracies that are brought to our attention. The integrity and accuracy of this database is as important to us as it is to anyone.” (emphasis added)
Although the site is less than a week old, we have been true to our pledge. A blogger friend of Nation editor Katrina Van Den Heuvel, sent her the bullet points which appear at the head of each profile in the site and asked her for her reaction to hers. These are the points:
· Editor and co-owner of the left-wing magazine The Nation
· Limousine leftwing daughter of William J. vanden Heuvel, who worked for the founder of the CIA and for Robert F. Kennedy, and Jean Stein, whose father founded MCA-Universal.
· Married to New York University Russian scholar and Gorbachev enthusiast Stephen F. Cohen
· Fluent in Russian. Worked as reporter for state-run Moscow Times in U.S.S.R.
Van Den Heuvel objected to the statement that she was fluent in Russian and a reporter for the Moscow Times (it was the Moscow News) and – far more importantly – pointed out that she was a reporter only for a few weeks to cover Russia’s first democratic elections. In other words the bullet point (and related text) insinuated that she worked for the press of a Communist police state and she hadn’t. When apprised of this mistake. We removed the inaccurate point.
When ABC’s Jake Tapper called us directly to complain about a passage referring to him in our profile of the American Broadcasting Company, we immediately altered it and made it accurate to his satisfaction.
In our introduction, “What This Site Is About,” we pointed out that there are several already existing leftwing sites whose clear purpose is to smear conservatives by mislabeling them “homophobic” or “racist” on the basis of policy differences (e.g., support of the Clinton military policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” or opposition to racial preferences). These sites include People for the American Way’s “Rightwing Watch,” the report on conservatives compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and David Brock’s MediaMatters. In contrast to DiscoverTheNetwork, it is the intention of these sites to misrepresent and smear conservatives. That is why they refuse to correct the defamations when they are pointed out by their conservative targets. (Exchanges exemplifying this problem between MediaMatters and myself and also the Southern Poverty Law Center and myself are available at FrontPageMag.com. (For the Center's reply see this and for mine see this.)
In constructing DiscoverTheNetwork.com, we resolved that we would make it an informational site useful for all, regardless of political persuasion. It is for this reason that we have adopted a policy of not using labels to misrepresent and stigmatize individuals or organizations and that we are ready to correct any misrepresentations that have crept into our profiles. We are determined that this will be a resource useful to all journalists and researchers, conservative and liberal alike. We will make it as accurate and as independent of the viewpoint of the editors of the site as possible.
If you thought the confusions behind Rox Populi’s attack on DiscoverTheNetwork were confined to the blogosphere fringe, however, you would be mistaken. Her canard against DiscoverTheNetwork is actually lifted (with a “hat tip”) from the blog of a well-known English professor at Penn State, Michael Berube. (The “humor” that follows, as you will see, is so clumpy, however, that you would hardly suspect his expertise was literary): “The latest product of the fertile mind of David Horowitz is finally available for public use! It’s Discover the Network and no, it’s not a cable channel that shows mammals doing the nasty. It’s “A Guide to the Political Left”-- that’s right, a comprehensive introduction to some of the world’s leading traitors, terrorists, and useful idiots!! And be sure to check out the ‘Individuals’ page, kids! Because before today, you could plausibly say that you just weren’t aware of the connections between: Bruce Springsteen and Mohammed Atta; Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Roger Ebert; Martin Sheen and Ramzi Yousef;…and, of course, Barbra Streisand and the Ayatollah Khomeini -- but now you can’t use that excuse any longer! So, kids, join the global war against the American entertainment industry and its alliance with Islamist religious fundamentalists whose beliefs about women, sexuality, and secularists only appear to be similar to those of Christian religious fundamentalists but are really allied with the decadent Fifth Columnists who introduced soul-sucking concepts like 'the weekend' and 'the minimum wage' into American life! Remember, everyone can fight in this war-- even Sean Hannity and Jonah Goldberg! Enlist today!”
Funny maybe not, but this is a pretty good rendering of the paranoid fantasies of the left.
Even my good and talented friend Sherman Alexie emailed me this stinging rebuke (no sense of humor in this letter):
Your DiscoverThenetwork site is disgusting. Placing the photo of Ayatollah Khomeini beside Barack Obama, Castro beside Kucinich, Mohammed Atta beside Mike Farrell? It’s propaganda of the crudest sort. And it’s lazy. Where are the right wing billionaires connected to Saudi oil money? Where are the right wing independent arms dealers who sell to any buyer?
I’m betting that most independent arms dealers are driven by mercenary rather than ideological motives and sell their wares to all comers. But those that are, in fact, “right-wing” aren’t in this database because it is a database of the left. The same goes for right-wing billionaires connected to Saudi oil money. Sherman knows this. This is not an appeal to logic but a cry of the wounded. My friend Sherman is an honest man and understands that this database reflects links that are not merely caricatures by political enemies but are legitimate indices of a political reality that affects at least parts of the left and thus that DiscoverTheNetwork has already found its mark.
I have described the link between major elements of the left – but not all elements of the left -- and radical Islamicists as an “unholy alliance.” I have written a book about it with that title:Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the Radical Left). Another way of viewing this database is to see it, in part, as a sequel to Unholy Alliance, an Internet version of a text I would have written about the left if it could be written by one man and pressed between the covers of a printable book.
The “alliance” between radical Islam and the left is generally not formal (though anyone imagining that there are no such alliances is naïve), but it can be easily identified in the profiles of individuals in the base, like Michael Moore or Ward Churchill, for that matter. Both regard the Islamic terrorists fighting America in Iraq as the resistance to an illegitimate occupation, and both believe the terrorists deserve to prevail. Organizations that share this view and are represented in this database include CounterPunch.org, Alex Cockburn’s webzine, the National Lawyers Guild, and leading “peace” organizations like International ANSWER and Code Pink. And this is just the tip of an ugly iceberg.
Michael Moore has certainly been celebrated and supported by leading figures of the Hollywood left and of course by leaders of the Democratic Party. They may not share his more radical views, but they are certainly willing to stand politically closer to him than they are to President Bush and the conservatives who are leading the war against the terrorists. Thus the inclusion of various Democrats in this base along with Michael Moore and Islamic radicals is appropriate, even if their connections are the not caricatures suggested by critics. The Ayatollah Khomeini, whose revolution launched the Islamic jihad, to cite another example, was supported at the time by broad sections of the American left, including many who opposed the wars against terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
My friend Sherman's complaint, therefore, is misguided. As is his complaint that the database slights the humanity of its subjects (if you read the actual profiles it does not):
I know many of the lefties on your site, and find them to be, by and large, fragile and finite and compassionate and intelligent and misguided and honest and hopeful and hateful and loving, just like most of the righty folks I’ve met and know.
I know several of the lefties on my site as well. Moreover, I was part of this left for 25 years and thought of myself and my comrades as “by and large, fragile and finite and compassionate and intelligent… etc.” too. But that is just the beginning of understanding the left. The agendas and – yes relationships – described in this site must be taken into account in any assessment as well.