Not everyone reading this will remember Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the great post-war, liberal Democrats. He was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1948 before being elected US Senator, then Vice President under Lyndon Johnson and, after losing the presidency to Richard Nixon in a squeaker in 1968, became a Senator again until his death.
LBJ is rightly credited with leaving America a legacy of remarkable Great Society advances but it was Humphrey who maneuvered the massive amount of legislation through a balky Senate largely controlled by conservative, often openly racist, Dixiecrats – the Sixties version of “Blue Dogs” – who stood in the way of everything from Medicare and civil rights to equal opportunity laws and voting rights.
For several years when I was a teen, Vice President Humphrey was also my family’s sort-of neighbor. My parents were active in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, which is what Democrats in Minnesota call themselves, so we got to know the Humphrey’s well enough to be invited over for an occasional summer Sunday afternoon on the lawn at their lakeside home.
I remember him complaining frequently about what made it so difficult to achieve progress on social justice issues.
“I can deal with Republicans and the Dixiecrats,” the Vice President proclaimed numerous times when talking politics with us, his favorite subject. “But heaven save me from liberals. The biggest enemy of liberals is other liberals. They quarrel with me over everything and nothing, all the time.”
I got my own first-hand taste of that Wednesday, learning it’s as true now as it was in the Sixties and leaving me startled to discover there are as many trolls and flame throwers on the left as there are on the right.
My life lesson came as a result of the article I wrote Wednesday based on original reporting I mostly stumbled into about rumors in Washington regarding a possible post in a second Obama term for Dr. Paul Krugman.
As an almost-lifelong journalist – by education and profession – I’ve developed a large number of contacts in the US and elsewhere in politics and government, business, the arts, and activist groups. From roughly 2000 to early 2009 I covered politics and government almost exclusively until an illness reappeared, the first in a cascading series of events that led to my becoming homeless.
In touching base with someone who is both a friend and a source in Washington, a well-connected lawyer I’ve known for a decade and trust implicitly, I learned of the possibility. A few more calls to see if these were actual rumors and I believed there was enough substance to write the story. I spoke with five people in all and quote two, both of whom demanded anonymity.
By four o’clock, it was published here at the UK Progressive Magazine as well as at the unrelated LA Progressive in the US and at Daily Kos, a bastion of left-wing thinking.
I’ve been writing for all of them since early 2008. For the first few hours, reader comments at Kos were typical: Some people expressed a desire for it to happen; some said it was unlikely because Obama is too much of a centrist to take the Keynesian’s advice; several doubted Krugman would want such an appointment. Fair enough: Everyone is entitled to an opinion and, frankly, I shared some of the same doubts.
In any event, the story didn’t say it was going to happen and made clear the article was merely reporting a rumor that I’d been told by more than one source. Indeed, the headline itself was expressed as a question. In the piece, I referred to what Krugman had written previously about why he wouldn’t be interested in working in The White House.
But within a few hours, it was as if the girl with a dragon tattoo had kicked over a hornet’s nest. Out of nowhere – and, suspiciously, all at once – a group of comments began appearing at Kos in rapid succession attacking me for reporting the story, questioning my integrity, wondering how a homeless man could possibly have any sources, insisting that if the rumor was true the piece would have been in The New York Times first, and all but demanding that I be drawn-and-quartered.
I’ve been attacked before for my work; it comes with being a journalist.
For example, in 2005 I wrote Washington’s Darkest Secret, using multiple sources to reveal that for years before 9/11, the CIA had a “mole” inside al Qaeda providing intelligence to Washington about bin Laden’s plans and activities – including plans to highjack airplanes to strike US targets. The right swarmed all over me and I was labeled everything from a liar to a terrorist sympathizer to a truther. I stood by the story and over the years, each piece of what I wrote more than seven years ago was borne out by other reporters. The latest confirmation came this summer by journalists at both the Associated Press and New York Times.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, I authored Alaskans Speak about how Sarah Palin was regarded by people back home; my follow-up pieces reported on management problems she was causing for John McCain, citing sources of mine working on the inside. The article went viral and, again, the right wing swooped down accusing me of everything except killing Jesus. No less a crazy than Michelle Malkin considered my reporting so dangerous to the career of the newest darling of the fringe that she devoted an entire blog post to trying to discredit me. Beyond the fact that my editor’s spent a half-day on the phone fact checking the piece, all of the major components of that story were confirmed by the books written after the election by McCain campaign insiders.
Over the years, other articles have attracted equal vitriol, if on a smaller scale. As one example, I received a hate e-note for a recollection of Molly Ivins that I wrote after she died. No kidding.
But those came from the right and I expect it as a progressive journalist. I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of unvarnished hatred and illogical fury that flew at me from the left out of nowhere.
My first thought was that unlike, say, Red State where anyone to the political left of Chris Christie is booted off the site almost immediately, a group of right wing trolls held secret accounts at Daily Kos. The flurry of hate notes appeared so suddenly and simultaneously that it made me highly suspicious.
What some commenter’s said deepened my wariness. For example, one actually found a 2008 right wing site that had attacked the Palin article and posted a chunk of it as gospel, as if something from a fringe website would discredit the article and me. Many of the protest comments were nearly word-for-word what others had said at their blogs after the Palin article.
More to the point, I wondered why a handful of people were going to so much trouble and effort to take on a frankly innocuous, 900-word piece about a bit of tittle-tattle. I still don’t know.
Some of the comments were bizarre. One suggested that if I was a real reporter, I’d be working for an MSM outlet. I used to be very MSM but walked away from it a long time ago.
I was attacked for being homeless, the poster thinking it impossible for a homeless man to have news sources. I can thank being a techno-Luddite for having my contact list. I never succumbed to the lure of Outlook or smart phones – until I became homeless, I never had a cell phone – so my contacts have always been in a hand-written pocket directory with now-yellowing pages.
I lost most of my material possessions when I left the house but my phone directory went along, tucked among my clothes that I carried out the door.
Someone else wondered why I provided no links, as if original reporting was impossible. In other words, if someone else didn’t say it first, then it couldn’t be true. The funniest was a complaint from a reader who couldn’t find anything similar on Google. It reminded me of a story John Chancellor often told about his days as a correspondent covering the civil rights movement for NBC.
From somewhere in the Deep South, Chancellor called a Huntley-Brinkley producer in New York to approve his script before recording the narration. When he was done reading it aloud, the producer was doubtful: “John, that’s not what The New York Times is saying.”
“We don’t get the Times down here,” Chancellor replied.
“But it’s not what UPI is reporting, either.”
“I don’t have access to the UPI wire.”
“Well, if you don’t have the Times or UPI, where are you getting your information?” the producer demanded.
It’s called reporting. Journalism 101. Talking to people and then writing about what was learned.
Over The Top
Some of the flame throwing was so over-the-top as to be ludicrous, a silly exercise in trolling from the left that beggars belief. One commenter was so enflamed that he wrote his own piece at Kos, all but claiming that I was single-handedly destroying the reputation of the entire site.
I often post articles that reflect original reporting, from my Suddenly Homeless series to a report Monday about a proposed new national voter registration law (LINK to article) that would cover elections for Congress, the Senate and White House. Where appropriate in my work, I always include links but, for instance, in the Monday piece they were mostly to Supreme Court decisions.
By its very definition, original reporting is new as in news and there’s not much to link to.
More than anything, though, yesterday’s experience got me thinking about a comment left at a piece about homelessness that ran here and at Kos a week or so ago. The article received a handful of views and comments along with some recommendations but a reader was furious there weren’t more “Kossacks” hat tipping the piece.
“This place is for so-called liberals,” he wrote, or words close to these. “It’s a funny way to define ‘liberal’.”
Hubert Humphrey would have known what he meant.
Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles and “like” this article in the comments below on Facebook.