This article was originally published in The eXile on November 13, 2002.
No, we’ve been censored, by, of all people, David Johnson, a squeamish Quaker who runs the once-highly-influential Johnson’s Russia List… acting on the orders of his sponsor, a Democrat Party wonk and Stanford professor whose dedication to promoting democracy in the former Soviet Union is matched only by his relentless four-year campaign to censor and marginalize the eXile.
Johnson hadn’t posted an eXile article in months. I didn’t pay attention because his list isn’t important to us the way it used to be. The JRL has fallen into relative obscurity (it seems he begins at least one mailing a month with a pleading note like “Is this too much?” or “Any comments?” or “Would appreciate some feedback from JRL recipients”) and our newspaper is less focused on Russia than a few years ago. But recently I noticed that even our Russia pieces weren’t making it onto the list. That seemed wrong. I wanted to find out.
Two issues ago, I sent Johnson my article on Limonov’s trial in Saratov, Limonov’s own account of his arrest last year, and a few other pieces including new press reviewer “Philby Burgess’s” thrashing of McFaul and Dr. Dolan’s review of a Russian collection of short stories. Again, no posting. I sent Johnson a follow-up letter asking him why he didn’t post any of the articles. Surely Limonov is important enough? Johnson had posted articles from other sources about Limonov’s trial, such as gazeta.ru and the Asia Times. At the very least, Limonov’s own account of his arrest — one of the major cultural events to happen in Russia over the past two years by Russian media coverage measures — deserved to be posted. The book it was translated from, My Political Biography, is a bestseller in Moscow.
Johnson relented with a terse reply: “I’ll post the book review.” That is, the least offensive piece.
Incredibly enough, Johnson actually went out of his way to delete the name “the eXile” from the book review, and delete “the eXile” from the table of contents for the day’s JRL, heading it simply: “John Dolan.” I have never, in five years subscribing to the JRL, seen Johnson refuse to name a publication in his table of contents or delete the name of a publication when posting an article.
For the last issue, I sent him my article on the Chechen terrorist/Moussaoui/9-11 connection. Johnson may not have agreed with it, but it was certainly relevant judging by the responses I got. Johnson didn’t print it. A few days later I sent him this email:
JRL-AID: Can Sir Bob save the free press?
“David, Is the eXile, the word ‘eXile’ or am I censored from your list?”
I didn’t get a response. Johnson always responds within hours – usually within minutes. The man literally lives and sleeps with his DSL-connected computer.
The answer was obvious. Silence is the oldest, and most effective censorship trick in the American establishment’s playbook. Getting denied access is death. So I sent him a final email in which I said that his silence confirmed that he has censored the eXile’s and my name from the Johnson’s Russia List.
I didn’t hear from Johnson for five days. Then I received an email from “Post Office” with my email to Johnson, titled “Censored?” bundled in. It was from Johnson’s system administrator. My email address had been blocked — by Johnson. All emails I send him will be bounced back. The ultimate kiss-off in the cyber age, as I learned when I dated a girl at the Anglo-American high school a couple years ago.
Something had clearly changed — Johnson at one time was the eXile’s biggest backer, for which he was made into a kind of martyr/hero, getting top billing in the Rolling Stone feature on the eXile as a moral crusader. Usually these changes of heart can be explained by money. I was curious who was backing Johnson. He couldn’t be living on subscribers’ checks any longer, since his subscriber base had dwindled. After a quick check of Johnson’s Russia List home page the mystery was solved:
“The CDI Russia Weekly is a project of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) and receives funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the MacArthur Foundation. To subscribe, please e-mail David Johnson at: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
David Johnson has been bought. Carnegie now owns the JRL. Michael McFaul is Carnegie’s senior Russia man. Michael McFaul hates the eXile and wants it censored. The last issue of the eXile that I’d sent along to Johnson featured a savage critique of McFaul’s most recent evil Beigeist rambling. It wasn’t only the eXile which was punished for criticizing McFaul. Johnson even refused to post the Russia Journal’s press review of the same McFaul article.
In a sick inverse of Remington razor braggart Victor Kiam’s philosophy, McFaul hated us so much…he bought (with donor money) the JRL and censored us!
This isn’t the first McFaul-led lynching party we’ve run into on the JRL. Back in 1998, when Johnson’s List was at its peak of influence, a movement to ban the eXile from the list erupted just as the free-market reforms were crumbling. At the time the eXile was the only English-language paper arguing that the Yeltsin regime was savagely corrupt and that Russia was doomed to collapse. McFaul, a Stanford associate professor and Carnegie Endowment analyst, was the Clinton Administration’s leading academic apologist for the Yeltsin regime. He quietly led the ban-the-eXile-on-the-JRL movement. He wanted us shut out of the debate because it made his sponsors — and his relentlessly optimistic op-ed articles — look bad.
Johnson didn’t want to censor us from the list in 1998 because he was still a left-wing idealist and Russophile appalled by the reforms’ consequences and the media lies that masked them. He found us to be a convenient attack dog whom he’d let out of the cage to rip apart the establishment. When McFaul started his censorship drive, also using a proxy “anonymous female victim of the eXile” to call for our censorship, Johnson, rather than slamming it, canvassed his readers’ opinions. It was his passive-aggressive way of taking a stand through others’ courage. As expected, a few dozen Big Names from newspapers and universities demanded that Johnson not censor the eXile. McFaul’s censorship drive failed. The eXile was more popular than ever. And the Russian economy — and the myth about its reforms — collapsed.
As Russia slipped off America’s map over the past three years, the Johnson List withered. Up until 1998, Russia was the yardstick by which America judged its mission in the world. After their collapse, America decided to ignore Russia’s woes and blame them on Russia itself.
Now that Russia is less important, McFaul and Johnson have found themselves in bed together out of material necessity. The overstaffed Russia-watching industry in America has collapsed like a provincial Russian city. McFaul’s last editorial was a naked plea to the Bush Administration not to forget about the former Soviet Union. McFaul has become so desperate that he even played the “regime change” scare card as a way to attract hardline Republican attention. He failed, but he did stir up a small hornet’s nest among Russians who saw McFaul’s use of the term “regime change” in Russia as an open military threat.
And now David Johnson — one time left-wing idealist and Quaker — has been reduced to playing the hatchet man for the increasingly schizophrenic McFaul just to get his check and pay his bills.
It reminds me of a scene I saw when I was a freshman in college. I roomed with a Mexican named Ricky Ramirez. He was loud, confident and bright. His parents wanted to pay his way through college — which was relatively cheap since Berkeley then only cost about 700 dollars per semester. But every month Ricky had to drive down to San Jose for his check. That meant enduring fresh humiliation from his father. Once Ricky and his family were in a restaurant with friends. He needed his check. His father said he’d give it to him at the restaurant, if he behaved. The restaurant was full. His father told him that he was sick of giving checks to Ricky, that he was spoiled and arrogant. So he made Ricky beg for the check. Literally beg. In front of the whole restaurant, Ricky had to get on his knees to beg, with his hands up. Ricky’s dad laughed loudly and dangled the check above his nose. The other patrons looked away or down at their food as Ricky’s dad loudly taunted him. Then he made his son lie on the restaurant floor and roll around like their dog. Ricky did it. His dad laughed loudly and gave him the check.
That incident was honorable and human compared to the McFaul buyout of Johnson. The Ramirezes had none of the quiet hypocrisy and exclusion of the McFaul-Johnson transaction.
Johnson has been hiding from me. He has a pattern of hiding behind others.
When we were convenient for Johnson, he used us. He was happy to play the brave crusader and promoter for journalists who wrote articles about the eXile. Now that Bush and Putin are in power and everyone’s looking the other way, Johnson has taken the incredible step of censoring the eXile’s and my name.
If you subscribe to his list, you’ll read countless moralizing articles by Westerners about the evils of Putin’s censorship of the press. Yet when so relatively little is at stake — a subsidy for one suburban Maryland man’s paycheck versus commitment to free expression — even the most idealistic American is willing to sell out.
So we’re fighting back. So should you.
Johnson admires Chomsky but adores Carnegie
He don’t like Mondays, we don’t like McFaul
This is the kind of issue that could unify the UN
This article was originally published in The eXile, November 13, 2002.
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