We Resist, We Defy, We Expose: Read BuzzFlash's History of Being an Aggressive Progressive Voice That Has Blazed a Trail of Justice and Democracy on the Internet Since May of 2000
July 15, 2019
We couldn’t easily summarize the trailblazing history of BuzzFlash in championing progressive values and exposing political corruption and malfeasance. So we offer this history of BF’s vital role in shaping the resistance on the Internet, since May of 2000.
By Mark Karlin, Founder and Publisher of BuzzFlash
We began BuzzFlash in May of 2000 with the same determination that we have today: Resistance is not an option; it is a necessity.
At that time, there were no major sites bringing information and inspiration to counter the corporate bias of the mainstream media and the right-wing bubble of Fox news and right-wing radio. There was little progressive radio and no progressive television. At one point, I think in 2002, BuzzFlash had four million readers a month. We originally became well-known as the “UnDrudge Report.”
There were progressive sites and bloggers, but no large ones that were as aggressive as BuzzFlash in calling out the hypocrisy of the Republicans (we had a separate site that featured a GOP Hypocrite of the Week) and the frequent timidity of Democrats. We were galvanized to create BuzzFlash after watching the calculated, partisan pursuit of Bill Clinton by Ken Starr and his staff, which included Brent Kavanaugh. However, we never lost sight that the Democrats -- while preferable to the Republicans -- generally failed to show the strength necessary to ensure social justice and attack the systemic problems of race, gender and economic inequality.
Mitch McConnell, who together with the Federalist Society has masterminded the right-wing takeover of the federal courts, once referred to elections as battles between gladiators, which he said justified negative campaigning. The Democrats (although we did honor courageous Dems and Independents with a Wings of Justice Award each week) in general feared the ruthlessness and shamelessness of the GOP. They preferred to act more civilly, even if it meant losing.
Several months after starting BuzzFlash, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote stole the White House from Al Gore (who won the popular vote nationally). BuzzFlash highlighted the work of Greg Palast (who was shunned by both the mainstream media and even many of the few progressive websites) that proved Gore would have won if there had not been a purge of Black and Hispanic voters by then Florida Secretary of State Kathryn Harris, with the full approval of then-Governor Jeb Bush.
We reported on Palast's findings, interviewed him and wrote blistering commentaries on the theft of the election, and even sponsored an event to educate people about the truth of the 2000 election. The corporate mainstream media accepted the SCOTUS decision, but BuzzFlash didn't.
The voter suppression of 2000, and our reporting of it, represents one important way that BuzzFlash keeps connecting the dots. In an age of news diversion by tweets and Facebook preoccupation with breaking "news," BuzzFlash has time and time again shown that the regressive challenges we face today are built upon an infamous history. After all, for example, voter suppression of non-whites goes back to the post-Reconstruction era poll taxes, and it has proliferated into a variety of nefarious strategies by Republicans.
BuzzFlash, during the Bush years, unrelentingly focused on injustices and Republican bullying and corruption during many of the nation's deepest crises. These included exposing the Bush administration incompetence in preventing 9/11; the lies surrounding the "rollout" to the Iraq War (while newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post were parroting and amplifying the Bush-Cheney propaganda to justify the "shock and awe" war); being, along with David Corn, about the only news outlets to initially realize and expose the Bush Administration involvement with the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative; ferreted out and informed readers that the anthrax attacks did not originate from a foreign terrorist, but came from an anthrax strain from a US military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland; discovering the full unedited version of Bush watching and reading the The Pet Goat for nearly six minutes after being informed of the second tower being struck on 9/11 by going to the website of the Emma T. Booker school in Sarasota where he was doing a PR stunt (BuzzFlash readers crashed the Booker school site because at that time videos were hosted on the server of a webpage); highlighted and proved the Bush administration incompetence and racism in dealing with Hurricane Katrina; bird-dogged Cheney's corruption with Halliburton-style privatization of the war in Iraq, and other privatized contracts, including Blackwater (its then-head, Erik Prince, still figures in the Trump administration and his sister, Betsy DeVos is secretary of education, for those who need to be convinced that the Republican "bench" of insidious players has a long, often incestuous, history); and took on the corporate press regularly; and repeatedly exposed the Bush-Cheney use or torture and the horrors of Guantanamo.
There was so much more that BuzzFlash -- with its three columns of acerbic headlines, original content and commentary, and attached article – covered, including the surveillance-state Patriot Act and the neo-liberal meltdown of the economy in 2008. We so angered many in the corporate media that the Wall Street Journal, at one point, called BuzzFlash "the shrillest and the most dimwitted political site on the web." We also offended Republican consultants, like pollster Richard Zogby, when we paid his polling firm a thousand dollars to ask a polling question about the Zelig of US anti-democracy coups, Elliot Abrams, when he was appointed Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs in the first Bush administration. We wanted to know if the US public approved of someone charged with a felony being appointed to a White House position. The landslide response was "no." Zogby was criticized by conservatives for conducting our polling question and demurred that he was "out of the country" when our polling was processed.
Again, BuzzFlash connects the dots, as an example, by continuing to follow Abrams, who is now the Trump administration point person on trying to achieve regime change in Venezuela. We extensively covered how the Bush administration failed in a 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez using the same cast of oligarchical European-descended Venezuelans that the Trump administration has backed against Maduro. (If you want to know some of the reasons that the US is responsible for Central American refugees seeking asylum, Abrams is one in a long line of US government advisors who created policy that sided with the aristocracies in these countries and the interests of US corporations.)
This contextualization has been a key feature of BuzzFlash. In an age of "news" that changes by the minute and flattens out the importance of issues and personalities to the point of numbness, BuzzFlash provides much-needed background to events of the moment. Even Trump, a reality-TV show star turned president, was foreshadowed by an actor turned president, Ronald Reagan, and a former governor of Alaska, Tea-Party favorite Sarah Palin. Without this historical understanding of the racism and big money that animates the GOP, there will be no defeating Trumpism. That is because the roots of Trumpism are embedded in US society.
Over the years, BuzzFlash has had many prominent readers including Rachel Maddow (whom we interviewed when she was at Air America and said then that BuzzFlash was one of the two sites she first reads in the morning), Bernie Sanders and the Gores (when they were still married). In fact, Tipper Gore wrote: "Thank God for you guys – whoever you are. I am spreading the word about your website...Keep it up – our democracy depends on you." Michael Moore and authors Charles Pierce, Craig Unger and many others told us in interviews that they regularly read BuzzFlash. BuzzFlash has also received four Project Censored awards.
In addition to our trenchant editorial commentaries and guest columns, BuzzFlash interviewed progressives and progressive authors starting in 2000. These include interviews with Bernie Sanders (twice, once when he was still a congressman and conventional media did not give him any notice), Rachel Maddow, the late Molly Ivins, Naomi Klein (twice), Paul Krugman (twice), Thom Hartmann (three times), John Dean (three times), Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson (three times), the late Gore Vidal, Greg Palast (four times), Al Franken, Michelle Goldberg, Dennis Kucinich (three times), Gloria Steinem, Stephanie Miller, George Lakoff (twice), Bill Moyers, Jim Hightower (twice), Paul Begala, Michael Moore, Charles Pierce, the late George McGovern, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Barbara Ehrenreich (three times), Congresswoman Donna Edwards (one of the first progressive Dem primary winners against an incumbent), Robert Kennedy Jr., Thomas Frank (three times), Susan McDougal (jailed and persecuted by Ken Starr), Arianna Huffington, Robert W. McChesney, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Sidney Blumenthal, Max Blumenthal, David Brock, Joe Conason, E.J. Dionne Jr., Paul Jay, former Congressman Henry Waxman, former Congressman Barney Frank, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Naomi Wolf (twice), David Corn, Nomi Prins (twice) Gene Lyons, John Nichols, Kevin Phillips, Amy Goodman, Harry Reid, Randi Rhodes and so many more, one a week for 10 years.
BuzzFlash also firmly believed in developing progressive commerce. It had a marketplace that offered hundreds of items that promoted progressive authors, candidates, causes and promoted Fair Trade and worker cooperatives. It was an essential part of funding the site and staff in a way that helped promote progressive thinking and a progressive economy.
We were committed not to monetize and commodify our readers, which is the funding model for most Internet news sites, including some progressive websites who use click-bait to lure readers and increase their profit. We plan on bringing back the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace after solidifying the site after it is relaunched.
If I have learned anything, the Republicans have a thousand and one ways to steal elections. After all, they have suppressed millions of Democratic votes. They have gained ground in chicanery, racism and straight out voter theft. Working to ensure the control of government by whites goes back to the founding of the US (which only gave voting rights to white propertied males), and is directly related to current developments, such as the revelation that the insertion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census is meant to enhance the political power of whites.
The truth is that if the GOP did not engage in fraud, race-baiting and bullying, there might not have been a Republican president since Eisenhower. It began with Kissinger helping Nixon steal the presidency from Humphrey by getting South Vietnam to sink the Paris peace conference. Reagan aides negotiated with the Iranians to make sure that the hostages were not released before the election. George Herbert Walker Bush ran a racist Willie Horton campaign orchestrated by Lee Atwater. As for George W. Bush, we all know about Bush, the chickenhawk (and BuzzFlash broke many stories about his checkered Texas National Guard service or lack thereof), who was the predecessor to Trump, the "bone spurs" chickenhawk. And voter suppression kept enough Democratic voters away from the polls to get Trump the electoral votes he needed even though he lost by more than three million popular votes.
Since BuzzFlash's founding, it has always been a case of so many Republican hypocrites, so little time.
But we also have always been clear about uncovering the insidious role of corporate contributions and control over Washington, DC, in general, including many Democrats in power. We even launched a campaign to get progressives to ask to turn off Fox news (with its own website) in public spaces, such as doctor’s waiting rooms and airport lounges.
In 2010, BuzzFlash became a part of the venerable social justice website, Truthout (which was the other site Rachel Maddow said she first visited in an interview when she was on Air America). I proudly worked as editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout for eight years (with two managing editors) – and I wrote a daily BuzzFlash commentary. I also wrote articles for Truthout, including an eight-part series on the failed and racist drug war that has cost more than 100,000 lives since 2000. After BuzzFlash became a part of Truthout, the interviews continued on Truthout once a week for eight years with noted progressive authors and social justice luminaries such as racial inequality expert Michelle Alexander, religious scholar Reza Aslan, and the master essayist Rebeca Solnit (twice).
In late 2018, Truthout wanted to focus all of its staff on the main site and generously returned BuzzFlash to me. Since that time, we have been constructing a new site with limited funds, aiming to fill the hard-hitting niche that marked our emergence in 2000.
The one thing none of us can afford to do is give up. The Republicans rely on squashing our morale and advancing the interests of corporations and the wealthy. They do this by appealing to racism and radical religion to ignite their base. Too many Democrats in Congress and state legislatures let them get away with it. The Republicans are extremely successful at shaping the narrative.
When Nancy Pelosi charges that Trump is guilty of crimes, but hesitates about impeachment, it is not that she is fearful of Trump not getting impeached in the Senate. What she fears is that the Dems won't be able to control the narrative. After all, if Mitch McConnell can get away now saying he would vote on a Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice within the year before a presidential election, you can see how fearless the GOP is about controlling the narrative. They know that the Dems don't have the strategic ability or consensus to put the Republicans on the defensive. Given that the Obama administration failed to build a national consensus to force a vote on Merrick Garland, that it failed to use political capital and effective political messaging, it is an indication of how openly audacious the GOP can be without repercussions.
Watch the testimony of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, and you can see how most Congressional Dems are nonplussed and intimidated by aggressive, abrasive and offensive smash-mouth tactics. Even more of an indictment of Democratic pusillanimity is that Thomas was confirmed by a Democratic majority Senate. The Judiciary Committee was headed by none other than Joe Biden. The two impudent and dishonorable testimonies, more than 25 years apart, again, exemplify that the strong-arming GOP knows the number of the timorous Dems. The GOP better understands and manipulates the spectacle of politics, while appealing to the basest instincts of voters.
Republican politicians, pollsters and their media strategize to shape and corral public opinion (which had its beginnings in the infamous Powell memo of 1971); centrist Democratic leaders, for the most part, chase public opinion and see it as something that they cannot influence.
In the early stages of the 2004 campaign, we penned an editorial which epitomizes BuzzFlash’s attitude about throwing the first punch in putting the GOP on the defensive: "BuzzFlash Message to John Kerry: It's the Golden Hour of Opportunity, Define Bush or Be Defined by Him. There is No Option 'B.'"
As Bill Moyers presciently told us in a 2003 BuzzFlash interview with him: "the paradox of Rush Limbaugh, ensconced in a Palm Beach mansion massaging the resentments across the country of white-knuckled wage earners, who are barely making ends meet in no small part because of the corporate and ideological forces for whom Rush has been a hero. ... As Eric Alterman reports in his recent book—a book that I'm proud to have helped make happen – part of the red-meat strategy is to attack mainstream media relentlessly, knowing that if the press is effectively intimidated, either by the accusation of liberal bias or by a reporter's own mistaken belief in the charge's validity, the institutions that conservatives revere—corporate America, the military, organized religion, and their own ideological bastions of influence—will be able to escape scrutiny and increase their influence over American public life with relatively no challenge." This is a dynamic Trump understands all too well. Bernie Sanders, in our interviews and personal encounters with him also warned of the perils to democracy of increasing media consolidation in the hands of a few companies.
Indeed, BuzzFlash had a "Media Putz" site, which would weekly honor a so-called journalist "for reporting that is an embarrassment to the profession of journalism, and for being beholden to corporate paymasters rather than the citizens of America." That is also true of some progressive sites that use sensationalistic headlines to lure readers in order to receive more advertising revenue or donations, but do little to reshape the pathological political landscape. Such tactics only play into the hands of Trump, who knows that many liberals feed on a daily diet of “Trump shock.” BuzzFlash also conducted, as noted above, a "Turn off Fox" campaign, complete with commentaries, calls to action and even a bumper sticker.
There is hope on the horizon, however. BuzzFlash is energized by the rise of numerous organized leftist popular movements. These catapulted in strength after the Wisconsin union protests against Scott Walker, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter building upon the foundations established by MoveOn and Netroots. Then Trump was elected and the resistance gained even more energized grassroots groups, including Indivisible, Our Revolution, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats. One of our goals is to amplify those efforts, with your support, on the reborn BuzzFlash. They represent the future of a just and embracing democracy, and a world that must rapidly address climate catastrophe.
We’re indignant, impassioned, and unrelenting in exposing hypocrisy and corruption in the cause of social, racial, environmental and economic justice. And we don’t suffer milquetoast Democrats gladly.
Our mission is not to offer sensationalist headlines about the latest Trump outrage and tweets. It is to provide news, analysis, information and tools to change our politics, our culture, our policies and our national values. We can be a progressive nation, if we cut through the clutter and not succumb to wallowing in distractions. Most importantly, we can change the narrative.
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