18 years: 18 thoughts

It was 18 years ago this weekend — 18 years ago today, I think, but maybe tomorrow — that John Hinderaker went to Blogger and set up Power Line. On Memorial Day that weekend he gave me a call and invited me to contribute. We’ve moved on from Blogger, but we’re still here.

Survival has its charms; many good sites have come and gone or gone off the deep end over the years. Looking back and borrowing from my tenth and fifteenth anniversary reflections, I thought I might offer a few thoughts on the occasion, several of which incorporate current themes.

Taking nothing for granted, I do not want to wait until our twentieth year online to say this:

1. John and I had already been writing columns and essays together for ten years. Mitch Pearlstein of Center of the American Experiment — of which John is now president — stands in a category by himself as a supporter and promoter of our work together before we found a home on the Internet. Although we wrote for those ten years under a joint byline, John was the brains of the operation. I was the one who worked to place our pieces for publication.

The highlight of our pre-Power Line work was “George Bush’s tax return,” published by National Review in May 1994. It was an attack on the incredibly shoddy (and influential) work of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele. Rich Lowry edited the piece as managing editor of NR. Rich and his crew at NR placed the article online to help us celebrate our 15th anniversary. Please click on the link and check it out. It provides a case study in the mainstream media’s modus operandi.

2. It is an understatement to say that we were excited when NR accepted the article for publication. We faxed a copy of the article to President Bush. President Bush sent us one of his handwritten notes by US mail:

Dear Scott and John,

Your great piece “Barlett and Steele: What Went Wrong?” [our title] was right on the target.

The problem is, of course, they have damaged us by their sloppy if not vengeful writing. I am glad you set the record straight.

I would love to know if those two ever try to rebut that which you have written. Better still, if they apologized, though I would not hold my breath on that one.

Many thanks for that insightful piece. It made Barbara and me feel very good indeed.

Sincerely, and gratefully —
George Bush

John has the original handwritten note hanging in his den. Barlett and Steele never did “try to rebut that which [we had] written.”

3. Writing for the site online after our experience writing for newspapers and magazines, I was immediately struck by the freedom and immediacy of publication. The second thing that struck me was the lack of readers. Newspapers and magazines gave us a built-in readership. What do you do to earn readers on the Internet? We continued doing more or less what we had been doing in our columns and articles, with links that invited readers to look over our shoulders.

4. Within the first two or three months we had a few hundred readers outside our immediate families. I wanted regular readers to have a reason to return every day and devoted myself to posting early every morning before I went to work. I’ve been trying to catch up on my sleep ever since.

5. Our first link came from Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy (thanks to a Dylan quote!), now housed at Reason. The first serious notice anyone took of us was Hugh Hewitt, whom I heard talking about our work on the Coleman/Wellstone (and then Coleman/Mondale) Senate campaign in the fall of 2002 one night as I drove to a fundraiser at which Karen Hughes was appearing. I just about drove off the road when I heard Hugh talking about Power Line.

The encouragement of Michelle Malkin gave us a timely boost. Well before she had climbed onboard the Internet herself, we wrote and asked her to take a look at the site. She not only obliged us, she wrote back: “You guys have a great thing going.” That meant a lot to us.

It wasn’t long before Glenn Reynolds began to find items worthy of notice on the site and to send us the horde of readers who look to InstaPundit to direct traffic. We thought Glenn the best editor on the Internet.

6. By the summer of 2004 we had a few thousand regular readers a day. My recollection differs from John’s on this point, but I think our software showed us having about 3,000 unique readers and 6,000 total hits a day. We thought we had a good thing going, a sense that was confirmed by the invitation we received that summer to cover the GOP convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City from August 30-September 2. John did a fantastic job covering the convention for us. He even caught future Minnesota Senator Al Franken struggling unsuccessfully with his anger management issues up on Radio Row (photo above).

7. On the evening of September 8, 2004, CBS News/60 Minutes II broadcast the inaptly titled report “For the record.” With a little help from Atlanta attorney Harry MacDougald supplemented by information from some knowledgeable readers and fellow bloggers, we had a hand in turning the CBS News story into Rathergate.

8. We made our contribution in part through readers who got us going with information they emailed on the morning of September 9. It is amazing to me in retrospect that we were able to post the initial updates to “The Sixty-First Minute” based on messages from the few thousand regular readers we had at the time. Other readers came that morning from links that directed them to us. The first significant link to the post, as I recall, was Jim Geraghty’s at National Review Online.

As we were flooded with emails following the post, I called John mid-morning for help sorting through the messages and assessing the information. John took a look and called me back 15 minutes later. “Dan Rather is toast,” he said. “The key to the case is kerning.”

Working for Matt Drudge, Andrew Breitbart linked to the post early that afternoon with a screaming siren on the Drudge Report. By the end of the day some 500,000 readers had visited the post. Inside CBS News they were trying to figure out what had happened. What had happened was one of the great journalistic frauds of all time, the unraveling of which led to Dan Rather’s early retirement from CBS News. In his 2012 memoir, however, Rather stands behind the fraud. He titled the memoir Rather Outspoken. In it he retracts his 2004 on-air apology, writing that it was extracted from him involuntarily by CBS News management. That may be true, but Rather’s defense of the Bush National Guard story in “For the Record” strongly suggests Rather Full of It would be more like it.

9. John and I joked that when they got around to making a movie about Rathergate, Robert Redford might play him and Dustin Hoffman might play me. Wrong! When they made the movie — 2014’s inaptly titled Truth, based on segment producer Mary Mapes’s memoir Truth and Duty — Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett played the perpetrators of the fraud. When it comes to rewriting history, the left never quits and its media adjunct is always there to lend a hand.

10. Andrew Heyward was president of CBS News at the time of Rathergate. He hadn’t spoken much about the scandal for public consumption, but he talked about Truth to the New York Times when the Times celebrated the film at a TimesTalks event with Redford, Blanchett, Rather and Mapes. Heyward told the Times that the film “takes people responsible for the worst embarrassment in the history of CBS News, and what was at the time a grievous blow to the credibility of a proud news organization, and turns them into martyrs and heroes. Only Hollywood could come up with that.”

One might say that truer words were never spoken.

11. Truth may not be the final word after all. Last year FOX News released the documentary Black Eye: Dan Rather and the Birth of Fake News on its new digital platform. I reviewed it in “My eye on Black Eye.” FOX News producer Mark Rigby did his best to tell the story straight and get it right. Thank you, Mr. Rigby.

12. I’ve written for Power Line just about every day for 18 years. I have few unexpressed thoughts left. Among my favorite posts of the thousands I have written are “Obama veers into the Daily Ditch” and “About those roses.”

Power Line has given me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and appreciation of popular music. I’ve been listening to the folk singer Tom Rush for 50 years. It was a thrill for me when he agreed to sit for an interview on his way to town in 2011. I wrote up the interview in “The Circle Game.”

13. Dartmouth Professor of English Jeffrey Hart opened my mind to the great tradition and more during the four years I was his student. A long-time senior editor at National Review, Professor Hart contributed “The secession of the intellectuals” to NR’s 15th anniversary issue in 1970. Thinking of our own 15th anniversary three years ago, I returned to that essay. Rich Lowry and his crew at NR kindly placed it online to help us celebrate the occasion. The essay hit me with the force of revelation at the time. Some of the contemporary references date the piece. Making the necessary changes, however, it reads like it could have been written yesterday. Here is the opening:

At a patriotic rally in Seville during the Spanish Civil War the founder of the Foreign Legion, General Millan Astray, a colorful and frequently wounded figure, made a speech that has long been remembered. His climactic utterance has been variously reported, but he seems to have shouted “Abajo la intellegentsia!”—Down with the intelligentsia! Doubtless the general was caught up in the tumultuous enthusiasm of the rally; nevertheless, he gives you, as they say, something to think about, for his words point to the special, the peculiar moral problem of the intelligentsia, or, as we would be more likely to say, the intellectuals — i.e., their habitually antagonistic, and sometimes even treasonous, relationship to their social setting, to their surrounding society.

This settled antagonism, this spirit of inner defection, exists in its most concentrated form in the academy (the only American institution, let us note, that is entirely run by liberals, and, not coincidentally, the institution furthest along toward disintegration). But the attitude spreads out beyond the academic foci and affects those who participate in one way or another in what we can very broadly call intellectual culture: the media, the arts, publishing. Madison Avenue and so forth. The key assumption — it may be powerful and aggressive, or muted though still very much there — is that all insight, imagination, refinement, all spirituality even, spring from, or at least are inextricable from, an initial nay-saying to the surrounding society: to the Babbitts, the boobs, the “alumni,” the Legionnaires and TV watchers, the whole array of insensate philistinery. When the negation is felt with special force, distance can lend enchantment to the alien and to the actual enemy: to Che, the Vietcong, Ho. The negation can become treasonous. Abroad, our enemies are always somehow admirable, our allies (a shrinking group) always corrupt, despicable, laughable — for after all they are connected with America. At home, the Panther and the SDSer become sympathetic figures.

Professor Hart later remarks: “The dominance of this kind of sensibility in the educated classes of our society is surely cause for alarm, since it cannot but follow that those who lose their grip on the reality of the world will shortly lose the world itself: the world cannot be governed by sentimental illusions. Poor fools, one cannot but sigh, poor fools, the barbarians will make short work of you.”

Professor Hart just died last year. I recalled him here, James Panero here.

14. Power Line has opened so many doors for us it’s hard to count them all. We have made a lot of friends we would never have made without the site. Hugh Hewitt, David Horowitz, the late Peter Collier, Tom Steward, Senator Tom Cotton, the late Leo Thorsness, Wilfred McClay, Nina Rosenwald, Bill Campenni, John Bolton, Pete Hegseth, Paul Rahe, the late Bruce Cole, Bill Kristol, Richard Starr, Steve Hayes, Jonathan Last, Chris Caldwell, Michael Anton and friends new and old at the Clarmeont Institute, Norman Podhoretz, John Podhoretz, Seth Lipsky, Amity Shlaes, Josh Mandel, Rich Lowry, Jay Nordlinger, Andrew McCarthy, Mona Charen, Bill Bennett, Seth Leibsohn, Roger Simon, Roger Kimball, Rush Limbaugh, Howie Carr, Laura Ingraham, Susan Vass (Ammo Grrrll) and Fern Oppenheim are just a few who come to my mind this morning.

15. Over the past four years I have devoted myself to exposing the real Ilhan Omar. I have been joined in my efforts by Preya Samsundar, David Steinberg, and Somali friends including Abdi Nur. With the work of the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board giving it cover, the Star Tribune finally assigned two reporters to catch up on the Omar saga in its most widely read story last year and then reverted to its accustomed public relations on Omar’s behalf. President Trump gave me a shout out and quoted from my work on Omar at his October 10 rally in Minneapolis last year. I wrote up the events that night in “The Donald Trump experience.” It was certainly a personal and professional highlight. For one night President Trump relieved the feeling that I’d been banging my head against the wall for three years.

16. I am grateful to John for inviting me along for the ride over the last 18 years. After we had been up and running for a couple of months, John had the idea of asking his college friend and debate partner Paul Mirengoff to join us. Steve Hayward joined in 2011. Publisher Joe Malchow has helped us survive death-defying catastrophes and improved the site technically to the point where, after 18 years, the site performs better than ever.

When he invited me to start contributing to the site over the 2002 Memorial Day weekend, I told John I’d be happy if only he read what I had to say, but the thought that we would ever have readers for this thing struck me as a pathetic fantasy. John thought we would have readers. As usual, John was right, I was wrong.

17. I am grateful to my family. They had faith that all the time I was spending in the basement would prove worthwhile.

18. I am most grateful to our readers — literate, knowledgeable, encouraging, large-hearted, responsive to every good cause we have supported. You have kept me going for the past 18 years.

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