Fifteen Years of The Crisis Papers:
A Personal, Passionate History
The Crisis Papers
The horrific events of September 11, 2001
awakened in me -- or, more properly, re-awakened -- political thoughts and
feelings that I had kept bottled up for far too long. The same day of the
terrorist attacks, I began opening that tap, just a crack. It didn’t take
long before I was nearly bowled over by the flood of ideas and information
that came pouring out of my fingers onto the computer keyboard. (The era of
the CheneyBush presidency had that effect on a number of us leftie activist
Since I no longer was connected to any
publishing entities -- my ties with the San Francisco Chronicle were severed
in the early-1990s, and my ‘60s and ‘70s contacts on the national magazines
were no longer active -- my writings tended to be seen by very few readers.
I emailed my first 9/11 articles to a list of friends and colleagues, which
felt good, but I knew that I also wanted my thoughts to have more of an
impact on the wider stage. And so I started sending out my essays to a
number of progressive websites, among them Common Dreams, Truthout,
BuzzFlash, Smirking Chimp, OpEd News, American Politics Journal,
Counterpunch, Scoop, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, History News
Network, Reader-Supported News, et al.
Soon I became a regular contributor to
these and other websites — including
sites in England, India, New Zealand, Germany, et. al
— and felt productive and, in some small
way, effective as a political commentator, receiving a goodly amount of
complimentary words of encouragement (along with the usual rightwing hate
mail). But I was always at the mercy of some editor or publisher in terms of
acceptance, placement, deadline, headline, editing, etc. It was time to
consider a website of my own.
But I was a total naif when it came to
technology, especially anything to do with computers. I would need help for
sure. I approached two writers on the liberal-left internet whose work
especially impressed me -- William Rivers Pitt and Ernest Partridge -- and
inquired whether they’d like to effect some sort of internet alliance, maybe
even establish our own website.
Partridge was game. Pitt said he was
flattered but he was being snapped up by Truthout as a regular contributing
editor: a good fit. (To this day, he continues wowing readers, me included,
with a good many of his passionate essays and fluid style.)
FIGHTING THE HARD RIGHT IDEOLOGUES
Ernie Partridge and I finally met
face-to-face in early 2002, in Monterey, California, and hit it off
immediately, as did our wives. The first edition of our new website,
The Crisis Papers, was birthed on
the eve of the 2002 midterm elections. It seemed clear to both of us that
the CheneyBush forces were going to control Congress for at least the next
two years and, if Cheney and Bush were re-selected in 2004, would dominate
the political scene for another four years. GOP strategist Karl Rove
actually was talking about creating a “permanent majority” for the
Republicans. This would be a catastrophe for the country -- in
foreign/military policy, civil liberties, the environment, science policy,
climate change inaction, dumbing down of the culture, etc. -- and that
prospect made Ernie and me vow that we would do everything in our power to
keep that from happening, or, at the very least, from getting much worse.
So we launched The Crisis Papers 15 years
ago, in November of 2002, as the Bush/Cheney Administration was preparing to
invade Iraq, a monumental neocon tragedy based on mistaken assumptions,
outright lies, imperialist arrogance, widespread ignorance about the peoples
and history of Iraq. In short, having learned nothing from America’s
catastrophe in Vietnam, and undissuaded by ten-million (!) antiwar
protesters in the streets of America and across the globe, America’s elected
leaders launched the shock-and-awe invasion.
Our initial goals for The Crisis Papers
were pretty ambitious. Not only would we write our weekly columns for CP,
and send them on to the larger, more established websites that resonated
with our lib-rad politics, but we decided CP would be a kind of portal
linking to the best progressive articles we ran across each week. (We wrote
short summaries of each linked-to article -- a crazy, time-consuming task,
let me tell you -- and, in so doing, created an archive of the best of what
was appearing on the liberal websites.) In short, Crisis Papers would be a
one-stop-shopping site. We honored this labor-intensive approach for way too
long. Too much work, too little feedback.
We had alerted the websites who regularly
re-posted our essays that we were starting up a full-fledged progressive
site of our own, and a number of them went out of their way to alert their
readers about our newly-born presence on the web, especially
The Smirking Chimp, and
So, thanks to that advance publicity and to our continuing publication in
other liberal websites where we were identified in our bios as co-editors of
a new website called The Crisis Papers, right out of the gate we had
thousands of curious visitors to the site. Most of them seemed to like what
they saw and stuck with us over the next eight years.
On a normal week, Crisis Papers might
attract anywhere from 10-40,000 visitors, 7000 of whom were unique visitors.
After a few years, on several weeks (usually preceding national elections),
we had more than 400,000 hits.
THE CP/DU PARTNERSHIP
Keeping Crisis Papers at that high level
of quality and readership was a never-ending struggle, especially since it
was just Ernie and me doing the heavy lifting: writing essays and satires on
deadline, maintaining the website, making editorial decisions, writing the
article summaries, responding to the voluminous mail that was pouring in,
surfing the web constantly for stories and sites to link to, etc. (This
meant reading, and summarizing, several hundred articles a week.)
Actually, I got off relatively easy on the
praxis part, since I had no website chops or special computer knowledge.
Ernie, who has his own website, The Online
Gadfly, was our webmeister (with some editorial help from his English
professor-wife Elinore) and bore the full brunt of the technical tasks
associated with keeping a website updated and looking sharp. For several
years, on upload nights, I would have gone to bed at midnight, but Ernie
might well still be working until 4 or sometimes 6 in the morning.
Clearly, this pace couldn’t be maintained
forever, even with volunteer help we sometimes got from friends and loyal
readers. We were two aging leftie professor types, burning out fast.
We finally realized that as a once-a-week
site, no matter how solid our content was, our ability to attract and keep
visitors was self-limiting. (Our numbers spiked on Tuesdays, our update day,
but trailed off as the rest of the week went by.) We needed to spread our
wings, so to speak, and somehow break into the daily internet.
We couldn’t do this by taking CP daily --
Ernie and I already were burning out just doing the once-a-week dance -- but
perhaps we could forge an alliance with an established liberal daily
website. As it turned out, Democratic Underground, a popular daily site,
which had been publishing our essays for several years, was open to the
idea. Not just open, they were actively seeking more and regular good
content, knew us and liked what we were doing. So when they got our querying
email, it was an instant marriage. We wanted their hundreds of thousands of
daily readers, they wanted two Ph.D. political junkies who knew how to write
and relate to their audience.
The arrangement was that DU would post our
essays at the same time, on Tuesday mornings, that we published them on
Crisis Papers. We promised that we would not send our new pieces to other
websites for a full day. For this exclusive privilege, they were happy to
provide us our own logo, put our new essays automatically on their home
page, and house our pieces in a special Crisis Papers file.
As we had hoped, Ernie and I picked up a
whole new demographic of readers -- younger, hipper, more politically
involved -- thus raising the Crisis Papers profile, and Crisis Papers’ own
numbers, since many of the DU crowd came by to visit our site on a regular
basis. It was a win-win for both DU and CP. And our new essays were still
being re-posted by many of the other lib-rad websites who were interested in
our work. (After seven or eight years, DU shifted its focus and look and the
alliance melted away.)
Though we once, briefly, took on a few
Google Ads -- basically yielding pennies when we needed dollars -- we
survived on our own sweat-equity and occasional donations from our loyal
readers. When we first started out, our pleas for donations yielded enough
to pay our bills and purchase more toner -- checks for $5-to-50; once we got
$15 in coins and small U.S. bills from a poor sailor in Norway -- but after
awhile, we gave up the quarterly begging appeals, as they weren’t bringing
in much anymore. Which meant that Ernie and I, despite our protestations
that we would never do so, financed the website out of our own wallets.
BURNOUT AND KEEPIN' ON KEEPIN' ON
Something had to give. We both wanted to
close up the site on several occasions. We thought we had a good shot in
2004, but through Rove-ian chicanery and outright vote theft, Cheney/Bush
were back in the White House for four more years, and so we hung in there to
carry on the good fight. In 2006, the Republicans were turned into the
minority in Congress, and once again we thought about retiring the website
and getting back to all the personal projects we had put on hold for so many
years. But the Democrats were so timid and confused, leading to the
Republicans still possessing enormous agenda-setting power, that we decided
to keep on keepin’ on until the 2008 election.
With the victory of Obama, a centrist
liberal, in the White House, and CheneyBush pushed away from the levers of
power, we eased off a bit — but still
held Obama’s feet to the fire when his policies called for correctives.
POLITICAL DEPRESSION AND HOW TO FIGHT
I didn’t, couldn’t, stop myself from
following the news and even cogitating on possible solutions, but I didn’t
feel compelled to write anything along these lines for public consumption;
besides, there were fine, dedicated, activist writers out there carrying the
fight forward. I did write a least a half-dozen essays on the theme of
political depression and what one can do about it.
Speaking of which: A good share of this
much-reduced publishing schedule was due largely to that political depression
both Ernie and I (and so many of our activist compatriots) were undergoing,
feeling that the country was well and truly fucked by the forces of
mean-spirited reaction and conservative Republican willful ignorance, and
there wasn’t much we could do to change the situation.
The installation of Donald Trump as
president— an ignorant, reckless,
dangerous, demagogic authoritarian —
definitely qualified as an “extraordinary event” requiring our attention. So
back we went into the fray, but on a much-reduced publishing schedule.
We two aging warriors have some serious
thinking to do about CP’s future. The current political situation is
desperate enough to convince us to keep on keeping’ on. On the other hand,
serious health and other concerns seem to indicate that it may soon be time
we call it quits.
As always during the past 15 years,
ideas and suggestions and instincts have been much appreciated. We’re
certainly open to your thoughts now.
Copyright 2017 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government and international relations, he
has taught at universities in California and Washington. A
he was the San Francisco Chronicle's theater critic for nearly two decades.
He is co-founder and co-editor of The
Crisis Papers. To contact: