If you were active on social media this weekend, you may have noticed frequent references to a website called “GotNews” and a writer named Charles C. Johnson. Often these references took the form of tweets like these:
Who is @ChuckCJohnson, and why do people want him banned from Twitter? This guide is for the lucky few who haven’t caught up on the story of Charles C. Johnson, and are curious why so many people, particularly in the mainstream media, despise him.
Who is Charles C. Johnson?
Johnson is a California-based 26-year-old independent journalist and proprietor of GotNews.com, where he publishes the majority of his articles. According to his online biography, he’s written for a litany of conservative publications in the past, including The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New York Sun. He is also the author of two books, one of which is enthusiastically blurbed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
He’s a conservative journalist?
Not exactly. Johnson rejects being labeled as “conservative,” and describes himself instead as “a radical” and “a revolutionary.” He frequently feuds with other conservative journalists. In a tweet published earlier this month, Johnson wrote: “I’m going to enthusiastically burn down the entire political establishment for fun. It’s time someone did.”
So he’s a crazy conservative journalist?
Sort of. Johnson is well-known for ending the career of a foreign policy analyst named Elizabeth O’Bagy, who among other things misrepresented her academic credentials to her employer, The Institute for the Study of War. More recently, he’s drawn attention for his (flawed) reporting in the Senate Republican primary race in Mississippi.
If he’s just another crazy conservative journalist, why has he become so internet-famous?
Johnson is equally well-known for publishing stories that fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. The list of Johnson stories that have been proven wrong is long, but his greatest hits include:
- Falsely accusing a New York Times reporter of secretly posing for Playgirl (after that reporter, David D. Kirkpatrick, published a story that deflated a few Benghazi conspiracy theories).
- Erroneously reporting that former Newark mayor Cory Booker didn’t actually reside in Newark.
- Contributing reporting to the Daily Caller’s infamous story about New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez allegedly soliciting prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. The story turned out to be a complete fabrication, and may have even been planted by the Cuban government.
He also thinks Obama is gay.
(He had previously tweeted: “Why can’t we find any women who have had sex with me & will talk?”)
Johnson seems pretty clearly incompetent. But why do people loathe him?
Johnson’s work for larger news organizations is mostly inept rubbish. But the stuff he publishes on GotNews.com tends to be intensely hateful—bizarre, non-sequitur, victim-attacking bile directly from, and directly for, the online right-wing’s id.
Johnson likes to publish articles, for example, insinuating that victims of police violence—particularly black victims—pretty much had it coming. Earlier this year, he collected screenshots of murdered teenager Michael Brown’s Instagram account. “Brown’s Instagram account also shows a violent streak that may help explain what led to a violent confrontation with Police officer Darren Wilson,” Johnson wrote. In other words, Brown deserved to die.
He gave a similar treatment to a pregnant woman named Dornella Connors, who was blinded by a bean bag fired by police officers in Ferguson, Mo. to quell protestors. Since Connors apparently lacked a criminal record, Johnson went after her boyfriend, Deangelas Lee, in an article titled “BREAKING: Blinded Pregnant Ferguson Protestor’s Boyfriend Tried Killing Cops With Car, Is Criminal.” To drive the point home, Johnson embedded a video of Lee rapping.
That’s really racist.
Yes. And these articles also put a lie to Johnson’s self-spun image as a radical patriot fighting against the political establishment. In article after article, he props up the interests of one of the most powerful political lobbies in the country: the police.
It’s not just Johnson’s attitude toward people of color who’ve been victimized by cops. Johnson in general likes to retaliate against certain individuals by publishing their personal information (a.k.a. doxxing). A recent example: After the New York Times published a copy of former Ferguson cop Darren Wilson’s marriage certificate, and named the street on which he used to live, Johnson published the home addresses—down to the house and apartment numbers—of the pair of reporters who authored the Times story. The headline read: “Why Can’t We Publish Addresses Of New York Times Reporters?”
Is that why people want Twitter to permanently ban him?
The most recent calls for Johnson to be banned from Twitter arose from Johnson’s decision to publish what he claims is the full name of “Jackie,” the woman who spoke to Rolling Stone about being raped at a U.V.A. fraternity in 2012. It’s not yet clear whether the name Johnson published is “Jackie’s” real name. But Johnson was so sure that Jackie lied about being raped that he began issuing threats on Twitter to publish more information about her:
Last night, he attempted to deliver on that promise by publishing a picture of a woman—who may or may not be Jackie—“proudly displaying a sign suggesting yet another rape” at a 2011 SlutWalk rally. Within hours of publication, Johnson updated the post to clarify that he didn’t actually know whether the woman in the photo was actually Jackie—thereby retracting the claim that Jackie “cried rape BEFORE #UVAHoax.” Still, he later promised even more news about Jackie:
That’s all really fucked up.
Yes, it is.
I’m having difficulty understanding why he’s writing this stuff.
There are a number of theories. Many think he simply craves attention; outspoken conservatives regularly accuse him of being insane. Here’s an email Sean Davis of The Federalist sent Johnson earlier this month:
Far more noteworthy than any of Johnson’s journalism stunts, however, is his intellectual pedigree.
What do you mean?
Johnson isn’t really a marginal or peripheral figure in mainstream conservatism, as his critics often make him out to be. Here’s his auto-biography:
He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Criterion, The American Spectator, The Claremont Review of Books, City Journal, Reason.com, National Review Online, Tablet Magazine, The Weekly Standard, Powerline, and The New York Sun.
His work has been featured on Real Clear Politics, the Drudge Report, Hotair.com, The Blaze, Breitbart.com, Rush Limbaugh’s Show, and the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web. He has been on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs and numerous radio programs, including Rush Limbaugh, Larry Elder, John Batchelor, Rusty Humphries, Dennis Prager, Larry Elder, Mark Levin, and Larry Kudlow. [...]
Charles has worked for Alan M. Dershowitz at Harvard Law School, Seth Lipsky at the New York Sun, Carl Schramm at the Kauffman Foundation, and Charles Kesler at the Claremont Review of Books.
The outlets and individuals named here aren’t InfoWars or Alex Jones. Indeed, Johnson’s biography describes someone raised by the intellectual right—his Calvin Coolidge biography was enthusiastically endorsed by John Yoo—and offered a platform by some of the most influential conservative publications.
Why does that matter?
It is certainly true that Johnson has alienated a wide swath of prominent conservatives with his tactics. But it’s disingenuous to argue that he’s disconnected from, or doesn’t represent, the main threads of conservative politics. (The same day Johnson published Jackie’s full name, National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson wrote an essay titled “We Should Name Rape Accusers.”) So the next time Johnson shits the conservative movement’s bed, for whatever reason, it’s important to remember exactly where he came from.
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