King Charles

If you’re getting ready for your Fourth of July weekend and want to read something both oddly fascinating and hilarious, read this piece Tom Kludt wrote this afternoon about a guy named Charles Johnson and his new book with St Martin’s Press. Johnson’s the guy who’s been riling up the aftermath of the Mississippi senate runoff with widely disputed claims that the Cochran campaign was paying black voters to vote for Cochran. But more interestingly he’s been on a kind of crazy twitter tear with a mix of manic self-promotion, raw trash talk, accusations of complicity in killing a man, a bizarre series of threats and macho-jousting with one of the DC GOP top press guys and a running series of battles with various people tied to the Cochran campaign. He’s the guy who published call-in information for his McDanielite supporters to crash a Cochran conference call yesterday, a call which was very much crashed and led to the unforgettable moment when the call was taken over by a wild McDanielite ranting about buying the votes of black people who would otherwise be out “picking Cotton” – making clear once and for all there’s definitely nothing racial about any of this.

Depending on your perspective it’s an O’Keefian recasting of guerrilla journalism or some sort of emotionally instability or full breakdown. I mentioned a couple days ago that I saw this as sort of a type, a model for young conservative journalists, mostly under 30, mostly in the orbit of The Daily Caller, Breitbart, the Free Beacon and a few other similar outlets. Many also have their own one-man outlets or bounce between the different places. But the common denominators are a history of pretty big errors that would be career-enders in other settings, a lot of erratic behavior and a kind of hyper-aggressive flouting of almost any of the norms of journalism. Put more simply, they break a lot of rules and make mammoth errors. But it doesn’t seem to matter.

So with all Tom and I were pretty surprised when Johnson announced that he’d signed a lucrative book deal with St. Martin’s Press, which is of course, a pretty distinguished publishing imprint. Tom got in touch with Johnson who turned out to be happy to regale him with all the details, even share a number of emails over recent days with the publisher. Among other things, the emails show Johnson pleading with St Martin’s Sara Thwaite to allow pre-sales of the as yet unwritten book to start right now, to take advantage of the publicity tied to the Mississippi race. Alas, Thwaite tells him, St. Martin’s has a policy that it will only sell books if they are within 299 days of release. But it’s the subject of the book itself where things really get interesting. Or perhaps better to say, more interesting, because the book – in the draft dust jacket copy from the publisher – amounts to an audacious act of rebranding, essentially seeking to recast what most would call abject hackery or partisan hitmanship as the deepest sort of journalism. Those aren’t my characterizations – read the dusk jacket copy in the piece, they’re his: conflating and combining opposition research, working explicitly with candidates and political organizations to damage opponents – much as a lawyer or PR agent represents a client – and presenting it as journalism, indeed, the highest form of journalism.

Along the way, Johnson tries to get his contact at St. Martin’s hyped up with his “viral moments”.

What’s a “viral moment”? “I’m having one right now regarding Mississippi senate race,” he tells St Martin’s Sara Thwaite. “My stuff is being mentioned all over the net.”

As St Martin’s put it, “Charles C. Johnson is a leading researcher and journalist who has written for major national newspapers and magazines. In Oppo Man, he reveals what he and a loosely-created network of cohorts do; some ethically, others less so, and how their research is doing the work that investigative journalists once did.”

Read Tom’s piece.