The eXile has been censored. Not in Russia. Not by Putin's brutal press-stomping regime. The eXile is censored in America. But it's not what you think: the censor isn't Ashcroft or some other minor Bush loony. That would be too obvious. A compliment even. No, we've been censored, by, of all people, David Johnson, a squeamish Quaker who runs the once-highly-influential Johnson's Russia List... acting on the orders of his sponsor, a Democrat Party wonk and Stanford professor whose dedication to promoting democracy in the former Soviet Union is matched only by his relentless four-year campaign to censor and marginalize the eXile.
Johnson hadn't posted an eXile article in months. I didn't pay attention because his list isn't important to us the way it used to be. The JRL has fallen into relative obscurity (it seems he begins at least one mailing a month with a pleading note like "Is this too much?" or "Any comments?" or "Would appreciate some feedback from JRL recipients") and our newspaper is less focused on Russia than a few years ago. But recently I noticed that even our Russia pieces weren't making it onto the list. That seemed wrong. I wanted to find out.
Two issues ago, I sent Johnson my article on Limonov's trial in Saratov, Limonov's own account of his arrest last year, and a few other pieces including new press reviewer "Philby Burgess's" thrashing of McFaul and Dr. Dolan's review of a Russian collection of short stories. Again, no posting. I sent Johnson a follow-up letter asking him why he didn't post any of the articles. Surely Limonov is important enough? Johnson had posted articles from other sources about Limonov's trial, such as gazeta.ru and the Asia Times. At the very least, Limonov's own account of his arrest -- one of the major cultural events to happen in Russia over the past two years by Russian media coverage measures -- deserved to be posted. The book it was translated from, My Political Biography, is a bestseller in Moscow.
Johnson relented with a terse reply: "I'll post the book review." That is, the least offensive piece.
Incredibly enough, Johnson actually went out of his way to delete the name "the eXile" from the book review, and delete "the eXile" from the table of contents for the day's JRL, heading it simply: "John Dolan." I have never, in five years subscribing to the JRL, seen Johnson refuse to name a publication in his table of contents or delete the name of a publication when posting an article.
For the last issue, I sent him my article on the Chechen terrorist/Moussaoui/9-11 connection. Johnson may not have agreed with it, but it was certainly relevant judging by the responses I got. Johnson didn't print it. A few days later I sent him this email:
JRL-AID: Can Sir Bob save the free press?
"David, Is the eXile, the word 'eXile' or am I censored from your list?"
I didn't get a response. Johnson always responds within hours - usually within minutes. The man literally lives and sleeps with his DSL-connected computer.
The answer was obvious. Silence is the oldest, and most effective censorship trick in the American establishment's playbook. Getting denied access is death. So I sent him a final email in which I said that his silence confirmed that he has censored the eXile's and my name from the Johnson's Russia List.
I didn't hear from Johnson for five days. Then I received an email from "Post Office" with my email to Johnson, titled "Censored?" bundled in. It was from Johnson's system administrator. My email address had been blocked -- by Johnson. All emails I send him will be bounced back. The ultimate kiss-off in the cyber age, as I learned when I dated a girl at the Anglo-American high school a couple years ago.
Something had clearly changed -- Johnson at one time was the eXile's biggest backer, for which he was made into a kind of martyr/hero, getting top billing in the Rolling Stone feature on the eXile as a moral crusader. Usually these changes of heart can be explained by money. I was curious who was backing Johnson. He couldn't be living on subscribers' checks any longer, since his subscriber base had dwindled. After a quick check of Johnson's Russia List home page the mystery was solved: