Monday, April 5, 1999

Week of 04/05/1999

Third Year Reflections
A Look Back At Three Years Of Commentary

- by David Matthews 2

On April 1st, 1996, a freelance writer from a small city in northern Georgia started what he initially considered to be a practice run at being a syndicated writer. He took some of his unpublished works and put them on a new communications medium called the Internet, and put them under a banner called "From The Cage Of The Beast."

In a medium where web sites can come and go in a blink of an eye, any small web site that can continue for three years and continue to generate interest is an achievement in and of itself. Consider, if you will, all the web sites that can claim to be online this long.. then take out the ones sponsored by corporations (NBC, Microsoft, Netscape, Yahoo!, Wired, Ziff-Davis, etc.).. and the sex-oriented ones (Playboy, Penthouse, etc.).. and you won’t find too many sites left. Certainly not too many that deal in weekly commentary.

Brutally Honest really began under the banner of "From The Cage Of The Beast."

Not really a catchy title, and in fact it was an editorial banner for a proposed newsletter that never got off the ground. The banner survived, though, and became the masthead for the refuge of then unpublished articles. At the time, there were a small collection of articles that, for one reason or another, just didn’t get published. Each one of those articles made their way to the web site. Eventually, I developed articles exclusively for the online column, while still working on articles to be published in newspapers and other more traditional sources.

1996 was a very hectic year for the Internet. The very notion of free speech online was under direct attack by the Clinton Administration through the Telecommunications Deregulation Act, and its anti-American amendment - The Communications Decency Act. The CDA outlawed any speech deemed "indecent" - a standard never defined by the law - which could be accessed by children. This act was pushed through by the bill’s author, the dishonorable Senator James Exxon of Nebraska, with the intense lobbying of several conservative and theocratic organizations, including the Christian Coalition, Focus On The Family, and Enough Is Enough. Fortunately for America, the Internet community fought back. A coalition of free speech groups, major high-tech corporations, service providers, and tens of thousands of individuals fought the law in the courts, and fortunately we won. (Yes, I was one of those thousands.)

As you can tell, free speech online was and still is a major issue for this writer. The Internet is a wonder medium whose potential has yet to be fully realized, but the one thing that people need to know is that the Internet is NOT like regular broadcast mediums such as television or radio. It is quite literally an end-user medium, which means that the burden of responsibility has to be with the people who use the computer. That means parents have to be the one thing they sometimes hate being - parents.

1996 was also an election year, which meant months of talking about politics. Favorite subjects included third parties, the zero-sum mentality, the near-monopoly power of the Democrats and Republicans, and voter apathy (otherwise known as the non-vote). These are constant themes that appear even in the more recent articles.

1997 witnessed the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, the civil court judgment against OJ Simpson, the US Supreme Court destroying the CDA, and the transformation of "From The Cage of the Beast" to "Brutally Honest."

At first, the transformation was subtle. New backgrounds, some colorful metaphors, adding the catchy phrase "Let’s get brutally honest here" someplace in the articles. Eventually the masthead changed, and from that point on, it became the home of Brutally Honest. There was also more talk about current events than just politics, and even a focus (or "Target") on certain issues that aren’t current events.

1998 was certainly "the year of sex" because that was the overwhelming issue of the time. Stories of President Clinton’s extramarital activities, from the sexual harassment of Paula Jones, to oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, to the alleged physical groping of Kathleen Wiley, went from the rumor mills to the nightly news. And it didn’t stop there. Soon members of Congress were admitting to affairs in years gone by. There were two specials on sex running through the year - "Sex, Lies, and Clinton" and "Sex In Society."

And like sex, the hypocrisy also ran rampant on both sides of the dominant political isles. While Congress was resurrecting the Spanish Inquisition, they were also passing laws that once again criminalized speech online. The Child Online Protection Act was a politically-correct revamping of the Communications Decency Act that was quietly added to an omnibus spending bill, the vague wording of which made even established news services into hardened criminals. Fortunately, thanks to the legal precedent set by the US Supreme Court in overturning the CDA, COPA was stopped by the courts, and free speech was once again protected.

Brutally Honest also expanded last year. A list of commonly-used terminology was added, allowing those users new to the site to understand what I’m talking about when I talk about the "Gods of Mount Morality," and to tell the difference between "The Better Bill" and "The Worse Bill." The Random Thoughts page was also added, allowing me to vent on even more issues per week.

The end of 1998 brought some very shocking changes to the political landscape. A sitting president was impeached by the US House for the second time in its 200+ year history. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich surprised the nation with his announced resignation following the failure of the Republican Party to make any more gains in the November elections. The election of a third-party candidate - former wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura - to governor of Minnesota broke the myth that such political parties were unelectable. And the sudden resignation of would-be House Speaker Bob Livingston following his admitting to an extramarital affair further fanned the flames of sexual inquisitors looking for closet skeletons.

So here we are in 1999. Clinton was acquitted by the US Senate. Free speech online is still free.. for now. We’ve gone from bombing Iraq to bombing Kosovo. We went from talking about a budget surplus to supposedly HAVING a budget surplus. And the ever-present bogeyman called Y2K is on the backs of everyone’s minds.

So what is in store for Brutally Honest as we enter year four? Well hopefully the next step will be audio broadcasts. I am currently weighing some options for either audio segments or live broadcasts over the Internet. This kind of setup isn’t easy, given that now I will have three projects every week to work on, but once it gets started, watch out!

Of course, should current events continue there will be no shortage of things for me to rant about. The degradation of personal responsibility by the trial lawyers, the rampant attacks against our freedoms by the religious wrong, the Chicken Little antics of the members of the media, and the ongoing and systematic efforts by the Clinton Administration to turn America into a socialist state that even Josef Stalin would be proud of, ensures that there will be plenty of subjects for me to talk about for years to come.

However, all this wouldn’t be possible without you, the readers. Your interest is why Brutally Honest keeps going. (That and the web space from AOL.) So from the brutally honest bottom of my heart, I say to each of you thanks for sticking with me.

And now back to shaking up the world.

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