James Orlin Grabbe (RIP) was a genius, a freedomist, and an entrepreneur. Before the days of LewRockwell.com, he was also the very first person to ever publish me – in 1998. I walked on air for weeks after he published my very first article. I continued to write for his Laissez Faire City Times for a number of years. This was the cusp of radical libertarian thinking on the web. He was unique. This man was, and remains, underrated in the world of ideas and resistance to the state. Grabbe received his PhD in economics from Harvard, and he later taught economics at the Wharton School of Business. Here is a snippet from his Wikipedia entry:
Some of Grabbe’s investigations surrounding controversial current events, made direct contact with sources in government essential, which led to further investigations. The increasing popularity of the Internet made his articles (and essays) widely spread. Some of those published investigations are recognized today still as relevant, including his article “When Osama Bin Ladin Was Tim Osman”.
Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, produced an investigative segment about misinformation on the Internet that aired on March 2, 1997. Grabbe was interviewed on the show and presented as a representation of misinformation found online. Her comments about the dangers of anyone being able to create content on the Internet, rather than relying on mass media, led to further commentary online.
It is entertaining to reflect back on the early days on the Internet and watch the major media organs gasp in horror at the thought of alternative, unedited push media that escaped the conventional gatekeepers of (dis)information. A 1997 Salon piece notes the following:
9:29 pm on October 5, 2013 Email Karen De Coster
Last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” brought its viewers a shocking exposi of the Internet: It turns out that the Net, the Web and particularly Usenet news groups are full of unsubstantiated “facts,” opinions, rumors and even lies. Stop the presses!
Correspondent Lesley Stahl took a whirlwind Net tour with Internet World editor Andrew Kantor, using search engines to find dubious reports emanating from the likes of J. Orlin Grabbe, a Reno, Nev.-based conspiracy theorist. It seems that wackos like Grabbe can use the Net to “instantly” reach 20 million people. (CBS doesn’t do its own credibility any favors by omitting the word “potential” before that 20 million figure, suggesting that Grabbe and his ilk have an automatic mass audience rather than an infinitesimal sliver of total Net traffic.)
“Forgery, fakery, falsehoods — they’re everywhere on the Internet!” Stahl concludes. “And rumors are so rampant that cyberspace is becoming a dangerous place, especially for corporate America.”
…Digging through the misinformation on Usenet, Stahl asks, “Shouldn’t this be expunged? … It’s wrong. It’s inaccurate, it’s irresponsible. It is spreading fear and suspicion of the government.”