January 5, 2010
American Thinker's First Six YearsBy Thomas Lifson
American Thinker turns six today. Like six-year-old human beings, we're still growing and learning rapidly, with lots more eventful life ahead. Following a few test posts in late 2003, AT began daily publication of original articles and blog items on January 5th, 2004. The growth and change we've experienced since then have been remarkable.
Still the same, however, is our commitment to presenting thoughtful commentary on the events of public significance, from a wide range of people, going well beyond the usual suspects found in more venerable outlets. We remain grounded in an understanding of fallible human nature, the wisdom of the American Founding Documents, and the value of tradition as guide to the future.
The idea of creating AT really began to germinate in my mind in the wake of 9/11, as politics became not just a matter of taxes, regulation, and laws, but of national survival. War had come to America, and it was time for American politics to take the conflict seriously so as to overcome it. I never served my country in the armed forces, as I was classified 4-F during the Vietnam War, but following 9/11, I became convinced that now was the time to make up for that in an arena where I was fit to serve: the war of ideas.
I have long called myself a "recovering academic." After I began my career as a Harvard professor, I discovered that academic life is like a drug, allowing too many practitioners to detach from critical aspects of real life. It took me only four years to decide to leave, though like many others in recovery, I had periods of relapse, serving as a visiting professor at Columbia, Harvard (again), and Japan's National Museum of Ethnology, in binges ranging from six months to two years. Despite leaving academia, I remained committed to ideas and to teaching, in one format or another.
By the 1990s, the internet (and talk radio) were already my chosen battlefield in the war of political ideas, for I had been an active online analyst and critic of Bill Clinton stretching back to the pre-Windows-era subscription forums. It took me a while after 9/11 to figure out how to set up whatever internet presence made sense in terms of influencing the national dialogue -- and ultimately, the national political understanding -- with well-reasoned commentary.
The three incredibly insightful bloggers at Powerline offered both inspiration and one model: daily commentary from each of them, in a scrolling blog format. Wonderful as Powerline was, with its writers' high level of intelligence and sophistication, I knew that there were many other Americans, smarter and more richly experienced than all but a handful of professional journalists, but who lacked access to a widely available publication. I wanted our new website to be welcoming to others, not just a personal project. And I wanted people who had life experience of their own to be able to gain access to a national audience.
Two wonderful friends, Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky, were already writing frequently on the news and politics of the day (as was I) in an e-mail group maintained by Richard. The three of us were willing to commit to write for a new website that I would create. Ed and Rich, co-founders, generously offered to help me with financing the software-writing and server expenses, and so I set about designing a website that would welcome and help develop a new generation of commentators. The key to the project was to signal from the outset that we wanted to cultivate serious original thought and share it with others.
It took only a little while to come up with the name "American Thinker." As soon as I discovered that the domain name americanthinker.com was available, I grabbed it. Auguste Rodin's famous statue The Thinker offered an obvious departure point, and the thought of using Uncle Sam in the pose made famous by Rodin occurred to me immediately.
Finding an artist who could render the concept took much longer, but eventually I had the great good fortune to meet the brilliant young figurative artist Sean Cheetham, who immediately grasped what was wanted, and who, after sending me a few studies, set about creating the beautiful oil painting that is featured on our masthead. (You can read more about Sean, a rising star in the art world, in Artworks Magazine, and in various art blogs.)
Development of AT
AT received a warm welcome in the world of conservative political websites, for which I will always be grateful. Notably, my friend Lucianne Goldberg featured us on her website Lucianne.com, while Powerline and The American Spectator generously wrote about us when we were in our infancy. Over time, other websites also took notice as we continued to publish daily substantive articles and blog commentaries on items in the news. At first, we reached about a thousand people a day, but that figure grew on a sustained basis, and it continues to grow. The rough trendline is that our readership has doubled every year.
Our many friends in talk radio have contributed a lot in bringing our work to the notice of a wider public. Lee Rodgers (and his then cohost, Melanie Morgan) of KSFO radio in San Francisco took early notice of us, in part perhaps because I was a regular caller to the show in the era when it accepted listener calls. I became a semi-regular guest on the KSFO Morning Show, and I continue to appear there. On the national scene, many of the major conservative hosts have featured our material or had one or more of our writers on as guests.
We sincerely and deeply thank all of them, including Rush Limbaugh (whose webmaster created the graphic you see to the left), Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, and many others. When Dennis Miller began his syndicated talk show two and a half years ago on Westwood One, I phoned in, and we quickly hit it off. Dennis has been extremely kind to AT and me in many ways, even allowing Richard Baehr and me to guest-host for him when he was on vacation last month.
Obama and American Thinker
Although I deplore his policies and worked very hard for his opponent in the presidential election of 2008, Barack Obama also deserves some credit for helping AT. Our writers collectively grasped the essence of the man well before most, and during 2008, we brought to light many of the disturbing aspects of his highly sanitized and manipulated personal biography. I spent part of my early adulthood on the left, and I immediately recognized both the milieu from which Obama sprang and the codewords he spoke. I also know a phony when I see one.
Thanks to our work outing Obama's sanitized past and radical agenda, AT's prominence skyrocketed in 2008. Readers hungry for something more than the propaganda pablum dished out by the mainstream media flocked to AT, and we began experiencing days when more than 100,000 people read our pages during the late campaign.
One surprising and gratifying aspect of our work is the attention we have gotten from overseas media. About 8% of our readership comes from outside the United States, but that number seems to include a fair number of journalists, editors, and other opinion leaders. In fact, overseas print and broadcast media have been very generous in citing AT. During the 2008 presidential election, for instance, our chief political correspondent (and co-founder) Richard Baehr provided live political analysis for the largest cable news network in India, while Ed Lasky was filmed in a documentary on the election for Finnish television.
Following the 2008 election, as expected, readership dropped a bit from the incredible peaks it had experienced, though it was still substantially larger than it was as late as August. But as soon as Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office, with AT supplying ongoing political analysis, our growth resumed, surpassing even the election peak on a sustained basis. Year 2009 readership once again virtually doubled from the previous year, despite the huge run-up during the 2008 election. In 2009, AT was visited 34 million times, with over 103 million page views. The analytical software tells us that 10.7 million unique visitors came onto AT that year, but I suspect that many people are double-counted. Nevertheless, just under 1.5 million unique visitors have come to AT each of the last few months, and it is safe to say that millions of Americans read AT last year.
The AT Community
Almost immediately, AT attracted outstanding new writers, and more have come our way every year. I am very grateful for the caliber of the people whose words have graced our website. There are too many to single out any, but every reader of AT can make his or her own list. Without their efforts, AT would not have made the progress it has.
The writers and readers of American Thinker were already forming a community of sorts even before we began enabling reader comments a couple of years ago. The need to monitor comments was obvious (anyone could potentially post a threat, obscenity, vulgarism, or worse), so I was reluctant to start allowing them. However, to my delight and amazement, after at first doing the monitoring ourselves, reliable and hard-working volunteers quickly made themselves available from among the commenters. Jeanette Colville, whose piece on the comment moderators appears today, has been the unsung heroine -- virtually AT's guardian angel -- organizing and coordinating the Council of Moderators, who foster a thoughtful forum and protect us from those who would like to discredit us by posting vile or otherwise inappropriate material.
The sense of community which has developed in our comment threads, along with the great insights provided by those posting comments, has been a real joy. By setting standards for our writers, we have attracted readers of a high caliber, and they often have fascinating things to say.
Someday, we hope to sponsor an AT get-together in a major city, where AT writers can meet with AT readers and hold discussion sessions on the great issues facing America. Such an undertaking is very expensive and would require a formidable amount of planning. But given the tremendous growth AT continues to experience, it ought to be possible someday.
For the first several years, I did all the editing and posting on AT based on the information and material sent to me by Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky, our news editor. Ed is a wonder: a man able to read and assimilate a vast amount of material daily and send in the most notable items appearing in the world's press. Richard is unsurpassed as an analyst of electoral politics.
But as we grew and expanded from three to roughly six daily articles, the workload on me became unsustainable. Friends and family all warned me that nobody can work seventy hours a week or more for years on end. We have been very fortunate in that first Rick Moran, and then Larrey Anderson stepped forward to help me with the blogs (Rick) and articles (Larrey), reading and editing submissions, and well writing their own material. Others contribute editorial insight on an occasional basis, as well.
2010 and Beyond
With the urgency of changing control of Congress in 2010, and of the White House in 2012, we expect the demand for AT's analysis to increase, and we will do everything we can to meet that demand. Our country's and our readership's needs are what give us energy. We hope to add more editorial help, and we hope to inaugurate new AT subject pages, beginning with the Environment Thinker, debuting this year, under the editorial leadership of Marc Sheppard, our environment editor.
The mortal peril facing our nation from terrorism has been joined by the financial, political, and social peril generated by the radicals assembled in the White House by Barack Obama. They are united in the goal of "fundamental change" of the political system designed by our Founders, who invoked Divine Providence in the writing of the United States Constitution. Even though it is increasingly ignored and modified today by courts mistakenly believing it to be a "living document" which they are free to modify, the Constitution is still unsurpassed as the basis for a just political system, and it provides us the tools we need to restore the system entrusted to us.
Although there may be many reasons for pessimism about the War on Terror, the economy, and the political system our children and grandchildren will have to live under, America has faced worse challenges during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Depression, and the Cold War. If we, the inheritors of the sacrifices of others during these struggles, can be worthy of those patriots who preceded us, then America can regain its footing as a light for all of humanity. We of AT promise to do our best.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.