Updating the March Japan-side expat blogger/internet antics.

Sorry for my absence, but I have had limited time this month—and especially limited time for certain nonsense that goes on among people who comment in the small circle surrounding what I call the Japan-side expat blogosphere.

This season’s flamewar looks to have gone as follows:

Freelance reporter Christopher Johnson has been looking to identify the person or persons behind a once-trafficked website, now looking pretty defunct, called “Japan Probe“. Japan Probe used to put up some interesting pop-cultural articles and managed to generate a decent number of hits. This has been in decline as the website turned into attacking reporters (with particular emphasis last year on Christopher Johnson). Johnson maintains that Eido Inoue is behind the site. Prior to his latest reporting, it seemed fairly conclusory that Inoue provided material to the site. In rare cases, this was for attribution, but in others it was obvious if you read between the lines.

Johnson apparently spent a good part of a year sitting on the site, and finally decided he nailed his man.

This declaration set off a whole bevy of internet shots, countershots, and meantweets. At some point, and it isn’t clear why or how, New York Times journalist Hiroko Tabuchi (who I’ve never figured out what the connection was between Johnson and her was) was somehow implicated in the brouhaha, for which Japan Probe promptly had an installment.

Next, there was a story about Inoue and Tepido.org/Japologism’s Yasumoto-Nicholson in Asia Times. In a quote or two, things that I concluded about what Johnson had reported are portrayed as if that’s my own conclusion. I don’t know if I should have to review this, but: if I write something, and someone else misinterprets it, that’s not my fault. It used to be, if you read something wrong, that’s you—not the writer!

This Asia Times story then prompted someone calling himself Jeremy Blaustein to send me a couple of meantweets. I don’t know Jeremy Blaustein or where he fits into the March flamewar. I’m not quite sure what his deal is, or if he is a longtime reader or what have you.

I don’t know if it pays to go over all this again, but here goes: I haven’t met Christopher Johnson and don’t “coordinate” anything about his reporting with him. I know about him, like you, from the original story about the visa snafu in Narita Airport around Christmas 2011. (Known as “Gulag for Gaijin”, it was not his best reporting.) Once Mr. Johnson became the subject of so many over-the-top personal attacks, I started to pay more attention to his situation, and it sounded to me like he had been managing on a certain number of “strings”, or reporting assignments in Tokyo, after he lost what sounds like regular employment (sei sha’in) with NHK. It sounds like there was a long-running feud from that, where the other individual took to badmouthing Mr. Johnson over the internet (Mr. Johnson has said that this is David Schaufele.) When Gulag made the topic on debito.org, there was another set of anonymous critics who got into the act. Like a pinball, the action moved to Japan Probe, and now Mr. Johnson has fingered Eido Inoue as the individual who did most of the criticizing at that website.

So this has gone on for about fifteen or sixteen months . . .

Still don’t know where Hiroko Tabuchi fit in in all of that.

I see two big concerns.

As I’ve been saying, the reporting world is changing. Newsprint is turning into a hyper-local product, and people are getting broader (state, national, international news) from the internet. I think it’s a concern when reporters in that sphere get to be shot at in the dark, so to speak, by people with a vengeance, a screwy agenda, or some other ax to grind. On the one hand, you might think it’s pretty dumb to go at, you know, a reporter. Seeing as how a reporter generally finds things out for a living. You’re not going to stay anonymous for very long.

Especially when it comes to a community like the expat one in Japan, which is more the size of a college town, centered around (but not exclusively) Tokyo, how are people going to find anything out? If the reporter has to watch what he/she says for fear of being the next target of self-important clowns in the shadows, I think it has a chilling effect on the reporting.

When I was in Tokyo, it was a bear figuring out what the real story was about the expat community and what the news was versus the rumor. So many people would tell me to “pick up Metropolis” or “go over to GaijinPot.com”. But these are not news outlets. They’re businesses.

No offense, but the international desk of the New York Times isn’t going to tell me what the story is in the expat community either. I’m going to get news of international significance.

We already see what happens when you rely on bloggers to tell you what’s going on. That doesn’t work.

So it will remain reporters; and, in this environment, bit reporters who are putting together “strings”. Now, in that hardscrabble environment, also having these people with a target on their back isn’t the best, is it?

Second, I am not confident, nor should you be, that Japan doesn’t do its best to control the news that makes its way back to America. You can imagine an easy formula: reporter on a “string”, news is not favorable, reporter no longer gets access. This is how local newspaper reporting went on for over a hundred years. Local mayor doesn’t like what’s written, beat reporter no longer gets the scoops. In developing far suburbia, it was even more about how all development, car-dependent development, was good. After all, notice how much the car dealership’s ads added to the weight of the paper.

I, for one, would like to know what is currently going on in Japan, without having to worry that the story is being spun because the reporter has to pay the rent. I’d hate to think that the reporter has got to be worried about being hounded in the shadows by anonymous people. I could see where that kind of environment, would, over time, make for there being less quality reporting, not more. And it wouldn’t be the fault of the reporter.

So I have no interest in flamewars. And I kind of just take it all in, making my own notes. It’s hard to see what the good purpose of it is, but easy to see the bad implications.

[Update 4/6/13: A note about comments below. While I still leave comments open, I do run a comment board that is MUCH tighter than it used to be, and I think many websites all over the internet are also appreciating that comment boards become the useful playground of trolls and other people who don’t mean well by what they post.

As is typical, this post has received correspondence below from someone who reads very much like a close associate of Jake Adelstein, who wants to deliver to you, the readers, a message he is spinning about CJ. His take differs from mine, and it becomes the old game of crying that they are being “blocked” because, boo hoo, they just happen to have an alternative view. (“Boo hoo! I am being blocked for my view!! And not the nasty (anonymous) thing I’m trying to doooo!!” Like that.)

So I hope this person, who does not use their name, appreciates the fact that I have to look at what they are saying, and think about it, before I just go hit “approve”. Approve, of course, doesn’t mean consent. It means I’m letting your part of the dialogue in, at my discretion.

You will also appreciate the fact that after I have written above, that I am not interested in flamewars, you attempt to start one here, while feigning respect for me and my forum. Please understand that you are being let in as someone who might be tolerated, in the off chance that you actually do have a reasonably objective perspective on the internet bullying that surrounds the Tokyo Japan-side expat community.

But frankly, it just sounds like you want to bring your flamewar over to another forum, and involve me in it.]

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3 comments

  1. Xkcd23 · April 2, 2013

    The short scoop on what happened, from what I can gather:

    1. CJ got a rep as a bully in journalist circles, began to affect employment

    [My understanding: There seemed to have been a political spat with a co-worker at NHK. The co-worker got the better end of dispute. This happened sometime in 2007, but the co-worker, through anonymity, continued at CJ over the internet, some years later. It is hard to separate the later two stories (involving “strings”) from whatever had been going on with this co-worker and the internet.]

    2. Gaijin gulag story got picked up by economist blog and received fierce backlash from expat community that considered it preposterous

    [This is a bit of a stretch. Most people were skeptical, but gave it a hearing. I know I didn’t buy it word-for-word, but I also wonder what the immigration office was up to with their alleged delay.]

    3. JakeAdelstein asked what CJ’s visa status had been. CJ responded with anger.

    [My understanding is that the association with Adelstein involves an assistant that knew CJ, that CJ had recommended to Adelstein, and that Adelstein hired. This may be the same person who was alleged to have plagiarized some reporting that CJ had done.]

    4. Adelstein wrote a blog post (since deleted) saying an unstable journalist was about o write a vicious hit piece on him. According to him, this journalist had asked adelstein to vouch for him publicly, and adelstein politely declined. He says he was directly told the hit piece is retaliation

    [Well, right there you’ve got “unstable journalist”, which just sounds like the kinds of shots that made me really skeptical about these people who hide behind anonymity (like yourself) and do this kind of thing. I read the piece in question, and it did not read as any kind of pre-emptive blog post.]

    5. Sure enough, long rambling attack on adelstein comes out from CJ. It has been heavily edited since, but contained outright lies. It even suggested adelstein may not have ever really worked for the Yomiuri. CJ claims he’s merely reporting intel from sources, but intent seems pretty clear

    [I also read that one, and I don’t think you’ve characterized it fairly. It had to do with a concern that Jake Adelstein didn’t have the “ko-ne” (connections) to the Yakuza community that he claimed. A lot hanged upon some litigation Jake, as Joshua Adelstein, had with the National Geographic, when he supposedly could not produce the access to Yakuza that Nat Geo had been promised. The part about Yomiuri dealt with whether Adelstein had been on the police beat, or the society page beat. If I remember, that debate has to do with what side of an old business card (Japanese or English) is the one that governs.]

    6. The two articles devastate CJ’s professional reputation. Gulag article makes it hard to trust his reporting. Adelstein attack puts him on blacklist of an influential journalist with plenty of friends in Tokyo. CJ complains that he can’t get work anymore. A Japan times editor even calls him a troll (or something to that extent) on twitter.

    [By that point in the bickering last year, it seems to me hard to make the conclusion that you do. Is there actually a “blacklist” of journalists in Tokyo? Who controls it? How does someone get on it? Off?]

    7. CJ claims there is a systematic attempt to discredit him, and begins going after others he sees as in on it.

    [I have looked at this more as certain individuals taking liberty with character assassinations in the shadows, and CJ sitting on those few websites until he determines who is the likely author(s) of the commentary.]

    8. At this point, journalists like adelstein and his friends seem to have decided CJ just isn’t worth the trouble of responding to. No matter how much he insinuates negative rumours about them in twitter, he can’t get much of a reaction anymore.

    [At this point, CJ is probably hitting certain individuals much too closely for comfort, and so they’ve decided to dial it down dramatically. It isn’t so entertaining for them anymore.]

    9. All this activity attracts the attention of various gaijin blogs and expat twitter followers, who heckle CJ constantly

    [This is who? One individual who may actually be using his real name, and one or two others who cycle through a battery of fictitious identities.]

    10. CJ begins to write pieces going after THEM, branding them cyber bullies. Now CJ has a whole new, less consequential wave of enemies to occupy his time with. They replace the journalists as the focus of his online attention

    [What impressed me about the later reporting are the various dots that
    Chris Johnson connected, based apparently on a year-and-change of sitting on certain notorious blog and discussion sites. Websites with their own controversies, and less-than-admirable reputations. From the evidence Johnson presented, he persuaded me that certain individuals who came off like feeders of material to certain sites probably have had a more extensive role in what those websites presented to the Japan-side expat community.]

    There’s a pattern emerging: CJ writes something (article A) inflammatory, and gets a negative reaction that hurts his reputation. In retaliation, he writes an article B going after the people that heckled him . Then THAT gets a negative reaction, and harms his rep even more. So he writes an article C attacking the second wave of hecklers! That in turn provokes even more negative reactions from yet another wave of people, and the cycle repeats yet again.

    At this point, he keeps on fighting because professionally he has nothing left to lose anymore anyway. Since he can no longer find work he has too much free time on his hands, and so he spends it trapped in a cycle of pointless Internet aggression. His critics love jeering him, and he loves (on some twisted level) feeding into it. Old enemies back out of the flame war only to be replaced by new ones

    .

  2. Xkcd23 · April 4, 2013

    >[Well, right there you’ve got “unstable journalist”, which just sounds like the kinds of shots that made me really skeptical about these people who hide behind anonymity (like yourself) and do this kind of thing.

    Are you implying there’s something underhanded about what I’m writing here? Pseudonymous identities are pretty common on the Internet, and given the rampant “cyber bullying” going on right now, not posting personal information is looking like a pretty good practice. Some people even say *you* are CJ. You may know for a fact that’s not true, but I don’t.

    [Response: I am obviously not CJ, unless you believe CJ started a blog in 2003 from New Jersey, and then went to Japan afterwards.]

    >also read that one, and I don’t think you’ve characterized it fairly. It had to do with a concern that Jake Adelstein didn’t have the “ko-ne” (connections) to the Yakuza community that he claimed.

    It concerned at least a dozen different claims about adelstein, and you’re just cherry-picking the most interesting one. People can find a copy-paste of the original version on gaijinpot and see for themselves.

    [Yes, I remember seeing the whole thing, but was outstanding (i.e. what stood out) was Joshua Adelstein vs. National Geographic. I don’t think “cherry picking” is really a very fair counter.]

    >[[My original:] By that point in the bickering last year, it seems to me hard to make the conclusion that you do. Is there actually a “blacklist” of journalists in Tokyo? Who controls it? How does someone get on it? Off?]

    Now come on- if you don’t believe me, believe CJ. he’s said himself he’s had a very hard time finding paid work since this started. Nobody disputes he has been put on a word-of-mouth “blacklist” in Tokyo, least of all him.

    [My response: I guess what I’m saying is that it’s very hard to separate a bad economy from what you are saying. As I understand the story, 2007 was regular employment, the NHK. When NHK stopped, CJ picked up various strings. The strings ended, and for some reason, that is still unclear, the paperwork for the visa wasn’t properly in place in late 2011. Subsequently, the visa was reissued. The simple fact is, there are limited employment opportunities in journalism, period. It’s no surprise that news bureaus are cutting back their Japan operations, and if someone wants to attribute that to anything other than a bad economy, I can’t control that.

    I am still very interested in the blacklist and who you think controls it, and who is on it.]

  3. Jim Di Griz · April 5, 2013

    More than one problem with your narrative, but this is the one that struck me the most;
    7. ‘ CJ claims there is a systematic attempt to discredit him, and begins going after others he sees as in on it.’

    There is a systematic attempt to discredit him, isn’t there? You just stated as much yourself in the previous step of your summary;

    6. ‘Adelstein attack puts him on blacklist of an influential journalist with plenty of friends in Tokyo. CJ complains that he can’t get work anymore. A Japan times editor even calls him a troll (or something to that extent) on twitter.’

    (I am beginning to suspect that you are a ‘concern troll’.)

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