Daily Kos: Markos Moulitsas's website changed politics

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It was a message to the right-sympathizing family from the communist guerilla fighters: We can take your children at any time.

Terrified, the family fled to Chicago in 1980.

At 17, Moulitsas announced that he was joining the Army. It could hardly have come as more of a shock to his parents, mostly because they'd assumed he was headed for college. There was also the matter of his slight physique: Moulitsas's growth had stunted at 5-foot-6 and he weighed a scant 111 pounds.

Daily Kos executive editor Susan Gardner, a.k.a. "SusanG," broke national news
courtesy of Kos Media
Daily Kos executive editor Susan Gardner, a.k.a. "SusanG," broke national news
Moulitsas starred in a spot for Senate candidate Ned Lamont
Moulitsas starred in a spot for Senate candidate Ned Lamont

With his family's reluctant permission, Moulitsas shipped out to boot camp and trained as an artillery specialist. By the time he returned from his station in Bamberg, Germany, in 1991, he had adopted the nickname "Kos," put on 30 pounds, and become a Democrat.

"The Army taught me the very values that make us progressives—community, opportunity, and investment in people and the future," Moulitsas wrote of his political awakening. "I was increasingly disillusioned by the selfishness, lack of community, and sense of entitlement inherent in the Republican philosophy."

Upon his return, Moulitsas took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get his bachelor's in political science, journalism, and philosophy, then earned his law degree at Boston University. After graduation, he went west to Berkeley, hoping to make his fortune in the dot-com gold rush. But the company that hired him went belly up, and Moulitsas had to take a boring job at a web development firm.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Moulitsas found himself increasingly frustrated with coverage of the war. He went online to find likeminded individuals and stumbled across MyDD, or "My Due Diligence," a blog founded in 2001 by Jerome Armstrong. For increasing chunks of time during his workday, Moulitsas began poring through MyDD posts against the buildup to the war and, inspired, he built his own site on Movable Type with about $300, and—in what he felt was just a working title until he could think of something more creative—called it "Daily Kos."

"I am a progressive," he wrote in his first entry, dated May 26, 2002. "I am a liberal. I make no apologies."

  

ON MARCH 31, 2004, four security guards for the military contractor Blackwater were escorting empty flatbed trucks for an American catering company through the city of Fallujah. They were unfamiliar with this part of the city, so instead of taking a faster, safer route through the outskirts, they stumbled into the hostile, Sunni-controlled center.

While the convoy was stopped in traffic, a group of insurgents who'd been watching descended. At point-blank range, they executed the four contractors from behind, then dragged the bodies from the trucks.

In a wild and gruesome celebration, the insurgents hacked at the bodies, dragged them through the streets, and lit them on fire.

Two of the bodies—one missing most of its limbs, the other a mangled mess of bone and gristle with a crater for a face—were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The next day, the images landed on American shores, and discussion broke out on the Daily Kos site as to whether it was appropriate to broadcast the pictures.

It wasn't the entry itself that put the entire Daily Kos community under fire, but the first comment, which was written by Moulitsas.

"Let the people see what war is like," he wrote. "I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. [SIC] They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."

The backlash was swift and severe, first from within the Daily Kos community itself, then from outside observers and Republicans. Suddenly, Moulitsas's problem was not that his voice wasn't being heard. It was that it was being amplified too loudly.

Almost exactly two years after the site was founded, Daily Kos was receiving 200,000 page views a day. As debate raged over the Iraq War, Moulitsas's site quickly became the most popular gathering place for liberal commentary.

As the site's traffic exploded, Moulitsas began inviting commenters whose writing he admired to guest post on weekends. In October of 2003, he took it a step further by moving the site to a new platform that allowed others to host their own blogs on his site. Moulitsas called them "diaries," and the regular commenters quickly began registering. What blossomed was an intensely passionate fact-checking community with a laserlike focus on taking down the Bush administration.

"I think I didn't sign up for about six months because I was just too intimidated to comment," recalls Susan Gardner, then a restless stay-at-home mom who posted under the name SusanG. "My first diary I think I got hammered by the community."

Diarists made names for themselves by getting recommended by other users, or by breaking news. Gardner's moment came when she posted about a mysterious White House press corps member tossing softballs to Bush. By aggregating information from subsequent comments, she was able to show that the man, Jeff Gannon, was a right-wing plant and former male escort.

"People went crazy in the comments," she says. "The research started driving the story into the traditional media."

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