The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.
– Thomas Carlyle
If there was any single event that pushed me into chronicling politics in America – in combination with the Reagan years, the Bush Sr. coda, the 1994 midterm election calamity, and the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich – it was the impeachment of President Clinton. Beyond the gaudy opportunism of it all, the hatred for the sake of hatred practiced by the Republicans in an all-too-eerie preamble of the last few years, was the absolute and utter collapse of any semblance of journalistic integrity on the part of the “mainstream” news. Smoke had been pouring from the engines of big-time journalism for years at that point, but it was the Clinton impeachment that finally crashed the plane into the mountain. The wreckage has been there ever since, rusting in the sun.
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And so, sixteen years ago, I took to my keyboard and wrote what I thought and gave it away to anyone who might be interested in publishing it. Very few were, but there was one guy who decided to put me out there, and for me, that’s where all of this began. His name was Terrence Coppage, he lived in Tulsa, and his website was Bartcop.com.
Back then, our correspondence was about the impeachment, the ultimate failure of same, the odious antics of Rush Limbaugh, bad journalism in general, the 2000 presidential election, and the general state of derangement evident within the GOP. Looking back, it almost seems quaint…until the evening of December 12, 2000, when the Supreme Court handed the White House to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and unleashed 2,922 days of mayhem at home, mass murder abroad, and brazen theft all around.
It is difficult now to describe the sense of full-spectrum horror many of us dealt with in the aftermath of that despicable ruling. The entire “mainstream” news establishment – print and broadcast alike – bent their combined will towards convincing the country that “this is an orderly transition of power…an orderly transition of power…all is well…” when a whole lot of us knew down to our bones that it was anything but…and then 9/11 happened, and then Iraq happened, and everyone who wouldn’t or couldn’t swallow the line of nonsense being peddled came to feel perfectly insane.
It is no understatement to say that Terrence Coppage and Bartcop.com salvaged my sanity, and the sanity of many others. David Allen, co-founder of the forum Democratic Underground, said it best: “Back in the days when there was no ‘liberal blogosphere’ or ‘netroots’; there were only ‘anti-Bush websites.’ Before DU there was Buzzflash, Smirking Chimp, and BartCop. That was pretty much the entire liberal presence on the internet.” Those sites, along with Media Whores Online and later DU, were a lush oasis in a desert of bad information and blind hyper-patriotism.
But in truth, it all began with Bartcop.com in 1996. Terrence Coppage raged every day against the lies being peddled by the Right, against the lapdog media that empowered and protected them, and by publishing comments, articles and emails from regular everyday folks, he gave us a voice we would not otherwise have had. Terrence Coppage helped teach us to think clearly during those dark days when clarity was hard to come by. A fairly impressive list of now-known bloggers and commentators – Digby and Atrios leap immediately to mind – earned their stripes through Bartcop, especially after Salon’s Tabletalk started charging for participation. He was the seedcorn, a true pioneer, and even though he probably pissed off every segment of his readership at one time or another by way of his brashly-stated opinions, there is not a single voice within the online Left community that does not owe him a debt.
Coppage was, in his way, the Charlie Parker of liberal bloggers. Every saxophone player who has followed Parker is blowing notes Bird had already blown better. So it is with Bartcop; he was playing those changes before the rest of us had our pants on.
On Friday, I learned that Terrence Coppage passed away. My participation at Bartcop.com had slacked off considerably – thanks in no small part to the exposure he provided me, I joined Truthout in January of 2002, an association that has become all-encompassing in the intervening years – but news of his passing hit me in the heart. He never became famous, and never sought fame. He put his shoulder to the pile for 18 years, and moved it. I am, because he was, period. End of file.
Terrence Coppage’s final words remain on Bartcop.com: “Since you’re reading this, I’m either gone or I’m too sick to get to my computer…Thanks for the life you gave me.”
No, Bart: thank you. May your Chicano Anejo never run dry, and may your Truth Hammer ring on and on. Take your rest, old friend. You’ve done enough, and more besides. We’ve got it from here.