RON UNZ • AUGUST 6, 2020 • 1,800 WORDS
Back in early May Google took the remarkable step of deranking our entire website, placing our many thousands of content pages near the absolute bottom of its search results, where almost no one would ever see them. If a user included the keyword “unz” in a search string, our pages would still come up, but otherwise they would be almost totally invisible. So people specifically looking for our website could still find it, but almost no one else.
Google holds a worldwide monopoly in search, having a total market share greater than 90% and therefore functioning as a global gatekeeper to the Internet, so this harsh action had serious consequences. Our regular daily traffic dropped by 15% or more, especially reducing the inflow of casual new visitors who might discover our alternative media webzine in an unrelated search. The national wave of urban turmoil that broke out at the end of that same month soon overwhelmed this decline and lifted our traffic to new heights, but the severe loss of new readers remained. So although our daily pageviews have set new records, the number of unique visitors to our website has remained substantially diminished.
Then a couple of weeks ago, various journalists reported an even more severe manipulation of Google’s search system, with dozens of top Republican-leaning websites, including Breitbart and Drudge, suddenly discovering that all their content had entirely disappeared from Google while liberal-leaning publications remained unaffected. This search engine “glitch” ended within a day and the conservative websites reappeared, but there was widespread speculation that Google had added a “kill switch” that could cleanse the Internet of all right-wing content at a moment’s notice, and someone had inadvertently tested this powerful new media weapon in public, thereby revealing its existence.
A presidential election is less than three months away, and conservatives have long complained that the Silicon Valley tech giants are biased against them. So the very real possibility that Google was road-testing the ability to “disappear” all conservative publications at some crucial moment must surely have raised concerns even among the most level-headed.
Therefore, I naturally assumed that this crucial issue of biased search results would become a central point of questioning during last week’s Congressional testimony of Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Surely the Republican members of the committee would ask him why all the websites in their ideological camp had suddenly disappeared from Google, and whether this suggested deliberate plans by the Monopolist of Mountain View to slant its search results against their side of the aisle. Google displays the results of six billion searches each day, so such bias would probably have a political impact millions of times greater than the alleged “RussiaGate manipulation” that had so dominated our national headlines for many months.
However, I was sorely mistaken. Neither the national newspapers nor other publications reported any such line of questioning. This suggested that the Republican members of the committee were either reluctant to antagonize their powerful witness, or more likely, were just too ignorant of the Internet to realize that if Google suddenly “disappeared” all their media outlets, many of their voters and their own seats in Congress would soon follow. So I was forced to listen to the entire three and a half hour hearing on YouTube, then afterward hunted around in vain for a complete transcript.
Although the Republicans made little attempt to pin down Google’s chief, some of Pichai’s responses certainly seemed to suggest that Google was committed to providing unbiased search results, especially during his questioning by Rep. Steve King (R-IA). He assured his listeners that Google never “put its thumb on the scale” of search results, nor allowed “manual intervention” to corrupt its objective algorithms. Any casual listener would surely assume that Google search results were ranked solely by the number and quality of their links and sources rather than modified for reasons of ideological bias or political expediency. Yet it is quite easy to demonstrate the contrary.I recounted last year:
As the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and two George Polk awards, the late Sydney Schanberg was widely regarded as one of the greatest American war correspondents of the twentieth century. His exploits during our ill-fated Indo-Chinese War had become the basis of the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields, which probably established him as the most famous journalist in America after Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame, and he had also served as a top editor at The New York Times. A decade ago, he published his greatest expose, providing a mountain of evidence that America had deliberately left behind hundreds of POWs in Vietnam and he fingered then-presidential candidate John McCain as the central figure in the later official cover-up of that monstrous betrayal. The Arizona senator had traded on his national reputation as our best-known former POW to bury the story of those abandoned prisoners, permitting America’s political establishment to escape serious embarrassment. As a result, Sen. McCain earned the lush rewards of our generous ruling elites, much like his own father Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., who had led the cover-up of the deliberate 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, which killed or wounded over 200 American servicemen.
As publisher of The American Conservative, I ran Schanberg’s remarkable piece as a cover story, and across several websites over the years it has surely been read many hundreds of thousands of times, including a huge spike around the time of McCain’s death. I therefore find it rather difficult to believe that the many journalists investigating McCain’s background might have remained unaware of this material. Yet no hints of these facts were provided in any of the articles appearing in any remotely prominent media outlets as can be seen by searching for web pages containing “McCain and Schanberg” dated around the time of the Senator’s passing.
Schanberg’s journalistic stature had hardly been forgotten by his former colleagues. Upon his death a couple of years ago, the Times ran a very long and glowing obituary, and a few months later I attended the memorial tribute to his life and career held at the New York Times headquarters building, which included more than two hundred prominent journalists mostly from his own generation, including those of the highest rank. Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. gave a speech describing how as a young man he had always so greatly admired Schanberg and had been mortified by the unfortunate circumstances of his departure from the family’s newspaper. Former Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld recounted the many years he had worked closely with the man he had long considered his closest friend and colleague, someone whom he almost seemed to regard as his older brother. But during the two hours of praise and remembrance scarcely a single word was uttered in public about the gigantic story that had occupied the last two decades of Schanberg’s celebrated career.John McCain and the POW Cover-UpSYDNEY SCHANBERG • MAY 25, 2010 • 8,200 WORDS
Although Google controls all but a slice of the worldwide search engine market, very similar technologies are employed by its various competitors such as Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Russia’s Yandex, and it is easy to compare their strikingly dissimilar results for the simple string “mccain pows”:
For Bing, Schanberg’s American Conservative cover-story ranks #1. For DuckDuckGo, it ranks #2, just below McCain’s Wikipedia entry. For Yandex, the republication on The Unz Review holds the top spot, with the American Conservative version placing #2. But Schanberg’s remarkable 8,200 word expose has been “disappeared” from Google’s search engine, nowhere to be found across at least the first ten pages of results.
These striking differences seem totally inconsistent with Pichai’s sworn Congressional testimony that Google never uses “manual intervention” to place “its thumb on the scale” of the search results used each day by so many hundreds of millions of individuals.
I have previously expressed by great irritation that Google had “disappeared” my own articles, but suffering the same fate as one of the foremost American journalists of the twentieth century does cushion the blow:
For the last ten years, my article The Myth of Hispanic Crime had regularly ranked #2 among the 180 million search results Google returned for “Latino Crime” and the 60 million for “Hispanic Crime,” an achievement for which I had become inordinately proud. But although comparable search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo still rank my piece near the very top, Google has completely “disappeared” it.
I think a reasonable measure of a topic’s importance is the total number of search results it returns. Communism and Communists dominated the entire twentieth century and the political party of that name still holds sway in gigantic China. So a search on “Communism” returns 163 million results, a vast number but still somewhat below the total for “Latino Crime.” Imagine how an academic or journalist might feel if his article analyzing Communism had spent a full decade ranked #2 across the entire Internet, but Google had then suddenly decided to blacklist it for reasons entirely unrelated to its intrinsic or objective quality.
My American Pravda series has also vanished from Google, while still ranking at or near the top of all its competitors.
Naturally, my far harsher critiques of John McCain’s long career have entirely vanished as well:John McCain: When “Tokyo Rose” Ran for PresidentRON UNZ • MARCH 9, 2015 • 4,200 WORDSAmerican Pravda: John McCain, Jeffrey Epstein, and PizzagateOur Reigning Political Puppets, Dancing to Invisible StringsRON UNZ • JULY 29, 2019 • 6,400 WORDS
Google is obviously a private corporation, holding an unregulated monopoly over our sources of Internet information, and I cannot say whether or not its manipulation of search results for political reasons violates American law.
But lying under oath to members of Congress during sworn public testimony is a serious felony, and I think Mr. Pichai would be well-advised to immediately investigate whether his own subordinates have been misleading him on important aspects of his own company’s search operations.