Walt Boyes on the Consequences of Taking Down Baen’s Bar

[Editor’s Introduction: Walt Boyes, Editor, the Grantville Gazette and Editor in Chief, Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, emailed this letter of comment on February 17. I did not realize it was intended for publication until I saw his comment on Eric Flint’s Facebook page. Here it is:]   


Walt Boyes: I regret that Jason Sanford says he is being harassed. Nobody should do that, under any provocation.

However, one thing I believe that Jason Sanford did wrong is to lump all the conferences on Baen’s Bar together.

As Eric Flint noted, the conferences he oversees (oversaw) are heavily moderated (I am one of them, though not a Bar Moderator) and we do not allow the kinds of behavior that Mr. Sanford reports. I don’t go to Politics or Blazes because I know what’s there. Do not want to do that.

But since Mr. Sanford decided to throw the baby out with the bath water, Science Fiction has (at least temporarily,I hope) lost a very important resource. The1632Tech and 1632Slush conferences and the UniverseSlush conferences have provided a great resource to beginning (or otherwise) writers. We have been doing this for over 20 years. We critique and workshop beginning writers’ work, and at the end of the process, often buy the stories for the Grantville Gazette (www.Grantvillegazette.com). These stories can be in the 1632Universe, or just really good science fiction or fantasy, because we kept the Baen’s Universe crit group going, and we publish one or two stories from there every issue.

These conferences have produced millions of published words, paid at SFWA professional rates (currently $0.08/word) and at least one Nebula nominated author (Kari English). Over 150 authors have made their first professional sale through those conferences. Several have become NYT and Amazon Best Sellers.

There is no politics in these conferences. There is no violence or discussion of violence other than as it relates to the 1632 series.

So, because Mr Sanford didn’t do all the research that an investigative reporter should (I too am a member of SPJ and have done investigative reporting for decades), our writers who were working on their stories, as they have done for 20 years, are now out in the cold.  We have even, at least temporarily, lost the archives of the conferences, which are irreplaceable. Instead of editing the 94th issue of the Gazette, I am now trying to save the conferences we have used to create it.

I am not saying that Mr. Sanford did the right thing, or the wrong thing. But actions have consequences, and what he has done has challenged the careers of many beginning writers, because he didn’t ask anybody who knew anything what was going on.

Best regards,

Walt Boyes, Editor, the Grantville Gazette; Editor in Chief, Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press


91 thoughts on “Walt Boyes on the Consequences of Taking Down Baen’s Bar

  1. Ye gods.

    Bad enough that the phrase “begs the question”, as a useful term of art for a logical fallacy, has become ambiguated by its use as a completely unnecessary synonym for “prompts one to ask”, but now it’s gone and picked the pockets of that distinguished phrase “beggars belief”.

    I have seen semantic drift and I don’t like it.

    (I’m quite charmed by “the inevitable inevitated”, though.)

    /pedantic grump, please ignore

  2. Walt Boyes wrote:

    Jason Sanford did wrong is to lump all the conferences on Baen’s Bar together.

    I keep seeing this sort of claim among the righteously-enraged-at-Sanford, and I’m really puzzled by it.

    I have never visited Baen’s Bar, not any portion of it, not even once. I have no prior knowledge of its structure or format. And reading Jason’s article, it seemed completely clear to me from his explanations of BB that (1) it’s organized into various forums and sub-forums, (2) the different forums have their own topics, tone, and participants, (3) some participants cross over from forum to forum, (4) some participants focus on only one forum, (5) he was quoting violent 1/6er sort of rhetoric only from a specific forum (“Politics”), and (6) he presented the rhetoric of hat specific forum (“Politics”) as a problem that should be addressed.

    Additionally, I thought his text made it quite clear that (1) he was NOT suggesting that all of Baen’s Bar was a problem that should be addressed, and (2) he was NOT attacking Baen Books.

    Yet I keep seeing people claiming Sanford attacked Baen Books and, like Walt Boyes, that he claimed -all- of Baen’s Bar was a cesspool, etc.

    I came to the article as a blank slate, with no exposure at all the Baen’s Bar, and came away with an accurate understanding (by all accounts since then, from people who’ve visited the site) of how it’s structured and which forum is the one Jason wrote about. This was not at all unclear or ambiguous.

    So why do so many people who’ve actually visited the Bar misunderstand the article to the bizarre extent of claiming Jason lumped the whole fragmented multi-forum galaxy of discussions into one sole thing? This interpretation is common in angry rants about the article, but it’s not supported by the actual text of the article.

    Finally, as many other have already noted… Nothing in Jason’s text supports the angry claims that he caused the entire Bar to be shut down, or advocated for that. This is sheer fabrication by people who are unwilling, for whatever reason, to recognize that Toni Weisskopf made the decision to close the whole thing, rather than leave it open while having someone rational examine it and make recommendations for managing it, or rather than close down the specific portions of the Bar that, as multiple people have said in public forums this week, Jason Sanford was not the first to notice were sewers of political-violence-porn.

    However, let’s recognize that we don’t know whether that was solely Toni’s decision, or whether it was a decision recommended to her (or perhaps urged strongly?) by counsel, or by Baen’s internet provider, or by someone on Baen staff. We should keep in mind that we don’t know. Neither do the people misdirecting their anger at Jason because they don’t want to blame Toni Weisskopf for the decision she announced to close the entire Baen’s Bar indefinitely.

  3. @Laura: “I keep seeing this sort of claim among the righteously-enraged-at-Sanford, and I’m really puzzled by it.”

    I’m not. Frustrated and annoyed, perhaps, but not puzzled. It’s a deliberate diversionary tactic, designed to reassure the faithful-yet-ignorant and sway the uncertain.

    Or, if you prefer, it’s basic gaslighting.

  4. Science Fiction has (at least temporarily,I hope) lost a very important resource.

    If Baen’s Bar was such an important resource, maybe Baen should have taken better care of it as a whole, and not simply ignored the forums that had become so toxic that Walt refused to go into them. Losing this “important resource” is entirely Baen (and because the buck stop with her, Weisskopf’s) fault.

    If Baen’s Bar is such an important asset, then Baen’s negligence here is worse, not better.

    So, because Mr Sanford didn’t do all the research that an investigative reporter should

    The bank robber angrily runs up to the newspaper reporter “How come you only reported about the bank robbery? Why didn’t you write about all the times I was nice to my children, baked cookies for my neighbors, and tipped waiters really well? Now everyone thinks I’m just a bank robber! Your reporting about me is totally unfair!”

  5. I’ve been told that Toni Weisskopf doesn’t own Baen Books but instead manages it in trust for her daughter with Jim Baen. She and Baen never married. Tom Doherty is a cofounder and silent partner and Richard Gallen was as well.

    Gallen had quite the history of backing projects in publishing, according to this obit. In addition to Baen, he backed Tor, Carroll & Graf, The Experiment and the books Games People Play and The Autobiography of Malcom X, which have sold over 11 million copies.

    It would be interesting to read a history of Baen, which has its 40th anniversary in 2023.

  6. @Laura Resnick: Thanks for detailing the absurdity of those claims; it’s too easy to overlook the false framing among all the other false claims, illogical reactions, etc.

    @Rev. Bob: Yes, basic gaslighting!

    @Various, including @joel, @RedWombat, @Marshall Maresca, & FrivYeti: Great analogies! 😉

    @bill: “The only way . . .”

    Ah, disingenuous as always, with your false claims that something must be ALL OR NOTHING, NO OTHER POSSIBLE WAY!!!1!! It’s sad to see you still troll serious threads with this sort of garbage. There’s a reason “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is a phrase. Get a better schtick, please!

  7. rcade says I’ve been told that Toni Weisskopf doesn’t own Baen Books but instead manages it in trust for her daughter with Jim Baen. She and Baen never married. Tom Doherty is a cofounder and silent partner and Richard Gallen was as well.

    Thanks for clearing that up. So is she the sole manager of the company? Or does Tom have an active role currently in overseeing the company?

  8. I do agree with Boyes that it’s a pretty lousy situation when one of your posting places gets taken down and the archives inaccessible, but honestly for a bunch of people involved in this survivalist-adjacent fandom (see caveats below) they seem remarkably unprepared.

    If there’s a webforum that’s important to you, make your own archives! If the host is not themselves a regular participant in your community–or even if they are!–get some out-of-channel thing ready so that when the banhammer comes down you’re ready to fall back to a discord or facebook group or, hell, even a subreddit until such time as the old place is restored or a new home found.

    Of course it’s not reasonable to expect everybody on that site to have had the tech chops to make an archiver but I still think it’s interesting how it’s been several days and I haven’t heard anything about even a single successor community (ignoring individual-author enclaves).

    Caveats: I’m using “fandom” in the modern narrow sense and referring to “the community built up around the 1632 books” and not in the “science fiction fandom overall” sense. Also I have never read any of those books but from what I’ve gathered about them there’s a lot of survivalists who are also fans.

  9. @ Jake

    honestly for a bunch of people involved in this survivalist-adjacent fandom (see caveats below) they seem remarkably unprepared.

    They didn’t bring…. SNACKS!

  10. Or does Tom have an active role currently in overseeing the company?

    I think Tom Doherty’s only role is to greet Baen’s money truck every time it backs into his driveway.

  11. Jake says honestly for a bunch of people involved in this survivalist-adjacent fandom (see caveats below) they seem remarkably unprepared.

    If they knew each other as well as they said they did, moving their vital group to a listserve would be simple. And cost almost nothing.

  12. @Jake: Minds me of the story of the survivalist in Texas who prepared for the power grids going down by having lots of canned food… but forgot that they only had an electric can opener.

  13. Cat Eldridge said:

    If they knew each other as well as they said they did, moving their vital group to a listserve would be simple. And cost almost nothing.

    Back when I ran a listserv, I kept an up to date copy of all the email addresses on my local hard drive. I’ve been involved with forums, and there is generally a way to download a barebones set of data to get started elsewhere, if necessary.

    I do wonder if the Baen Bar software is a homegrown solution that no one understands anymore. If so, extracting the key parts to start some place else might be a struggle.

  14. @Jake: it’s worse: the Bar has an NNTP interface (I read it using an old fashioned Usenet newsreader). Which is a protocol that is built for distributed access; saving the messages is just a matter of pulling them onto another NNTP server. Heck, I use a local NNTP server on my laptop that pulls my subscribed Bar forum (1632_Tech) onto my laptop with a 3-month retention, so I do have a ready archive for at least that forum.

    Rebuilding a web interface from the NNTP messages is not as easy, but there is BB software that can read NNTP and present it as a web forum.

    So the pure content is easy to save. It takes all of a couple of minutes.

  15. Can someone please point me towards something like a compilation of evidence of the toxic messages? I’ve seen a few screenshots; I’ve seen many quotations and descriptions but nothing like links to primary sources. And unfortunately, I’m also seeing people who don’t believe that the messages could have been all that bad, or were bad at all. References to Flint’s messages, with the gist of “there was nothing bad there, so it’s all just libel!” I’d like to be able to point those people towards the evidence.

  16. FiveAcres says Back when I ran a listserv, I kept an up to date copy of all the email addresses on my local hard drive. I’ve been involved with forums, and there is generally a way to download a barebones set of data to get started elsewhere, if necessary.

    I do wonder if the Baen Bar software is a homegrown solution that no one understands anymore. If so, extracting the key parts to start some place else might be a struggle.

    Quite so, but they could have started fresh elsewhere too as I assume the active discussion is the important aspect of the forum, not the archives of the older discussions. Even I could’ve set a fresh discussion group for them in a few minutes and it’s not my forte. A more complex setup would’ve taken longer but certainly doable as well. There’s nothing that unique about Baen’s Bar.

  17. @Aaron: Yes; I’ve seen that. It has many quotations but, as I said, no links to primary sources. Sanford wrote that he had screenshots, but I haven’t found any place where people can look at them. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s telling the truth, but I’m in an unpleasant discussion with doubters. Nothing I can say is going to touch the free-speech absolutists, regardless that there are already subjects that are banned from those fora. One person seems to be skeptical even about screenshots, presumably — I assume — because they could be faked, or something. But I’d like to be able to tell the saner people, basically, “Look at this stuff, then get back to me. It isn’t being made up.”

  18. @ Joel Polown:

    Can someone please point me towards something like a compilation of evidence of the toxic messages? I’ve seen a few screenshots; I’ve seen many quotations and descriptions but nothing like links to primary sources.

    If you mean, a link to the Baen’s Bar forum, where the quoted discussions occurred…. Not possible. The whole thing has been shut down, cannot be accessed, is not visible or available.

    I’ve looked at some of the screenshots you mention. They’re on Jason’s Twitter account. Which is currently locked, due to harassment.

  19. IIRC, the article did not link to the quotes directly on the Bar because, the author explained, you’d have to register and log in to the Bar for the links to work, and most readers wouldn’t want to become members of the Bar just to use the links in this one article. (I wouldn’t have.) If he’d realized that “he INVENTED all those screen names, quotes, and discussions!” would be one of the arguments circulated, I suppose he might have made a different decision.

  20. Jason Sanford is back on Twitter, said he’d updated his article with screenshots. And I see he also added different screenshots collected by a different observer of ANOTHER Baen’s Bar moderater chattering about attacking cities and making streets flow with blood, demonstrating the problem is bigger than his initial report revealed.

  21. Tom Doherty is a cofounder and silent partner and Richard Gallen was as well.

    Gallen had quite the history

    That’s extremely well-known agent Russ Galen you’re talking about.

  22. Or does Tom have an active role currently in overseeing the company?

    Tom Doherty has always been a silent partner in Baen.

  23. Walt Boyes:

    So, because Mr Sanford didn’t do all the research that an investigative reporter should (I too am a member of SPJ and have done investigative reporting for decades), our writers who were working on their stories, as they have done for 20 years, are now out in the cold. We have even, at least temporarily, lost the archives of the conferences, which are irreplaceable. Instead of editing the 94th issue of the Gazette, I am now trying to save the conferences we have used to create it.

    I’m confused by this. Jason Sanford had and has no power over Baen’s Bar, does he? It’s Toni Weisskopf who chose to shut down Baen’s Bar, isn’t she? Isn’t she the sole person with power over Baen’s Bar?

    So how is Jason Sanford responsible for Toni Weisskopf’s choice? Mind-control lasers? Hypnosis?

    Secondarily:

    However, one thing I believe that Jason Sanford did wrong is to lump all the conferences on Baen’s Bar together.

    It’s unclear to me why anyone uninvolved should care one way or another. Someone said something somewhere you think is unfair. Okay, then.

  24. Speaking of updates to the article, whoa Nellie, this one jumped out at me.

    Update: Mercedes Lackey reached out to me to say that the information shared on Baen’s Bar about why she left was simply not true. She says she left the forum after 9/11 when forum users were posting freely about murdering all Muslims. Lackey strongly attacked these posts in a long post on Baen’s Bar, but her post was heavily criticized by Tom Kratman and specifically John Ringo and Ringo’s followers. However, Lackey’s post and reasons for leaving said nothing about Jim Baen nor about Baen Books. She also says the note posted on the forum banning discussions around her leaving was written after Jim Baen passed, so he would have been unable to contradict it.

    Good on her for doing the right thing at an unpopular moment in time, and also yikes.

    (Also, I am being SO GOOD on Twitter and not dragging Misty’s name into it in comment fights to say “Your free speech haven already banned plenty of speech, you hypocritical spoons” because it’s rude to haul someone else into a potential Twitter shitstorm but Aaarrrghhh. Someone give me an internet cookie, dammit.)

  25. @RedWombat

    Double chocolate internet cookies with fudge chunks and mint m&ms for you.
    .
    .
    (Uh, assuming that’s your thing. Homemade peanut butter cookies with actual fingerprints also available.)

  26. She says she left the forum after 9/11 when forum users were posting freely about murdering all Muslims.

    Yikes.

    So Baen Books had three days plus 20 years to take action to squash comments advocating violence on the Bar.

    And if Eric Flint had quit frequenting the Bar 20 years ago instead of 23 years ago he might have agreed with Jason Sanford.

  27. @RedWombat: You get a cookie, and YOU get a cookie, and YOU get a cookie!

    http://del.h-cdn.co/assets/16/11/1458068942-delish-copycat-levain-cookie-break.jpg
    (clearly a share-size cookie, as the image is huge)

    Thanks for quoting the update to Sanford’s article! I read his Twitter updates but didn’t return to the original article, so I wasn’t aware of it. (Also, he has an update near the top and that one near the bottom, which kinda obscures that there’s an update at the bottom.)

  28. @rcade: Or not (Flint). He seems more interested in outrage than common sense and common decency.

  29. That’s extremely well-known agent Russ Galen you’re talking about.

    In what way?

    There’s a link in that post to a 2013 obit of Richard Gallen, crediting him with the stuff being discussed, and Russ is still with us. At least, as of a couple of months ago, and I hope that hasn’t changed…

  30. “And if Eric Flint had quit frequenting the Bar 20 years ago instead of 23 years ago he might have agreed with Jason Sanford.”

    According to Flint, he was involved at that time and it got so bad that the whole forum was shutdown so everyone could calm down. And that’s when he stopped visiting it.

  31. So Flint last looked into Politics 23 years ago, but he was in it to witness the post-9/11 chatter less than 20 years ago?

    Does he have a TARDIS, or just a bad memory?

  32. @RedWombat “If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here, building an edible fort out of cookies.”

    That’s a sound strategy. Anyone trying to breach the fort will lapse into a sugar nap before they can get to you!

  33. @RedWombat & @Lorien Gray: I recommend a moat of the milk-like substance of your choice (or milk)! 😀

  34. @RedWombat, @Lorien Gray, @Kendall:

    Don’t forget that it is a good thing to have a hard caramel outer surface, protecting the nice chewy centre of the fortification.

  35. I see from Facebook that the 1632 project subforums are looking for a new home while Baen’s Bar is offline. If Walt Boyes is still following this discussion, I’ve got experience setting up message boards and can help.

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