Dimming the Lights on Breitbart

March 5th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

The Albuquerque Journal, thanks to the Associated Press, got it right in reporting (March 2) the death of Andrew Breitbart by calling him an “online publisher and blogger” who “sometimes had to edit the facts” in his zeal to ignite political scandal. To its credit, the AP did not once refer to him as a journalist.

For Breitbart was not a journalist in any sense of the word. Breitbart’s desire, in fact, was to destroy what his apologists deemed the staid, high-mindedness of media – the so-called “old media guard.”

Cynically calling one of his “Big” web sites “Big Journalism”, Breitbart was an anti-journalist, and distorted the truth to the point that even readers of his web sites weighed in Thursday with comments of disbelief, wondering if news of his death was a “site hacking:”

Stunned. Won’t fully believe it’s not a hack until I start to see it on other news sites. Nothing on Drudge, CNN, Fox so far. Please let it be a hack… please.

(The sites have since been consolidated into one, called “Breitbart” with a capital B.)

By posting misleading, false and doctored videos and stories, Breitbart took aim at community organizations (like ACORN and Planned Parenthood) and individuals (Shirley Sherrod). But he reveled in watching media outlets cover his outrages. For media was also in his sights.

For the “old guard”, it was difficult to ignore the scandals he created. And with the speed of the Internet, the time for Breitbart’s scandalous claims and resulting outrage to spread outpaced the time it took to expose the frauds being perpetrated, if the media took the trouble to try to find the truth.

And, of course, Breitbart hid the exculpatory evidence. As Media Matters research showed in “The Lies of James O’Keefe”:

For more than two months after Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com website began posting videos in which O’Keefe and (Hannah) Giles posed as a pimp and prostitute in ACORN offices, O’Keefe and his cohorts withheld video that directly contradicted what they said the videos showed.

Media Matters also reported that the Planned Parenthood video was a hoax, saying there was:

. . .good reason for media to be skeptical. Lila Rose, after all, began infiltrating abortion clinics in collaboration with James O’Keefe — a convicted criminal who repeatedly lied about his heavily edited ACORN videos. Rose herself has a history of smearing the subjects of her videos.

Like his “friend,” Jonah Goldberg, Breitbart was hostile to the journalism profession. And as New York University journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen points out, even conservatives recognize conservatives are hostile toward journalism as a profession.

Interestingly, upon hearing of Breitbart’s death, Rosen predicted mainstream obituaries would gloss over the negatives in a misguided attempt to find “balance”. The AP story referenced at the start of this post did not, but Rosen’s prediction was borne out in the Wall Street Journal, which described Breitbart as “a conservative Internet entrepreneur known for several controversial reports that helped bring down Democratic officials.”

Worse, the writer of that report, Russell Adams, was interviewed in a WSJ “Mean Street” segment that gave Breitbart credit as a journalist, both in comments by Adams’ interviewer (who called Breitbart a “blogger journalist”) and by the title of the piece (“Does Breitbart’s Activist Journalism Have a Place?”).

Again, Breitbart was not a journalist. A real journalist would never call for the death of a climate scientist, as Breitbart did in 2009. (His Twitter message was “Capital punishment for Dr James Hansen. Climategate is high treason.”)

And despite rumors to the contrary, journalists do not spend time introducing new myths.  Salon.com’s Alex Pareene weighed in today (March 5) with a piece delving into “long-standing paranoia” about journalists and how Breitbart exploited it:

Breitbart played on a long-standing paranoia that (Matt) Drudge’s rise also depended on: a fear that all the “liberal bias” claims were in fact true, and that what seemed to be nutty, conspiratorial nonsense emanating from the right-wing fringe media was actually the next hot story.

(Breitbart used the standards of traditional “objective” journalism as a weapon, and it often helped his cause that he was simply too exhausting to argue with. . .)

Breitbart’s “Big” sites helpfully designed and packaged ready-made pseudo-scandals for Fox and others to fixate on.

Pareene also picks up on another reason for Breitbart’s traction:

The Sherrod video was also an example of the limits of another of Breitbart’s gifts to modern media: the false “proof.” It is a sad fact of online publishing that some ridiculous portion of readers only read the headlines and look at the pictures before moving on. . . Breitbart’s sites exploit this: “OBAMA MARCHES WITH NEW BLACK PANTHERS,” or something like that, goes the headline. The story can’t support the claim. It doesn’t matter. The headline means it’s true for the majority of the readership.

The damage is measurable: ACORN closed, Sherrod was unjustly fired and women could be left without necessary health care.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic, wrote that Breitbart used lying as a weapon, and Coates reflected on how lying was used against Shirley Sherrod:

. . .It is natural to think of the damage Breitbart did to people like Sherrod by embracing lying as a weapon. But I found myself thinking of the great injury he must have ultimately done himself, for by the end of the Sherrod affair, he was a man lying only to himself and other liars.

By embracing that deception, by neglecting to research Sherrod before putting up a clip of her talking, by electing to see her as little more than a shiv against the hated liberals, he deprived himself of knowledge, of experience, of insight, of enlightenment. That he might learn something from Sherrod, that he might access some power from her life, and pass that on to loved ones and friends, never occurred to him. . . .

. . .Breitbart died, like all of us will, in darkness. But as a media persona he chose to also live there, and in the process has impelled countless others to throttle themselves into the abyss.

I have heard it said by some fellow liberals that Breitbart was in fact a good person, that his public persona was not the same as his private. This kind of praise is so broadly true of most controversial public figures as to be meaningless. And it is irrelevant. Breitbart may well have been an excellent father and a great friend but that is not why we are talking about him. We are noting his death because of the impact he had on our politics and our conversation. It must be said that that impact was for the worse. Any talk of his private life, is an attempt to change the subject and avoid discomfiting truths.

Breitbart’s gone, but his supporters are already committed to continuing his “legacy.” So it goes on.

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