Jon Stewart called it “the weirdest f*cking story I’ve seen in my life.” It was the live broadcast of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s confessional press conference, and yet here was Andrew Breitbart, taking a victory lap around the mainstream press for not being wrong about a story for once. (At the same time, Breitbart not being wrong on a story almost deserves live breaking coverage.)
Breitbart demanded to be vindicated after being doubted about the legitimacy of his penis photos. To some, this would seem a more apt vindication of a pornographer. To behold Breitbart’s beaming pride, you’d think he’d broken the truth that cigarettes cause cancer, stunning the naysayers. He gloated: “The media says, ‘Breitbart lies, Breitbart lies.’ Give me one example of a provable lie,” Breitbart said on stage at the Weiner presser. “One, journalist, one, put your reputation on the line here, one provable lie.” (Interesting word choice, “provable,” it offers garish wiggle room.)
Why didn’t any of the press respond? Is that silence supposed to confer tacit legitimization and absolution of his past distortions? Since the journalists present didn’t even show up for a Breitbart news conference in the first place, they were probably not prepared to review his greatest hits and misses. What’s more, the attending media professionals may have thought that interrupting someone else’s press conference is pretty, well, rude, not to mention unprofessional.
And while it is necessary (and easy) to review the many mistruths of Breitbart, it seems just as necessary to remind the clickable news world that Breitbart is not a journalist, no matter what he says he is. Just like saying he is vindicated does not make it so. Breitbart likes to claim the privileges of a profession without any of the ethics, objectivity, or responsibility of that profession.
I would like to see Shirley Sherrod pre-empt Andrew Breitbart at one of his appearances on his book tour, and demand an in-person apology on the spot, and provide an update on her lawsuit against Breitbart for his deceptive editing of her speech that got her fired from the government. She could talk about how Breitbart’s lawyers insist he can’t show up for the trial in Washington D.C., because he has to run his websites in Los Angeles (barring media appearances all over the East Coast, of course). I know Breitbart has complained about all the flak he got for distorting her personal story of redemption into one meant to appear racist. Real journalists tend to not keep making the story about themselves. Appearing in court could really be a good place for Breitbart to get all those feelings off his chest.
I am sure it goes without saying that he posted corrections on his websites as to ACORN’s non-brothel status, because issuing corrections are a way that professional journalists take responsibility for their stories.
Breitbart exhibited his gracious professionalism at the Weiner press conference by insisting he would not release the more explicit Weiner’s weiner that he had his hands on. That professional promise lasted about 36 hours, give or take, when he whipped it out on the Opie and Anthony radio show. Breitbart acted surprised that the image would get re-tweeted, especially by a guy who promises dick jokes in his Twitter bio. Perhaps he is sorry to lose the blackmail material, or have the build up to that release go off prematurely. But Breitbart acknowledged that he showed the penis pic to members of the press to prove that he had worse pictures to release. Even that indicates that he really wanted others to see it, and claims of being protective are posturing. He couldn’t wait to show it off to the shock DJs, who are somehow on the same level as our press corps now, by the transitive property that both get their material from Breitbart, who got it sent to him from someone else. Breitbart leads the press through sheer gall, like he led the press conference.
When asked by NPR if he was a journalist or an activist, Breitbart replied, it depends on the day. Really, he is neither, any day of the week. Insomuch as he doesn’t advocate for anything but rather tries to tear down those who help others, he is antithetical to activists of any persuasion who work to build. What Breitbart thinks passes for journalism is an editorialized tirade tied to reporting partial facts, repeating well worn myths of right wing demagoguery (Soros-Ayers-Chavez!), decrying a constant perceived persecution while bullying any critics with exaggerated claims of being “silenced” by hypocritical partisans who are attacking him for things other than what he said or did.
In place of responsibility for his work, Breitbart spawns a continual game of distraction and denial against his critics: “It’s not my statements they dislike, it’s that they…[choose one] hate conservatives; hate seeing me do so well; don’t tolerate opinions other than their own; are angry spiteful people; are all one way all the time because everything is simplistic like that.” Breitbart likes to claim everyone wants to silence him, even though he has numerous websites and is famous from all his appearances on mainstream news outlets.
Journalists report on real things that matter. Breitbart creates issues that don’t exist and makes them seem scandalous. It’s a Gotcha Mentality so far gone, there’s no looking up and recalling what this entrenched obsession was even supposed to prove. If something is on a hidden camera, it suggests that these people are up to something wrong that they wouldn’t be doing if they knew they were being recorded. Anything taken in excerpt is proof of the entire organization, like out-of-context quotes from an ACORN employee, but examples of Tea Partiers’ racism cannot be held to characterize the Tea Party, and anyone citing the documented racist statements and protest signs are liars. Someone listening to a crazy scheme and not objecting strongly enough to it are thus guilty of the scheme they had explained to them, in hopes of entrapping their complicity enough to act outraged for a news cycle.
And yet, for all of these busts Breitbart brags about, none of these lead to any actual crimes having been committed (besides breaking privacy laws), just a sense of embarrassment that makes polite people easily embarrassed and throw their own under the bus. It’s a sense of shame that Andrew Breitbart is devoid of; it’s his gratification to bring others down to his level.
Breitbart will always overplay whatever hand he has. Whereas professional journalists consider their credibility sacrosanct, Breitbart thrives on provoking arguments because it derails attention from pressing issues and brings it upon himself. This is about him, not his political opinions that others might share. He is a discredit to his cause.
Being a professional journalist suggests that there is an established entity whose credibility is invested in the stature of that journalist’s work. A professional journalist would have been fired four times already for humiliating his news organization by releasing trumped up smear job stories that centered on deceptive editing with no effort at verification or response from the subjects of those reports. If a professional journalist commandeered a news conference, they’d be canned before they had stepped away from the podium. A professional journalist probably wouldn’t let leak his self-proclaimed secure damaging photo, probably not do so carelessly through shock jocks, and more than likely not be so shameless as to claim that he did not know he was on camera when he wanted to show off his hard-on.
If this is vindication, I shudder at Breitbart’s idea of irresponsible journalism.