Thursday, March 01, 2012

Love the Sinner?

One more thing about the death of Andrew Breitbart and then I'm going to have to make myself scarce since I've got a ton of work-related things to get done today before I vanish to Desert Hot Springs for the weekend. (Hold my calls.)

I'm already getting some minor push-back from people who want to know how it's possible to claim that Breitbart was capable of being a "pretty good guy" when all the awful things he did are taken into consideration. Easy: He treated political combat like a game. As far as Breitbart was concerned, what you and I see as needless savagery, he saw as fun. He liked pushing people's buttons just for the hell of it and was certainly willing to take on all comers, and to be honest I can respect him for that. The man was also widely known to be a bundle of white-hot personality and I have no trouble imagining that manifesting itself in gregariousness and a fierce loyalty to his friends and, believe it or not, a healthy appreciation for some of his adversaries. (A surprisingly moving piece from regular Breitbart punching bag Tommy Christopher this morning proves this.) These are all laudable qualities.

No one is ever the image we create in our minds for him or her. Very few people, no matter how cartoonish and semingly one-dimensional, fully live up to the caricature they may even have had a hand in creating for themselves. It just doesn't work that way.

That said, there were in fact real-world consequences to the things Breitbart did because he found it entertaining and beneficial to his career goals. That shouldn't be overlooked or excused. The guy was a bully and a scam-artist and he hurt innocent people.

I never met Andrew Breitbart in person but I did interact with him a few times online. He actually complimented a quickie piece I threw together lambasting Hollywood for its self-congratulatory bestowing of "beautiful people" status on Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe. And then, of course, there was the now-legendary-around-these-parts rambling e-mail I got from him at three in the morning back in February of 2010.

If you haven't seen it, read on.

"The Notorious 'Big'" (Originally Published, 2.4.10)

I have a new BFF.

This morning at 3:13am, I got an email from Andrew Breitbart.

Let's go to the video:

[Title] do you care that okeefe as racist meme is built on bed of lies?

less than a week after same media suffered devastating exposure that 'watergate jr' wasnt and the media that ignored acorn was at forefront of a preposterous rush to judgement?

yet, i have to be a one-man correction cudgel because the press grants james less fairness than any gitmo detainee or al qaeda pantybomber.

you're insinuation that james is a racist is equally egregious: does it ever dawn on you that we conservatives can't fathom how lefties can't see how horrible their social policies have turned out to be for poor and minorities. explore for one minute the implications of what are found on the acorn tapes: almost every employee is SKILLED at helping unqualified people hooked on complicated government run systems like welfare, creating 501C3s as fronts, explaining how to skirt the tax codes, even getting underaged illegal immigrant prostitutes set up as dependents.

james' planned parenthood tapes, similarly, attempt to show how the media narrative is a false one, driven by 'morally superior ' types who think the group is simply good and unquestionably benevolent. a simple google search will show that the group has a racist past and the amount of black fetuses killed since roe is far greater than that of whites.

can james at least not have the opinion that abortion and abortionists are bad and that the philosophy behind PP'a origin in the US is filled with Margaret Sanger and a racist and Eugenics background?

james fucks with liberal narratives. and they can't take it. i am gleeful he has found me. what an historic innovator. i'm sure you and the rest of the town elders will vote that he and his friends can't dance. but i promise you the futre won't be stopped by john lithgow & co this time.


Got all that?

It's kind of unfortunate that it would be so easy to summarily dismiss Breitbart's jumbled words as nothing more than the poorly thought-out product of late-night exhaustion or, seemingly, a hell of a lot to drink. It'd be equally simple to go almost line-by-line and either refute his incoherent arguments -- beginning with the claim that I essentially called James O'Keefe a racist, which I didn't -- or point out how quite a few of them only hold water if you believe that the media have banded together to gang up on conservatives and ensure that they never get a fair shake, which I don't at all. Thing is, it's that very distinction in how the left and right view the media that led me to write yesterday's quickie piece about O'Keefe -- the one Breitbart was commenting on -- to begin with.

My point yesterday was that political coverage may still be important on the surface, because it's true that an informed electorate is a strong electorate, but the partisan voices have become so powerful that it's almost impossible to discern the truth above all the noise. What's more, tainted advocacy journalism has become prevalent to the point where no one needs to bother seeking out an opinion that differs from his or her own anymore. As a nation, we're so fucking divided politically, with each side in possession of its own bullhorn, that there's rarely any common ground for the two sides to meet on because there doesn't need to be any; the left and right have their respective sets of "facts" and that informs their intransigent worldviews. Now more than ever, it's possible to work backward from the conclusion you want to reach and make the details fit that end: Believe progressive America can do no wrong? Watch Olbermann. Think only the Tea Partiers can save this country but the liberal media refuses to report it? Watch Fox -- or read Breitbart.

The problem is that guys like Breitbart assume the role of angry paranoiacs; the entire reason for their entry into the media echo chamber is supposedly to be a single candle against the near-total darkness of the liberal press. Breitbart believes that just about all media are slanted to the left and therefore out to get conservatives in any way they can. This is a fun little parlor trick and justifies all kinds of lapses in logic: All Breitbart has to do to refute bad press about him or the political stances he happens to take is to ask his readers to "consider the source." It's utter horseshit as an argument, but it's music to the ears of the rabid partisan crowd, who go to his site specifically to have their biases confirmed and wouldn't accept a contrary assertion if it came wrapped up with a bow.

If you need proof of this, look no further than Breitbart's response to the Salon and Washington Independent pieces dealing with James O'Keefe's supposed attendance of a 2006 conference that hosted white nationalists. For the past 24 hours -- through his website, his Twitter page and, apparently, email -- he's been on a fucking talking points rampage. A post on Breitbart's amusingly misnomered "Big Journalism" site takes aim at Max Blumenthal, author of the Salon piece, for, among other things, being Max Blumenthal. The post's author identifies Blumenthal as the son of a "Clinton apparatchik", which is all Breitbart's readership needs to hear to understand that he's not to be trusted. The post goes on to call the stories about O'Keefe proof of "how the left distorts, invents and lies." Ad hominem attacks are par for the course in the ridiculous Kabuki theater that passes for political discourse these days, but what makes the Breitbart piece by Larry O'Connor especially flagrant in its lack of adherence to the basic standards of honest journalism is its acceptance of O'Keefe's own take on events as being somehow above reproach.

Read this and try not to laugh:

"...Here at Big Journalism we think it’s a good idea to actually seek the truth.

So we spoke with James O’Keefe today. This is what he tells us:

He was not 'manning a table' at the event
He was not involved with the organization or operations of the event.
He attended the event with many of his Leadership Institute co-workers since it was
right across the street from their building in Arlington, Va., and it was organized by other LI associates.
The organizer who is being called a 'White Supremacist' is half Jewish and half Korean.
One of the panelist was an African-American named Kevin Martin.
The event was forced to move to a Georgetown University building in Arlington, not at a cross-burning.

We know all this because we called Mr. O’Keefe and asked him. Which is more than other media outlets have done."

Well, that settles it then.

I'm by no means comparing James O'Keefe to a criminal, but imagine the police dragging the suspect in an investigation in for questioning, then upon hearing that suspect say, "Nope, I had nothing to do with it," releasing him, satisfied that he was telling the truth. In order for something like that to happen, you'd have to believe the guy wasn't guilty to begin with and reverse engineer your investigation -- which is exactly the stance Breitbart's site is taking and what it's doing. The problem is that true journalists are like police officers. They dispassionately pursue the facts. They may chase down leads they believe strongly in, but if those leads don't pan out they don't make shit up just to get a collar (at least not in theory). They have an obligation to the truth.

There's a difference between the brand of journalism trumpeted by Breitbart and O'Keefe -- "Big" journalism, I guess -- and that practiced by those who at the very least try to remain objective about the issues they're covering. Which do you think, just at face value, would be more trustworthy?

For the record, what Larry O'Connor was complaining about in the piece on Breitbart's site -- that Max Blumenthal supposedly didn't try to contact James O'Keefe for comment -- is being contested by Blumenthal himself today. He says he did in fact reach out to O'Keefe but got no response. Maybe if O'Keefe had been on Blumenthal's payroll he would've had as little trouble getting the subject of his article on the phone as Breitbart's people did after the fact. This may seem like a cheap shot, but it can't be a coincidence that O'Keefe has generally turned only to friendly outlets -- the ones guaranteed not to hardball him -- when he wants to make a statement or answer questions about his arrest or the various controversies surrounding him. Like Sarah Palin, he knows full well that these days there's no need to suffer through an adversarial interview when his side has its own state-approved media megaphone and all he needs is for the already apostolic to believe and support him for everything to be okay. Besides, any agent of the press who would ask him tough questions about his behavior is simply in league with the enemy anyway.

This is the way Breitbart thinks. The way he, not coincidentally, accuses the left of thinking (and which Eric Boehlert of Media Matters occasionally helps fuel by getting into ugly internet pissing matches with him). As it turns out, each extreme is right about how wrong the other is -- which makes each each extreme more than a little hypocritical. Where Breitbart goes completely off the rails -- besides simply his shoddy journalism, and that's a pretty objective assessment -- is in his demonization of almost all media, his belief in the giant liberal media conspiracy. That's just fucking crazy.

But not as crazy as ending a 3:30am email to a complete stranger with a Footloose reference.

Footloose? Really?

Adding: If you wondered if members of the online wingnut brain trust would immediately sense a conspiracy in the sudden death of Andrew Breitbart and point the finger directly at the White House, give yourself a pat on the back.

Buzzfeed: 25 People Who Think President Obama Killed Andrew Breitbart/3.1.12

Adding More: Simon Owens put together an entirely fair assessment of Breitbart over at the Moderate Voice. It's absolutely worth reading.

Adding Even More (Greenwald Style): Alex Pareene at Salon delves into Breitbart's admittedly interesting history and how it informed his worldview and influenced his eventual rise to fame and infamy.


Anonymous said...

Just can't mourn the death of a person who just wanted to be rich and famous at any cost (especially if it was someone else who paid). So he took the quick easy way and become yet another shill for conservative paranoia. I also don’t admire the “talents” of anyone when the result of their application is largely negative for a society.

Chez said...

I'm truly, truly sorry for his family. That has to be just crushing.

Ref said...

I'm sorry for his family, too, but what kind of man pays so little attention to his own health? Was his ego so big that he forgot about his own mortality? He was famous for overindulgence in a variety of things legal and illegal. Kids should grow up with a father. Fathers need to pay attention to that, too.

Chez said...

If it turns out that he had a hand in his own death through an indulgence in things illegal -- and I'm certainly not claiming that he did -- it'll be interesting to see how the right spins that.