We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
A Tribute (Sort Of)
Andrew Breitbart’s mixed legacy
It’s a tribute to Andrew Breitbart’s skill at media manipulation that when word of his death started spreading around Twitter this morning, the first reaction many people had was that it was a hoax. Only after confirmation from the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations did people believe it was really true.
Breitbart was someone I kept maybe half an eye on, at best, so I don’t have a fully developed take on his career as a media provocateur and what it meant. He seemed to be someone of endless energy and pugnacity, which served him well in bringing down Anthony Weiner, but which proved an embarrassment with the deceptively edited ACORN and Shirley Sherrod videos.
Two people asked me today if Breitbart was “a journalist.” I think it shows how much the media environment has changed over the past decade that the question didn’t strike me as making much sense. He was a conservative activist and a showman, and one of the things he did was journalism, both good and bad. If you do journalism, are you a journalist? Does it matter?
I ran across three pieces today that I think are worth sharing.
The first is a remembrance by Josh Marshall, editor of the liberal website Talking Points Memo, who gets at Breitbart’s dual nature. Despite being well to the right of someone like Marshall, and exceedingly unpleasant on occasion, Breitbart had a certain way about him that people found compelling. Marshall writes:
There are some people who live for the fight. It’s something I try not to be part of. Yet it’s a big, punchy, vivid and outrageously honorable tradition in the American public square. I cannot think of many people who lived more out loud than he did, more in primary colors.
The second, a 2010 profile by Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker, was pretty much definitive at the time and holds up well. Despite its warts-and-all depiction of Breitbart, it comes across as fair, and Breitbart emerges as a not-entirely-unsympathetic character driven mainly by resentment and disdain for those he considers to be liberal elitists. And if that’s not a good description of what the modern conservative movement is all about, I don’t know what is.
Finally, apostate Republican David Frum has written a very tough assessment for the Daily Beast that acknowledges Breitbart “was by all accounts generous with time and advice, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend,” but that is unstinting in its criticism of Breitbart’s brand of media activism. Frum writes:
Breitbart sometimes got stories right (Anthony Weiner). More often he got them wrong (Sherrod). He did not much care either way. Just as all is fair in a shooting war, so manipulation and deception are legitimate tools in a culture war. Breitbart used those tools without qualm or regret, and he inspired a cohort of young conservative journalists to do likewise.
Like Frum, I wonder if Breitbart might have grown if given the chance. His Weiner takedown surely must have showed him that getting it right brings a completely different level of respect and influence than does faking a video and getting caught.
Breitbart was only 43 years old and leaves behind four young children. Was he on his way to media respectability, or is that just wishful thinking? We’ll never know.
- Editor's Note: This article was originally published March 1, 2012, at Media Nation. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons, used with Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Back in 1937 when Gene Talmadge was finishing his second two-year term as governor of Georgia, he took a big step. For Miss Mitt (his wife), he built a new home on U.S. Highway 341, between McRae and Lumber City, in his home county of Telfair. In today's world, this residence looks much like a Southern 5-4-and-a-door, with two-story white columns, red brick, and set about 100 yards back from the highway in a grove of pine trees. But it wasn't built in today's world, but constructed 77 years ago when most people in Telfair County probably didn't have running water in Read on →
Abstract Expression emerged in the late 1940s, growing out of the influx of European artists fleeing fascism, and the theories they brought with them. It was the second wave of European modernism, the first not having caught on here 30 years earlier. The idea of painting “automatically”, without thinking, without plan, drawing from that part of the brain where we dream – that Surrealist notion was used by the Abstract Expressionists but they left out the dream images, they just “automatically” put paint on canvas and moved it around until it seemed like time to stop. Many of the painters had studied various e Read on →
I live in Macon, Georgia, a small city (population: around 100,000, 99,957 of whom don’t know how to drive) some sixty miles from the traffic hell of Atlanta. Don’t get me wrong: I love Atlanta. It’s the home of the Braves (insert The Star-Spangled Banner pun here), the Falcons, the Varsity, the High Museum of Art, Coca-by-God-Cola, and many other wonderful things. Its traffic, however, I can live without. Atlanta is right up there with Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. for having the worst traffic in the country. There is an interchange in Atlanta formally named the Tom Moreland Interchange (Tom Morel Read on →
A couple of weeks ago I cited some comments by Big Oil shill Anastasia Swearingen to the effect that, basically, there’s just no downside to drilling for oil. Whenever, wherever—it’s all good. She was excoriating the federal government for its stubborn unwillingness (so far) to grant drilling leases along the Atlantic Coast to the oil giants standing in line. What’s the hold-up, guys? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Just look at the Gulf, says Swearingen, where pessimists predicted an “uninhabitable wasteland.” But thanks to all the time and money BP has put into restoration, today the Gulf is faring “be Read on →