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
Have you noticed lately that menus aren’t just menus anymore? They are adjective-laden exercises in literary carnage. Pretentious descriptions of food so florid I’m not sure what I’m ordering. It seems the goal of a restaurant, aside from separating me from the contents of my wallet, is to make me feel good about what I’m eating, or self-conscious, I’m not quite sure which. Thus the word sustainable creeps into every menu I read. Sustainable, as in sustainable agriculture or sustainable fish … what I really want is whatever is being served to “sustain me,” not the other way around. I’ve collected a few culinary terms currently in vogue a Read on →
Early Sunday I walked outside to dump the compost and ran smack dab into one of those perfect December mornings—the world awash in new yellow light, deep blue sky through leafless branches. My anxious mind was reassured: It’s still here. I can still touch it. I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled down with my e-paper, only to read that America’s nuttiest nutbar, Wayne LaPierre, is still on the loose. Talk about transcendencekill. Not to blame the messenger, but it was the AJC’s Alan Judd who took the opportunity—two years after the Newtown shootings—to analyze the NRA’s confusing attitude toward the mentally Read on →
Sure, it can be fun. Dede, for instance, is a terrific hater. Her favorite verb is “hate.” I hate winter. I hate the Falcons (not just this year). I hate this sink. I hate all the fiction in The New Yorker. But none of this hating amounts to anything. It’s just her vivacious way of expressing herself. My guess is that most of us take our hating a little more seriously, a little more warily. We’ve seen the power and the glory, you might say. I hated a guy I was in graduate school with. No reason. I just did. And I mean Read on →
It is not just the criminal justice system that needs fixing. Over two decades ago I first wrote an Op Ed piece on the value of a human life. The focus was that in this society we continue to value a human life on a sliding scale with white males at the top and black males at the bottom. Yes, our societal norms have changed over the centuries since the first Africans were brought to the shores of the Americas, but have our values, especially in terms of valuing human life, changed. If you look at what is taking place today, Read on →