- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
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
Last week Americans saw heavy media coverage of the death 50 years ago of President John F. Kennedy. I couldn't help but compare the aftermath and funeral of JFK with that of Abraham Lincoln, both victims of assassins. One reason this came to mind is because I had just finished a year-long project -- reading Carl Sandburg's six volume biography of Lincoln. (Altogether, it was about 2,400 pages, and that in small type. I gave myself a year to read it, and as a reward, could read a shorter book when I finished each volume.) Sandburg's massive biography is a great read, Read on →
Fantastic Meals. Number 95 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time If you were to ask me if I considered myself a soup lover, I would tell you “No” without even thinking about it. Isn’t it strange how I can tell a lie so easily; how I can fool myself into thinking things about the way I act that have no bearing on reality? I mean—I must be the Grand Marshall of Liars, for why else would I tell people—those both close to me and strangers—that I detest soups, stews, and their ilk? All one has to do t Read on →
Part I You may have seen a series of reality shows on TV recently about two survivalists set down in hostile territory sans clothes, food, matches, water or shelter, and required to survive for 21 days. Each week a man and woman who had never previously met, removed their clothes and shook hands in a jungle, or on a beach, the Serengeti, a desert island, or wherever that episode was filmed by an unseen two-man crew. The fact that in the course of the episode participants each lost about 20 lbs. in weight and were seen eating maggots, insects, snakes and Read on →
"Where is the Love?" Kristof asks in his Thanksgiving column for the New York Times. Thanksgiving is a euphemistic feast. I still haven't found just the right term to describe cannibals bloodlessly and indirectly destroying and consuming their own kind. Some call it "sacrifice," but that too is a euphemism. "Symbolic predation" doesn't work because the injury and destruction are all too real. The culture of obedience preaches that less than lethal force is OK as long as there's an ulterior motive, better yet an ideological imperative. The culture of obedience inflicts force to impose peace. The U.S. is still destroying the village to Read on →