The Breitbart Legacy
Andrew Breitbart did not care for those promoting healthy lifestyles: they were just another branch of the Government machine that looked to erode his freedom. A true libertarian, he ate, drank and smoked what he pleased. No-one would tell him how he lived his life; he knew what was good for him. And that probably contributed to his death at the age of just 43 from his second heart attack in less than a year.
Few in the UK will have heard of Breitbart, or even of the website that bears his name and purports to continue the kind of campaigning for which he became notorious. But to the New Conservatives, he is a seminal figure, someone who changed the way that politics is influenced, and not always in a good way.
Breitbart spent some time working for Matt Drudge at the Drudge Report before helping Arianna Huffington set up and launch the Huffington Post. He set up breitbart.com to promote his own brand of news and opinion presentation.
Some of the campaigns and incidents for which Andrew Breitbart will be long remembered illustrate his opportunism, as well as his tendency to exaggeration, invention and downright dishonesty. His methods have been widely copied by other Conservatives: in the UK, this has included the Guido Fawkes blog.
Four examples of Breitbart’s involvement will serve to give an idea of his modus operandi, and show why not everyone in the political arena was happy about his presence, let alone his methods.
The opportunism was exemplified by the case of Congressman Anthony Weiner, a well-regarded Representative for whom great things had been forecast. Weiner had also developed a habit of sending sexually suggestive images of himself to women, one of which found its way to Breitbart. Given Breitbart’s political orientation, and Weiner being a Democrat, this was only going to end one way.
Weiner resigned his seat over the resulting “sexting scandal”.
That much is the straightforward rough and tumble of politics: what happened to ACORN, as I discussed in a previous post on The New Conservatism, was anything but. Video footage was selectively used to suggest criminal behaviour at an organisation that had enjoyed Government funding. ACORN was defunded before the full story emerged. James O’Keefe, the main perpetrator of the ACORN sting, was supported by Breitbart.
Using selectively edited video footage to “get” a target was again employed in Breitbart’s exposé of Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign from the US Department of Agriculture for what seemed to be blatant bias against a white farmer and his wife on the grounds that they may have been racists. But Breitbart had edited the video footage to change the context: when seen in full, her address to an NAACP conference showed that she had put aside her distaste at the white farmer’s racism and worked with him to save his farm.
Shirley Sherrod hit Breitbart with a lawsuit which was only resolved between her, and the Breitbart estate, last year. The mainstream media became even more cautious of taking Breitbart at face value: he harangued them over their hesitancy to run the Anthony Weiner story, but his own past actions were a significant contributory factor in their reluctance.
The Breitbart tendency to invention and exaggeration was also directed at the Occupy movement, in his last significant intervention before his death. There had been claims of sexual molestation at Occupy camps, but it took very little effort for Breitbart to reinvent this as actual instances of rape. At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he confronted protesters, yelling “Stop raping people”.
As an afterthought, he also called those protesters “Murderers”. Thus the legacy: upfront, confrontational, and not afraid or concerned about insulting or even defaming those opposed to him, Breitbart has left his mark on political discourse. The problem is that many of the New Conservatives now believe that this is not merely a way to get ahead, but that it is the one and only way to get ahead.
As to politics, the heirs to Breitbart have thrown their weight behind the candidacy of Donald Trump, glossing over his disablism, racism, rabble-rousing, intolerance and advocacy of violence towards protesters. A recently-established Breitbart outpost in the UK has given its support to UKIP, with the less than politically correct behaviour of its luminaries also excused and even defended, though the kinds of stunts Breitbart espoused have been left to others.
The result has been an inevitable coarsening of debate, but there is an effectiveness about the method: opponents are inevitably distracted by having to try and correct the Breitbart sites’ propaganda or put it into context. It is another instance of the lie being halfway around the world before the truth gets its socks on.
Whether that is a good thing I will leave to others to decide.