Fighting Back Against the Dangerous Lies Spewed by Right-Wing Propagandist Andrew Breitbart
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Andrew Breitbart has a job to do and he does it well. Breitbart's job is to lie and distort the truth in order to advance a right-wing agenda, embarrass liberals, and undermine the Obama administration.
Breitbart is not a journalist, researcher, or pundit. He is a propagandist. He operates several websites (BigGovernment, BigJournalism, and BigHollywood), where he and other right-wing bloggers spew their political pornography. The articles that appear on these websites are contemporary versions of what historian Richard Hofstadter called, in a famous 1964 essay, the "paranoid style" of American politics practiced by extreme conservatives.
Breitbart is part of the "paranoid style" conservative echo chamber that includes Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin, and thousands of lesser-known activists who use a combination of talk radio, Fox News, dozens of conservative publications, and the new media (emails, blogs, youtube, facebook) to mobilize support for their right-wing crusade. Breitbart was a featured speaker at the Tea Party conference in Nashville in February and is a frequent guest on Fox News and right-wing TV and radio talk shows. His websites are propaganda vehicles for building a political movement. Unlike Fox News, he doesn't even pretend to be "fair and balanced." What much of America learned last week is that Andrew Breitbart is unfair and unbalanced.
What's distressing is not that Breitbart does his job, but that the mainstream media and mainstream politicians, including the Obama Administration, take him seriously. The recent dust-up over the firing of federal Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, fueled by a doctored video on Breitbart's website, is only the latest example of this.
Since he began his website operation, Breitbart has sought to inject himself and his blogger network into the political debate. Sometimes he succeeds in getting wider attention, outside the right-wing silo, for the manufactured scandals he tries to provoke.
Breitbart's public visibility has peaked twice, according to an analysis of stories on the Lexis/Nexis database.
His first brush with fame occurred in September 2009, after he sponsored two young right-wing video activists -- Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe -- who visited 10 ACORN offices with a hidden video camera, claiming they were a prostitute and her friend, and tried to entrap the group's staff into giving them advice about buying a home to use for their prostitution ring. They recorded their stunt and selectively edited the tapes for release, later splicing in video footage of O'Keefe dressed up in an outlandish pimp costume (hat, sunglasses, fur coat, and walking stick) with racist overtones.
In fact, O'Keefe actually wore a dress shirt and slacks and identified himself as a student or friend of the young woman who was trying to protect her. Although O'Keefe's costume change was exposed months ago, the image has been imprinted in the media's mind. On Thursday, for example, the Associated Press story about Breitbart referred to O'Keefe and Giles as "actors posing as a prostitute and her pimp."
Breitbart not only defended the duo's actions but said that O'Keefe "is already well on his way to being one of the great journalists" and that he deserved a Pulitzer Prize. Breitbart has refused to release the original, unedited videos to any of the organizations investigating the ACORN controversy.
By the second week of September 2009, the ACORN videos became a national story. The videos were posted on Breitbart's website, then quickly became the top story on the Glenn Beck Show, the rest of Fox News, conservative talk radio (including Rush Limbaugh and his local counterparts), and CNN's Lou Dobbs Show. The controversy proved irresistible for the mainstream news media, which reported the story and broadcast clips of the videos many times. These video attacks compounded ACORN's problems, having been the victim of another manufactured scandal before and during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Karl Rove, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Republican establishment falsely accused ACORN of "voter fraud."