Fighting Back Against the Dangerous Lies Spewed by Right-Wing Propagandist Andrew Breitbart
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This process is easily verified by an examination of Lexis-Nexis. Among daily newspapers, the conservative Washington Times has been the most likely to report Breitbart's propaganda over the past few years, followed by the Wall Street Journal. Among magazines, the conservative National Review, followed by the right-wing American Spectator, have given Breitbart a megaphone. Among TV networks, Fox News has been Breitbart's best customer, followed by CNN.
Only after his smears are reported in the right-wing echo chamber do the mainstream media outlets pick it up, where it reaches a much wider audience. The mainstream media are mesmerized by the Tea Party and controversies that it and its political allies have stoked. In bending over backwards to cover the right wing -- and downplay comparable activities by liberal and progressive activists -- the reporters and editors have lost sight of the journalists' responsibilities not only to fact-check and verify, but also to provide context.
By now it is clear what Breitbart is selling. But the real question is why the mainstream media and Democratic politicians bought it. Breitbart is a con artist, but con artists succeed if consumers don't know they are being conned -- or don't care.
Given Breitbart's track record, why does anyone -- reporters and editors, foundations, advocacy groups, and elected officials -- take him seriously? Or why not at least treat him like an arm of the Tea Party, as a political activist, and a propagandist, not as a source of credible information?
Of course, Breitbart has offered no apology and is still trying to defend and justify his actions. Perhaps this most recent brouhaha will destroy Breitbart's credibility with the mainstream media and even with his right-wing colleagues at Fox News and elsewhere, who were embarrassed by the Sherrod mishap.
But it isn't only the mainstream media that needs to do some soul-searching. It is also the Obama Administration and, more broadly, liberal Democrats and liberal advocacy groups and foundations, who were too quick to distance themselves from ACORN and now Sherrod.
Clearly the Obama administration over-reacted, fearful, as a high-level official put it, of having the Sherrod story show up on Glenn Beck's Fox News show. Why they are so intimidated by Beck and his ilk is a mystery. Their followers, and those who identify with the Tea Party, represent no more than 15 percent of all voters. Moreover, very few of Beck's (or Limbaugh's) devotees would even consider voting for a Democrat. After all, they think Obama is a Marxist, a Muslim, and a foreigner. This is not a constituency that Obama and the Democrats are going to win over by appearing to be bipartisan or middle-of-the-road.
And if Obama and his inner circle are worried that Breitbart's and Beck's poison will spread from their base among right-wing zealots and start influencing "independent" and "swing" voters -- and thus help sway close elections toward Republican candidates -- then the best way to prevent that from happening is to fight back, and challenge their lies and distortions, not run away and hide, or capitulate, as they did by firing Van Jones, abandoning ACORN, and firing Shirley Sherrod.
Breitbart's credibility may or may not survive the Sherrod controversy. But what's important is whether responsible journalists -- as well as the Obama administration, the Democrats, and liberals and progressives -- learn some lessons from this episode.
Peter Dreier, professor of politics at Occidental College, is coauthor of "The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City" and "Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century."