Inside the Collapsing Media Empire of Deceased GOP Sleaze-Peddler Andrew Breitbart
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This article first appeared at Not Safe for Work Corporation.
This March was a cruel month for the American press. The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War briefly punctured the country's cultural amnesia, forcing hacks to sweat out another round of cringing mea culpas.
March was also the anniversary of another less epic media failure, but this one came and went without a whimper: The death of Andrew Breitbart, on March 1, 2012.
In the immediate aftermath of Breitbart's death last year, at age 43, the Beltway media reflexively whitewashed and glorified his work and legacy, canonizing a reactionary circus barker as some kind of American Icon, a gonzo iconoclast, a conservative punk rocker, or a "Zany, Magnetic Media Hacker," as Wired's Noah Shachtman put it. Publications ranging from Time, the Washington Post and Slate sang Breitbart's praises; scores of ambitious up-and-coming media figures burned both ends of the candle to compose the seminal Andrew Breitbart funeral tribute.
- The Los Angeles Times: "His genius was rooted in the realization that in the new media universe, being outrageous often gets far more attention than being authoritative...In many ways, Breitbart was a throwback to the subversive media manipulators of the 1960s, especially counterculture provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They courted the media with bizarre antics. Breitbart often did the same."
- Jack Shafer in Reuters: "I admired the way he ignored journalistic convention and the usual ethical standards to pursue the stories that were important to him. I admired his entrepreneurial approach to journalism and his disdain for the credentialed, self-important press corps."
- Time: "Breitbart gave hard and must have expected to get it back hard. He came out of the American political tradition that if you cared about things, then you fought about them...Part of Breitbart's legacy is a rise in the power of openly partisan journalism outlets and contested news. But if another part of his legacy–as exemplified by the first reaction to his death–is a rise in skepticism, alertness and critical reading of the media, that's not entirely a bad thing.
- The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza: "Andrew Breitbart was complicated. He clearly saw around the corner of where journalism was headed but the ways in which he used that insight rightfully raise questions about his ultimate motives... If you loved him, you really loved him. And if you hated him, well you really hated him. Having met Breitbart on a few occasions and corresponded with him infrequently over the years, I can't imagine he would want it any other way."
This is how the mainstream press describes great iconoclasts, not paid hatchet-men and extraction industry tools like Breitbart. It's uncanny how these major media obits synced with the rebel-washed image of himself that Breitbart pushed on the public, as for example this quote from his book "Righteous Indignation":
"My mission isn't to quash debate — it's to show that the mainstream media aren't mainstream, that their feigned objectivity isn't objective, and that open, rigorous debate is a positive good in our society. Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce."
Slate's Dave Weigel quoted that very excerpt in his Breitbart obituary; what's interesting is Weigel's smart decision to edit the next sentence in that quote:
"Today, the only people upholding their free-speech legacies are conservatives like Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh."
Weigel's decision to edit out that sentence from his Breitbart quote changes everything — put that sentence in, and Weigel's Breitbart is suddenly a lot less interesting and unique and trailblazing. That edit was emblematic of the mainstream media's love affair with an otherwise garden variety GOP sleaze-peddler.