Why Is The New York Times Helping Andrew Breitbart Lie?

  In today's New York Times profile, Jeremy Peters writes of Andrew Breitbart's smear of Shirley Sherrod (emphasis added):

The most notorious video he put up -- one that almost ruined his career -- was a two-minute clip of Ms. Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department official, telling an N.A.A.C.P. gathering that she did not help a white man as much as she could have with his failing farm. The headline said "NAACP Awards Racism."

But when the N.A.A.C.P. released a longer version of the video, it showed clearly that Ms. Sherrod's story was about overcoming racial prejudice, and that she did indeed go to great lengths to help the farmer. Defending himself, Mr. Breitbart said that the video came to him already edited, and that the crowd applauded when Ms. Sherrod said she did not help the man.

Critics seized on it as evidence that Mr. Breitbart selectively chooses content that reflects poorly on political opponents. But the episode only seemed to help bolster his status as a rising star on the political right.

Let's ignore how pathetic it is that part of Breitbart's defense is that he didn't care enough about the facts to find the full context of that video clip before he posted it on his website. Instead, let's focus on the way that the Times' Peters allows Breitbart to lie about the content of that clip.

Whether "the crowd applauded when Ms. Sherrod said she did not help the man" is not an opinion; it is an assertion of fact that can easily verified. One can go to Breitbart's website, find that clip, and listen for the alleged applause that Breitbart is citing to defend himself. It doesn't take long to do this bare minimum of fact-checking; the out-of-context clip is only 2 minutes 36 seconds long. Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait.

Did you hear the applause? Of course not: It doesn't exist. But rather than actually attempting to verify Breitbart's claims, Peters simply reports them. Which is a smart thing to do when you're profiling aknown liar.

This is not a new defense for Breitbart; he literally has been lying about this for 11 months. Ininterviews on July 20 and July 21 of last year, after his Sherrod smear had been completely debunked, Breitbart desperately tried to maintain his credibility by making up the applause story. As media began uncritically reporting his new claim, we did the due diligence that they (and Peters) did not, and actually reviewed the tape.

We found that, contrary to Breitbart's claim, the audience does not applaud at any point during Sherrod's story about her interaction with the farmer. We weren't the only ones to come to this conclusion. CNN'sAnderson Cooper and NBC's Chuck Todd also checked the video and reported that Breitbart's claim was false.

You know who else debunked Andrew Breitbart's claim? Andrew Breitbart! In his initial post on the Sherrod clip, the one he says was supposed to definitively prove that the "NAACP Awards Racism," Breitbart didn't report that "the crowd applauded when Ms. Sherrod said she did not help the man"; he instead said that their reaction was one of "nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement" (reactions explained by the fact that the clip leaves out that Sherrod previewed her story by explaining that it was one of redemption). If he really thought they were applauding, why didn't he mention that?

Because he's lying. And so we ask again: Why is the NY Times helping him lie?

Media Matters for America / By Matt Gertz

Posted at June 27, 2011, 5:41am

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