It was the pre-game show to one of the most excruciating political confession-apologies in recent memory. Andrew Breitbart, attending the Anthony Weiner presser, took to the podium before the congressman emerged to speak, claiming vindication and demanding an apology. As Politico reports it:
“I would like an apology for allowing his political protectors - and this was his strategy - to blame me, to blame me for hacking,” Breitbart said. “’Don’t worry, Breitbart is a regular whipping boy. We can accuse him of anything and the press will not hold those journalists to account no matter what they say.’
“So I’m here for some vindication,” he said, declaring that “the big problem here is the coverup and the problem of trying to deflect blame on a journalist for doing his job.”
Breitbart had reason for his pique. Many in the media—including myself, who hours before the Weiner presser wrote on this website that the Weiner “scandal” appeared to be “manufactured”—had dismissed Weinergate. Some had gone so far as to “forensically” investigate the case against the congressman, essentially doing the defendant’s work for him. Others called it a #TwitterHoax.
The theme of many reports today then is that Breitbart, vilified as a composer of scoops rather than a reporter of them in the wake of Shirley Sherrod, is looking for apologies from the open left and some R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the M-S-M. He’s getting a little bit of it from the Times today in a balanced report titled “Andrew Breitbart, Conservative Blogger, Looks for Legitimacy.” And Politico has a main-page item headlined, “Andrew Breitbart’s day of vindication.” “In Andrew Breitbart’s up-and-down career as a conservative agitator, it doesn’t get any better than this,” write Keach Hagey and Kenneth P. Vogel, before describing the surreal Breitbart-Weiner presser.
They’re probably right. But both stories remind us of the checkered reportorial history that led reporters to view this latest scandal skeptically and to consistently view Breitbart himself suspiciously. You will recall the misleadingly edited video of a speech by USDA worker Shirley Sherrod, which showed Sherrod apparently bragging that she had discriminated against white farmers. An unedited version showed she had been making a speech about racial harmony. And you will recall that James O’Keefe’s ACORN video had suggested O’Keefe dressed as a pimp to go undercover at ACORN offices. He had not. The content of the videos remained disturbing, but the deception quickly became legend.
Breitbart may legitimately feel burned and now vindicated with how Weinergate has played out. And the media may need to address the way it treats scandals on the left and right. But it would be foolish not to acknowledge that there was reason to view anything that came from Mr. Big with some suspicion. He is the man who has cried “liberal scandal” too many times before.
No doubt he will continue to make those same cries. And we will likely listen more carefully from here on out. That’s probably a good thing. There is a place for a rabble-rouser like Breitbart out there, keeping liberal politicians and pressmen on their toes. If the reporting is solid. It’s not journalism of the New York Times variety, but it’s something. Whether you agree with the level of attention Congressman Weiner has drawn this past week, it’s hard not to argue that his actions were of public interest, particularly to those in his constituency, regardless of Breitbart’s motivations for putting them out there.