As you’re reading this Slate.com profile of Andrew Breitbart, see if you can spot the places where the context has been left out. You won’t have to look far. Consider the very opening to the 6,700-word piece:
The first time I saw Andrew Breitbart, he was publicly insulting a reporter. “Kate Zernike of the New York Times, are you in the room?” he asked the crowd. “Are you in the room?” Heads turned. Apparently not. “You’re despicable,” Breitbart said. “You’re a despicable human being.”
Zernike’s offense: an item posted on a Times blog in which she said a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Breitbart was also speaking, had mocked President Obama in “racial tones” by adopting a “Chris Rock voice.” Breitbart disagreed. “She’s the one that correlated his voice to Chris Rock. He happens to be from Brooklyn! He’s using his voice!” Laughter and applause. “This is what these creeps do,” Breitbart said. “I’m sick of having cocktails with them. I’m now at war with them. No more cocktails.”
Apparently the author of the piece, Christopher Beam, doesn’t think it’s significant that Breitbart was telling the truth about Mattera. The audience was laughing and applauding because they recognized that he was exposing a cruel and needless falsehood, with precisely the amount of politeness it deserved.
Is Zernike a despicable human being? Maybe not. She could be a very nice person for all I know. But branding somebody a racist, based on absolutely nothing, is certainly a despicable act. And doing so under the imprimatur of the New York Times is even more despicable.
But to Beam, the important thing is that:
Conservative figures may rail against the media, but they rarely call out reporters by name. They rely on those reporters, after all. It’s one thing to toss fans some vague media-bashing red meat. It’s another to deliberately alienate individual journalists in terms usually reserved for murder trials.
Sure, Zernike libeled the guy, but is that any reason to hurt her feelings? Maybe journalism wouldn’t be in so much trouble if more journalists cared as much about the facts as their own egos.
And this line from later in the piece also stood out:
[Breitbart] calls The Nation‘s Max Blumenthal, who criticized O’Keefe for attending a panel with a white supremacist, “the most despicable life form I’ve ever seen.”
Putting aside whether Breitbart needs some new adjectives — “deplorable” or “detestable” would be perfectly fine here — Beam is wrong. Blumenthal didn’t merely criticize O’Keefe for sitting on the panel. He claimed, among other things, that O’Keefe helped organize the conference in question, which is false. He tried to imply that O’Keefe agreed with the white supremacist. (Sure, nobody has ever sat on a panel with somebody they disagreed with…) It was a stupid, clumsy attempt at guilt by association, but for whatever reason, Beam just glosses over that. According to him, calling out Blumenthal for his falsehoods is just part of Breitbart’s supposed role as “a pundit scientifically calibrated to piss off liberals.”
The rest of the piece is pretty fair, warts and all. Breitbart’s style isn’t for everybody, on the left or the right. But there’s a definite tone of bemused contempt. The idea that Breitbart is just spewing bile at random simply isn’t true. Is he ticked off? Yes. Does he have good reason to be? I believe so. He’s defending his friends and colleagues. And the more his enemies lash out at him, the more they prove that they’re exactly who he says they are.
P.S. The day you start taking media advice from David Corn, check yourself for a pulse.