News organizations found, for example, that the ACORN videos–which purported to show a young Mr. Breitbart ally named James O’Keefe posing as a pimp seeking advice from the organization about how to establish a brothel and evade taxes–actually presented a heavily edited account of what had happened.
An investigation by the California attorney general’s office concluded that O’Keefe had added footage of himself and an ally dressed in flamboyant costumes that they had not worn to ACORN’s offices. By then, it was too late for ACORN: Outraged conservatives in Congress stripped the organization of federal funding.
The Sherrod and NPR videos also misrepresented key parts of those stories. In the former, Mr. Breitbart presented only a brief clip of a speech in which Sherrod acknowledged that she had discriminated against a white farmer when she was a state agriculture official in Georgia. The subsequent uproar in 2010 prompted the Obama administration to seek her resignation. By day’s end, however, the full video of Sherrod’s speech emerged, revealing that she had gone on to condemn her own actions and to seek justice for the white farmer. An embarrassed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized and offered Sherrod her job back.
The NPR “sting” showed two fundraisers for the media organization making disparaging comments about conservatives during a lunch in Georgetown. Among other things, the edited tape presented one of the NPR executive’s more incendiary comments as his own when, in fact, he had been quoting others. NPR‘s chief executive, Vivian Schiller, resigned a day later as conservative lawmakers intensified efforts to deny federal funding to public broadcasters. (That effort failed.)
As many have pointed out, these lies live on. An ABCNews.com piece on Breitbart–since corrected–referred matter-of-factly to how he “broke the ACORN child sex trafficking scandal.”
Which brings me to a weakness in Farhi’s piece–his explanation of Breitbart’s ability to get his work into the mainstream media:
He exploited a flaw of the contemporary news media: that in the rush to attract online traffic, news sources sometimes cast aside context and basic fact-checking. Many outlets reported Mr. Breitbart’s “revelations” only to discover that the story was not as it had initially seemed.
Attributing Breitbart’s success in getting media attention to a desire for “online traffic” is strange. Old media outlets like the Post and the New York Times gave his work a huge boost. If there’s a media flaw here–and there most certainly is–it is the willingness to let a right-wing activist get a free pass. It might be the fact that media outlets who are relentlessly, falsely battered for being “liberal” feel compelled to disprove the bogus charge by giving right-wing voices more ink and airtime.
The most interesting admission in the piece comes from Rich Lowry of the National Review:
Lowry said Mr. Breitbart “wasn’t a journalist in the traditional sense of dotting every i and crossing every t.” As such, his journalistic lapses “didn’t damage him on the right. He wasn’t playing by the traditional media rules.”
That’s a fairly damning assessment of the right, from the right.