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Friday, March 02, 2012

Andrew Breitbart

Of course, the death of Andrew Breitbart is sad - he was only 43, that's tragic.  And he has a wife and 4 kids - I'm very sorry for their loss.  But the remembrances have gotten me thinking about the kind of career he created.  He was called a "provocateur," but it went beyond that.  His brand of provoking was especially mean-spirited.

On MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell was taking the high road, which is very admirable, and he was talking about his friendship with Breitbart - he said over and over how Breitbart's "persona" was not the same as his real self. And I found myself thinking that liberals don't do this - they don't create a fake persona so that they can be hateful and mean. 

Someone like James Carville is bombastic, but that's his real self.  Gore Vidal is condescending and blunt, but again, that's his real self. They aren't fashioning some exaggerated persona so that they can say incendiary things that they don't even believe.  I can't think of a single progressive who does this, yet right wingers do it all the time.  What's up with this?

It filters down to the more moderate conservatives as well - someone like Mitt Romney is forced to associate himself with all sorts of rhetoric that doesn't reflect his real values or even the way he plans to govern.  Of course, liberals change their positions, and make promises they can't, or maybe even never intended, to keep (think Obama and Guantanamo).  But these seem more like the normal ebb and flow of politics and positioning, not a systematic presentation of views that they don't really support.


Michael Shure says it better than I can:

He was a provocateur who demeaned people as sport, not to make a point, but to make a sound bite. He found pleasure in being a hurtful opportunist, and he regularly tweaked the truth in order to reach that end. Disturbingly, but in point of fact he had many followers; many admirers. Breitbart was a master of taking things out of context to make a point. By doing that he put his scurrilous accusations, his untruths, and his haphazard desire to hurt people, into the public forum. The unfortunate part of his legacy is the indelible damage that this obviously bright and passionate life wreaked upon that very forum.

And, shockingly, David Frum says it even better:

. . . Andrew Breitbart was an innovator and inventor, a man who as much as any shaped the media culture of the Internet age. He was present at the creation of the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and of course his own popular sites.

Yet perhaps Breitbart’s most consequential innovation was his invention of a new kind of culture war. Until recently, the phrase “culture war” mainly described the political struggle over religion and sexuality . . . those were not the issues that much interested Andrew Breitbart . . . in fact, it’s hard even to use the word “issues” in connection with Andrew Breitbart. He may have used the words “left” and “right,” but it’s hard to imagine what he ever meant by those words. He waged a culture war minus the “culture,” as a pure struggle between personalities. Hence his intense focus on President Obama: only by hating a particular political man could Breitbart bring any order to his fundamentally apolitical emotions.

. . . This indifference to detail suffused all of Breitbart’s work, and may indeed be his most important and lasting legacy. Breitbart sometimes got stories right (Anthony Weiner). More often he got them wrong (Sherrod). He did not much care either way. Just as all is fair in a shooting war, so manipulation and deception are legitimate tools in a culture war. Breitbart used those tools without qualm or regret, and he inspired a cohort of young conservative journalists to do likewise.

. . . And this is where it becomes difficult to honor the Roman injunction to speak no ill of the dead. It’s difficult for me to assess Breitbart’s impact upon American media and American politics as anything other than poisonous. When one of the leading media figures of the day achieves his success by his giddy disdain for truth and fairness—when one of our leading political figures offers to his admirers a politics inflamed by rage and devoid of ideas—how to withhold a profoundly negative judgment on his life and career? Especially when that career was so representative of his times?

We live in a time of political and media demagoguery unparalleled since the 19th century. Many of our most important public figures have gained their influence and power by inciting and exploiting the ugliest of passions—by manipulating fears and prejudices—by serving up falsehoods as reported truth. In time these figures will one by one die. What are we to say of this cohort, this group, this generation? That their mothers loved them? That their families are bereaved? That their fans admired them and their employees treated generously by them? Public figures are inescapably judged by their public actions. When those public actions are poisonous, the obituary cannot be pleasant reading.



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