I‘ve been watching the implosion of the sleazeball internet propaganda mill known as Breitbart with a certain amount of schadenfreude.
So far five Breitbarters have changed their Facebook status to ex-Breitbarters in the wake of the site’s bizarre response to the news that one of their now-ex-reporters, Michele Fields, was (almost certainly) assaulted by Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski while asking the Orange One a question last week.
Breitbart’s rabidly pro-Trump top brass have clearly been far more interested in protecting their special relationship with America’s Mussolini than they were in supporting their own now-ex-reporter.
I’ve found myself feeling a certain sympathy for the growing army of ex-Breitbarters, who’ve been excoriating their former bosses in indignant resignation letters and in TV interviews.
I’ve felt the most sympathy, naturally, for Fields, first allegedly assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, then smeared as a liar by both the Trump campaign and her own now-ex bosses. But I’ve also found myself feeling a certain weird almost-admiration for those who’ve quit the site in disgust over its handling of the Lewandowski incident.
They resigned on principle? Who knew that anyone working for Breitbart had principles?
And there’s the rub. Whatever they’re saying now, these are all people who worked for Breitbart, one of the sleaziest and most mendacious political propaganda outlets online. Indeed, they all seem to have been True Believers in Breitbart’s twisted mission.
Take the resignation letter of former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro. On the one hand, he offered a righteously angry takedown of Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon for turning the site
into Trump’s personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter, Breitbart News’ Michelle Fields, in order to protect Trump’s bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who allegedly assaulted Michelle. …
[Her] story was backed by audiotape, eyewitness testimony from The Washington Post’s Ben Terris, physical bruises, and video tape. Both Lewandowski and Trump maligned Michelle in the most repulsive fashion. Meanwhile, Breitbart News not only stood by and did nothing outside of tepidly asking for an apology, they then attempted to abandon Michelle by silencing staff from tweeting or talking about the issue. Finally, in the ultimate indignity, they undermined Michelle completely by running a poorly-evidenced conspiracy theory as their lead story in which Michelle and Terris had somehow misidentified Lewandowski. This is disgusting.
On the other hand, he also wrote effusively about his admiration for the site’s late founder Andrew Breitbart, accusing Bannon of “put[ting] a stake through the heart of Andrew’s legacy.” Noting that he first met the man who would become his mentor at the tender age of 17, Shapiro declared that
Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew’s life mission has been betrayed. … Breitbart News has become precisely the reverse of what Andrew would have wanted. Steve Bannon and those who follow his lead should be ashamed of themselves.
Here’s some footage of Shapiro’s hero, er, discussing politics with some Occupy protesters. Apparently he felt their behavior was in some ways less than ideal.
Shapiro wasn’t the only ex-staffer to wax lyrical about Breitbart (the man) in his letter resigning from Breitbart (the propaganda mill).
“I believe Breitbart News is becoming less of a news site and more of a propaganda organization dedicated to the Trump campaign,” wrote former editor Joran Stepman, one of two staffers to resign from the site today.
I believe in the integrity of Breitbart News, my own personal integrity, and the legacy of Andrew Breitbart are at state, which is why I had to resign.
Now-former-Breitbart national security writer Jordan Schachtel, who also quit today, lamented in a statement to Politico that
[t]he company no longer resembles the ideals that inspired me to start writing for them three years ago. … Breitbart News is no longer a journalistic enterprise, but instead, in my opinion, something an unaffiliated media Super PAC for the trump campaign. I signed my contract to work as a journalist, not as a member of the Donald J. Trump for President media network … so I must step aside with my dignity intact.
What a shock to discover that a completely unethical propaganda mill is a completely unethical propaganda mill!
In Salon today, Gary Legum reminds anyone who needs reminding that Breitbart was never anything more than a giant burning pile of garbage.
Breitbart employees seem to genuinely believe they were rebels fighting the good fight to speak truth to liberal power, when the reality is they have been instruments for every grifter, blowhard, and paranoid lunatic the right has vomited up over the last decade, used to inject an IV full of venom directly into the American bloodstream.
As constituted, Breitbart has always been a clearinghouse for right-wing rage over every perceived slight to the self-described “real Americans” who make up the conservative movement. Every conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, Democrats, liberalism, Muslims, terrorists, the intellectual lives of politically correct college students, and every other conservative bugaboo you can imagine has found a home on the site at some point. …
How people could see story after story after story on Breitbart revealed as utter nonsense, and yet still go to work there and call themselves “journalists” would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.
On MediaMatters, meanwhile, longtime Breitbart-watcher Matt Gertz declares that “the notion of a ‘golden age’ of Breitbart journalism is fiction.” Indeed, Gertz notes, Andrew Breitbart launched his original Big Government site in 2009 with an “exclusive” trumpeting the infamous and deceptively edited “sting” footage of the community organization ACORN, put together by one James O’Keefe.
“Breitbart’s sites spent much of the rest of 2009 publishing similar smears of progressives that did not survive the most minimal scrutiny,” Gertz writes.
Was the White House making a political statement with Mao Zedong ornaments on the Christmas tree? (No.) Community organizers were praying to Barack Obama! (No.) The White House got union members to beat up a Tea Party protester! (Definitely not.) Meanwhile, the crew at [Breitbart’s] Big Hollywood was spending significant time with birther nonsense as well as more pedestrian comparisons of Obama to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro.
The site’s low point may have been Jim Hoft’s disgusting anti-gay smears of Ken Jennings, the Department of Education official responsible for preventing bullying in schools.
Gertz goes on to chronicle example after example of Breitbart’s partisan “journalistic” fails; it’s rewarding reading if you need more convincing that Breitbart was never the sterling bastion of honest journalists that the site’s current and newly-former-employees seem to think it was.
And then of course there is the ongoing disaster that is Milo Yiannopoulos.
The only departing Breitbartian to write about his departure with what seems like real candor has been ex-publicist Kurt Bardella, who suggested in a piece for CNN that he feels “a little uncomfortable” about those who’ve declared his departure from — and public criticism of — Breitbart to be acts of bravery. “[T]he truth is I sat on the sidelines for a long time, took its money and stayed silent,” he writes.
Indeed, I would suggest that there is actually a certain amount of dishonor in what I have done — going on national television and calling the very organization I represented when the day began “liars.”
These are not the actions of someone who is courageous or brave.
Maybe not, but we should probably remember that Bardella is a professional PR maven who may simply figure that a mea culpa will play better than pretending he wasn’t complicit with Breitbart’s awfulness. Indeed, he may well be praised as brave for declaring that he is not brave. Hell, I kind of almost did that right here.
And alas, even his mea culpa is filled with the same bullcrap about Andrew Beritbart’s allegedly noble dreams. “[T]he legacy that Andrew Breitbart had hoped for is on life support,” Bardella wrote. “Unless a significant change is made in leadership, the Breitbart News that he had started … will soon be unrecognizable.”
Nah. The sleazeball propaganda mill now called Breitbart News is irredeemable — and always has been.