Andrew Breitbart: Republican party reptile who feeds on liberals
Published 08/06/2011 | 06:03
The loser in the Anthony Weiner debacle is obvious: a bedraggled one-time liberal star in Congress whose career, for now at least, is in ruins.
But scandals can have winners too – and the big winner in this one is Andrew Breitbart. To describe the 42-year old Mr Breitbart as a conservative blogger is akin to describing Barack Obama simply as a successful politician. He runs a stable of six websites that are a clearing – and smearing – house, for news against the Democrats.
In this hyper-partisan age, where American politics is a 24/7 war conducted at the speed of cyberspace, Mr Breitbart is perfectly equipped to succeed. He is a bear of a man, a tireless self-promoter who invariably manages to make himself the story.
The downfall of Anthony Weiner is his biggest coup yet. Mr Weiner, until these last few days was seen by many as the next mayor of New York, but is now the object of an ethics inquiry after sending a lewd photo to a woman over Twitter then lying to try to protect himself.
It's not just that Mr Breitbart's been proved right. This time, a man who had largely made his name by lambasting the mainstream media for its perceived liberal bias and hypocrisy, has worked with ABCNews, one of the three traditional television networks.
When Meagan Broussard, a 26-year old single mother from Texas and one of Mr Weiner's online female partners, went to Mr Breitbart, the latter brought in ABC, which interviewed the woman about her relationship with the Congressman. Thus collapsed Mr Weiner's earlier version of events - that the bulging underwear crotch-shot disseminated on Twitter had been an isolated incident, caused by someone who had hacked into his account. For Mr Breitbart naturally, the episode was proof of much more – that far from being just a conservative muckraker and scandalmonger, he was a serious journalist, exposing lies and cover-ups wherever he found them. "One of the reasons I went to ABC," he told The New York Times, "was to take this out of the partisan rancour realm." Of course. But there is no denying the Weiner affair has given him credibility.
It was not always thus. Mr Breitbart has made headlines before – first as an accomplice of James O'Keefe, the right-wing activist and video sting practitioner who targeted the community organising group Acorn and National Public Radio in highly questionable circumstances, and then thanks to the Shirley Sherrod affair.
In July 2010, he released a highly edited video of a March 2010 speech by Ms Sherrod, a black official at the Department of Agriculture, that suggested she was a racist. The video clip went off in Washington like a bombshell. Ms Sherrod was ordered to resign – only to be offered a grovelling apology and re-instatement when the full tape surfaced, showing that she had helped, not discriminated against, a poor white couple in Georgia. She has now brought a lawsuit against Mr Breitbart, claiming a reported $13m in damages for defamation.
And for a few days after the Weiner scandal broke on May 27, it seemed like more of the same; just another Breitbart hatchet job on a troublesome Democrat. Then more photos of himself sent by the Congressman appeared on Mr Breitbart's Big Government site, followed by the Broussard interview, and Mr Weiner's tearful mea culpa at a Manhattan hotel, complete with the words no one thought they'd hear a liberal utter: "I apologise to Andrew Breitbart."
Muckraking and bitter partisanship are as old as the American Republic. In reality however, Mr Breitbart is but the latest of a modern tradition dating to the emergence of right-wing talk radio in the early 1990s.
He started out as a liberal, but as he tells it, two things changed him: the brutal 1991 confirmation hearings in which white Democratic Senators accused the future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and the election of the zipper-challenged Bill Clinton to the presidency the following year. "The feminists ignored Bill Clinton and they excoriated Clarence Thomas," Mr Breitbart once said. "That's everything to me."
In 1995, he went to work for Matt Drudge, who had launched what would become the Drudge Report as an email service to subscribers, before helping Arianna Huffington set up The Huffington Post. Like Drudge, the Breitbart stable of websites operates on the basis of news aggregation.
In their careers, if not personally, the Clintons and Mr Breitbart have repeatedly crossed paths. In 1998 Drudge, where he by then was second in command, scored its biggest scoop by breaking the Monica Lewinsky story. That year, Hillary Clinton railed against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to destroy her husband.
Now there is a new connection. Huma Abedin, whom Mr Weiner married last year, is a top aide of Hillary Clinton and now finds herself in exactly Hillary's situation when the Lewinsky scandal consumed America. It would be astonishing if she were not seeking quiet advice from her boss.
All of which inevitably reinforces the left's view of Mr Breitbart as a rabidly partisan attack dog. But for the right he is a hero. Why do conservatives bring their dirt on Democrats and Democratic causes to him? Because, he declares, "they know I'm willing to march through the fire with them".