What Anthony Weiner's fall really means: legitimizing methods of mainstream media hitman Andrew Breitbart
Anthony Weiner now has the distinction of starring in the year's most bizarre political scandal -- at a time when the former governor of California has admitting fathering a love child with his maid and a former presidential candidate has been indicted on allegation of using campaign funds to keep his mistress and her child.
But Weiner's tearful press conference Monday, where he admitted tweeting a photo of himself in his underwear to an unsuspecting 21 year old college student and then lying to the public about it, did more than produce one of the oddest press conferences in recent memory.
It legitimized the results-first methods of mainstream media hitman Andrew Breitbart.
It was Breitbart's Big Government website which first published the photo of Weiner in his underwear that appeared on his yfrog account and Twitter timeline, revealing to the world that a rising star in the Democratic party may be sending explicit messages to a woman who was not his wife.
Weiner claimed his account was hacked and tried a media tour last week to sell the story. But when some of the women with whom he had been corresponding started to make their own stories public -- with their own cache of photos -- the Democrat came clean during an emotional press conference in which he had to take questions on the excruciating details of his private transgressions and public lies.
But that moment started, even more bizarrely, with Breitbart climbing on the stage first to take questions about his scoop and demand vindication. That was something he got a few minutes later, when Weiner apologized directly to Breitbart.
This is the kind of mainstream media legitimization conservative crusader Breitbart has always sought, even as his criticizes most mainstream media outlets.
He believes such outlets favor liberals, and will go to extreme lengths to prove his case. Former USDA worker Shirley Sherrod found that out the hard way, when Breitbart posted a video of a speech she gave to an NAACP group which had been edited to make it seem that she was condoning anti-white racism, when she was actually making the opposite point. The truth didn't emerge until she had already been fired by the Obama administration over a daylong media frenzy.
Breitbart still hasn't fully explained exactly who gave him that video of Sherrod, why it was edited the way it was and what -- if anything -- he's changed in his own reporting process to keep something similar from happening again. For such an important enterprise news story, a mainstream media outlet would likely have contacted the subject, to get their side on what happened. But Sherrod was forced to defend herself after the misleading video and a pointed column from Breitbart was already published.
This is the kind of information peddling that traditional journalism values have always opposed. The goal is to be fair to the subjects of a story, even those accused of horrible wrongdoing, because there's an awful price to be paid if you're wrong.
Breitbart doesn't observe those strictures. And he is succeeding in a media culture which is increasingly embracing those values.
The college student who was the intended recipient of Weiner's explicit photo -- the Democratic Congressman called it a joke he wanted to send as a private message -- has accused a reporter for the New York Post of not revealing his identity as a reporter while chatting her up during a photo shoot for a different purpose, later publishing her comments as an exclusive interview. If it happened that way, that's an ethical no-no; outside very special circumstances, subjects should always know when they're talking to a reporter.
And ABC News aired an in-depth interview with a woman who Weiner admits he had explicit conversations with, noting in their story that they "licensed" the photos they used from the story's subject. That's an antiseptic way of admitting that paid her for use of the material -- essentially paying her for access to an important part of the story. Another thing that ethical journalists are not supposed to do.
I emailed a publicist at ABC to ask how much they paid, but have not received a response, and the story does not say.
Breitbart and his proteges -- most notably, ACORN and NPR video sting practitioner James O'Keefe -- are willing to bend and break such rules to damage their targets; liberal institutions. These are practices they would likely denounce if used against conservatives, which makes their methods suspect, unfair and dangerous.
But Breitbart draws attention, which makes him catnip for TV and big media outlets always chasing the next explosive story. And now he can rightfully claim ownership of a story which played out the way his website's early reporting indicated. And he can criticize mainstream media outlets for moving slowly on the story, even though many did exactly what they should -- sorting through the story carefully while refusing to accept Weiner's bogus explanations.
Breitbart has said that mainstream media coverage, especially on television, is the oxygen his network of blogs and online outlets needs to survive. And he has two notable predecessors in that regard -- Arianna Huffington's Huffington Post and Matt Drudge's Drudge Report. He's also said he and a team spent time verifying this story; I hope that's true, signally an evolution in his methods, as well.
Thank you, Congressman Weiner, for pushing us another step deep into a media culture where the ends justify the means and a relentless provocateur like Breitbart now has the credibility to land in any mainstream media forum he wishes.
Bad as your actions damaged your life and marriage, you may have damaged he cause of a fair and responsible media even worse.