In a letter published on Andrew Sullivan’s site (and posted at Big Hollywood), Andrew Breitbart complains about recent pieces I’ve written that include criticism of his approach to political discourse. I want to direct readers who’ve read my work to his objections, and to respond. Before I begin, I want to note that I’ve repeatedly complimented Mr. Breitbart for publishing the ACORN pieces on Big Government, and dubbed him a savvy media critic who lands some punches against his targets.
Of course, I’ve also got major objections to his punditry, hence the criticism that I’ve offered.
It is my understanding that The Daily Beast, where we’ve both written, is up for hosting a debate where we can air our disagreements, and engage in what I think would be a productive conversation about journalism on the right, the left, and otherwise.
I’d certainly be up for that, or a Bloggingheads episode (assuming that they’re willing to host) or both.
Meanwhile I’ll address Mr. Breitbart’s letter.
In the piece you link to and affirm in the Daily Beast, “The Right’s Lesser Press,” Conor Friedersdorf refuses to interview me as he continues to be my unofficial biographer. (I’m VERY reachable, Conor.) He writes opinion pieces on me purporting to be journalism. He doesn’t quote or cite me, he simply assumes and pushes the point of view he thinks I have and makes an argument based on these alleged positions. It’s sloppy and you, of all people, should know better.
This gets a couple of things wrong.
Prior to the first piece I wrote about Mr. Breitbart, “At the Gates of the Fourth Estate,” I wrote him a lengthy e-mail requesting an interview. It is dated May 1, 2009, if he’d care to check his records (subject line: “We Met at the GenNext Panel”). He did not respond to my request.
Even so, I didn’t write a piece that failed to quote him — I quoted him twice, and argued against a position that he articulated on national television! If there is some position in that piece that I’ve imputed to Mr. Breitbart, but that he doesn’t actually hold, I wish he would tell me what it is. I am happy to append a correction to the piece if that is the case, but I do not believe that anything in it is inaccurate.
If memory serves, the next piece I wrote that mentions Mr. Breitbart appeared in The Daily Beast. Titled “The Right’s Bob Woodward,” it lauds the ACORN expose published on Mr. Breitbart’s Web site Big Government, and offers a lengthy quote that he offered on the site. Around the same time, I wrote a blog post at The American Scene titled, “Credit Where It’s Due: Andrew Breitbart 1, ACORN 0.” On September 11, 2009, I e-mailed the full text of that post to Mr. Breitbart, with “Kudos on the Big Government Piece on ACORN” in the subject line.
As many of you know, the NEA conference call where artists were asked to support the Obama Administration is another topic Mr. Breitbart’s sites have covered at length. I also criticized the NEA for its behavior here, citing Mr. Breitbart’s site as inspiration, and here, where I argue that yes there is so something wrong with what the NEA did.
So what am I supposed to make of it when Andrew Breitbart writes this to Andrew Sullivan:
I believe that you and Conor would like to paint me into a corner, the one you are currently trying to paint Glenn Beck into. You are trying to marginalize me because of the net effect, pun intended, of the White House/NEA “propaganda” series on Big Hollywood, and the explosive ACORN expose´ on Big Government. Protecting President Obama and the left at all costs is your prerogative.
If my objections to Mr. Breitbart are his ACORN and NEA stories I’ve sure got a funny way of showing it! Seriously, how can he possibly attribute that motivation to me when I’ve written at length in defense of the ACORN stories, and against the NEA’s behavior?
Mr. Breitbart writes:
As you well know, I was the person who came up with the idea behind the Huffington Post, and even helped Arianna and Ken Lerer launch the sucker. At the time I did not abdicate my point of view as a right leaning voice. I stated what I believe today: Let’s put it all out there, and may the best ideas win.
Is it insignificant that I was behind the left’s most prominent blog/media site?
It isn’t insignificant — it’s telling. I submit that The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report, two projects with which Mr. Breitbart are associated, share many of the same flaws — that is to say, visit those sites on any given day and you’re likely to see a misleading/sensationalistic headline that spins the news to attract an audience that prefers to exist inside an ideological cocoon. That isn’t to say that those sites are all bad. They’re both impressive in their own ways, and Mr. Breitbart is without question an Internet genius who is uncannily able to create successful Web properties that offer benefits to their audience (and revenue for their creator).
What Mr. Brietbart misunderstands is what I’m up to. I am trying to paint him into a corner! It’s just that what I am after is for him to do better journalism, as he rails against the Obama Administration, or the Hollywood establishment, or when he creates the next Huffington Post. I’ll cheer-lead for any quality journalism done on his sites — as I’ve done already — no matter their political fallout.
He and I agree on a surprising number of things, among them that we should “put it all out there, and may the best ideas win.” But that model of public discourse requires a commitment to accuracy, arguing in good faith, exposing people to ideas with which they disagree rather than contributing to the cocooning of American media, challenging one’s audience as much as one panders to them, avoiding bombastic hyperbole, etc. I’d like to provoke Mr. Breitbart to do those things, whether by persuading him that it’s best for the country, or that it’s best for his purposes, or shaming him into living up to the standards to which the right holds other enterprises.
My position is that at present, his punditry and the Web properties that he is associated with fall short of one or another of those standards. I am happy to provide a long list of examples if this is a matter in dispute.
Mr. Breitbart writes:
The New York Times is a daily read. It always has been. I loved its recent profile of my college pal, hotelier Jeff Klein.
No daily publication can capture the essence of the cultural elite — good, bad and ugly — like the New York Times. The paper has its merits, no doubt. But when it comes to the political scene, its ascent into monolithic partisan hackery in its news pages — never mind the op-ed experience — is worthy of exploration granted its self-identified motto “all the news that’s fit to print” is disproved day after day when the news that hurts the political left is either ignored or distorted to sate its diminishing readership’s need for political conformity.
Here is what I wrote in my piece:
As a hegemonic newspaper, the Gray Lady has accomplished journalistic goods unprecedented in history—a long-running global network of first-rate reporters, a record-setting 101 Pulitzer Prizes, and powerful advocacy for First Amendment causes, for starters. These feats don’t obviate the need for vigilant critics, especially given the newspaper’s history of significant screw-ups: false apologia published for Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, fictional dispatches filed by Jayson Blair, and insufficient due regularly paid to conservative insights are notable examples.
Its most recent journalistic sin concerns the ACORN story broken by activist reporters with hidden cameras. Thoughtful critics, including the Times’ own ombudsman, rightly castigated the newspaper for being slow to cover news that was obviously fit to print.
Again, it appears that Mr. Brietbart and I agree on some things, though you wouldn’t know it from reading his rebuttal. What we disagree on, apparently, is whether the right’s press outlets should adopt some of the core journalistic values that the mainstream media claims as their own, though they often fall short of them.
I regard that as a question that Mr. Breitbart and I could profitably debate, if he is game.