The Breitbart-NAACP-Vilsack-Sherrod affair has become a sort of political Rorschach test; reactions to it tell us more, perhaps, about the reactor than about the principals.
David Frum, who as far as I know still calls himself a conservative, is a case in point. He thinks the episode demonstrates “the shame of conservative media.” By which he means, apparently, Andrew Breitbart and a handful of bloggers, that being about the extent of “conservative media,” if you add in Fox News. Frum’s denunciation is sweeping:
You want to see media bias in action? Okay — look at the conservative media reaction to the firing of Shirley Sherrod. …
[A] second look at the tape made it obvious that the tape had been severely edited, abruptly cut short. Within hours it emerged that the story on the tape was exactly the opposite of the story Breitbart had wanted to tell.
But all video clips are “severely edited.” Andrew received the clip in the form in which he posted it, and passed it on to others, including us. I reviewed the clip carefully, as I am alert to the possibility that video clips could be edited in a misleading fashion. I watched this one twice and concluded that it was damning to say the least. It didn’t occur to me, as I’m sure it didn’t occur to Andrew, that the anecdote in the clip might be framed by Sherrod’s recantation in a way that would undermine the apparent point of her story. So that was a mistake, but Frum isn’t satisfied with a mere error:
By the morning of July 20 the Sherrod-as-racist narrative had collapsed.
What is most fascinating about that second day, however, was the conservative reaction to the collapse. At midday on the 20th, Rush Limbaugh was still praising Breitbart: “I know that Andrew Breitbart’s done great work getting this video of Ms. Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her supposed racism and so forth saying she’s not gonna help a white farmer.”
By the evening of the 20th, however, conservatives were backing away, acknowledging that an innocent women had been defamed.
Here’s Glenn Beck.
Here’s Rich Lowry, editor of National Review.
Here’s the popular Anchoress blog at First Things.
Even the racially incendiary Eric Erickson tweeted his disquiet, and then posted this on his RedState website.
Erick Erickson is “racially incendiary”? Like Jeremiah Wright or Eric Holder? Not that I’m aware of. Frum continues:
Breitbart went almost universally unmentioned.
This is false. If you follow Frum’s links, you will find that Glenn Reynolds mentioned Breitbart in the first word of his post and at least five times thereafter; the Anchoress and her commenters mentioned him 67 times; Erickson mentioned him four times in the linked post; and Lowry not only mentioned Breitbart but criticized him here.
So, which is worse: Breitbart’s failure to investigate enough to determine that the clip he was sent was misleading, or Frum’s linking to a series of posts and excoriating the authors for not mentioning Breitbart’s role when, in fact, they did? Did Frum link to the posts without reading them, or was he trying to mislead his readers?
Breitbart’s indignant words on the 20th were aimed at another snippets-out-of-context scandal for the Right: the Daily Caller’s publication of quotations from the JournoList archive in which liberal activists and bloggers jeered George Stephanopoulos for asking Barack Obama about Jeremiah Wright.
Speaking on a liberal list serve, journalists had wondered how the Wright story could be stifled. One obnoxious young participant had even suggested that the story could be killed by hurling accusations of racism at conservative figures like Fred Barnes and Karl Rove. Conservatives exploded: The media were colluding to quash bad news about their beloved Obama! Only of course the Wright story was not quashed — unlike the story of Breitbart’s role in Sherrod’s firing, which has been, at least among conservatives.
This is from outer space. First we have the dismissive suggestion that the JournoList scandal is somehow taken “out of context.” Really? So, what is the context that makes the left-wing journalists’ hateful posts somehow OK? Frum offers no clue–not surprising, since he attacks only conservatives, not liberals. But more fundamentally, Frum’s claim that the Jeremiah Wright scandal was not quashed is simply wrong. The issues relating to Obama’s relationship with Wright did disappear from news coverage exactly as JournoList’s members hoped they would. Frum contrasts this with the supposed “quashing” of Breitbart’s role in Sherrod’s firing, “at least among conservatives.”
The idea that conservatives have the ability to suppress a news story is a joke; beyond that, the very conservatives whom Frum cites didn’t quash the story of Breitbart’s involvement, but rather debated it endlessly, as noted above. Here is what really happened: Andrew Breitbart, having broken one significant news story after another, became a household name when he finally made a mistake.
When people talk of the “closing of the conservative mind” this is what they mean: not that conservatives are more narrow-minded than other people — everybody can be narrow minded — but that conservatives have a unique capacity to ignore unwelcome fact.
This statement is so perverse that one can only shake one’s head in amazement. How about the liberals’ ability to ignore the fact that most Americans don’t want bailouts or socialized medicine? How about their ability to ignore the fact that Congress, under their direction, enjoys an all-time low approval rating of 11 percent?
This is Frum’s grand conclusion:
When Dan Rather succumbed to the forged Bush war record hoax in 2004, CBS forced him into retirement. Breitbart is the conservative Dan Rather, but there will be no discredit, no resignation for him.
Instead, conservatives are consumed with a new snippets-out-of-context uproar, the latest round of JournoList quotations. Here at last is proof of the cynical machinations of the hated liberal media! As to the cynical machinations of conservative media — well, as the saying goes, the fish never notices the water through which it swims.
Where to begin? Frum equates Andrew Breitbart with Dan Rather. But that is absurd. CBS News foisted a series of faked documents on the American people and tried to use them to influence a Presidential election. The documents were obvious frauds, but Rather swore to his television audience for two weeks that they came from an “unimpeachable source” and therefore could be relied upon. He was lying, as neither he nor anyone else at CBS had any idea where they originated. The video clip that Andrew posted was not a fake, and when the broader context came to light, Andrew did not deny it, but argued that it didn’t rebut his point. Whether you agree with that or not, his posting of an accurate clip from a video is hardly on a par with CBS’s use of fake documents to try to influence an election on behalf of the network’s favored candidate.
As for the “cynical machinations of conservative media,” I look forward to the day when we have a conservative media, let alone one capable of “cynical machinations.”