There was a curious case of synchronicity that unfolded yesterday afternoon when two headlines made news within an hour of each other and both were connected to Andrew Breitbart. The oddly timed headlines served as useful bookmarks in terms of judging how far Andrew Breitbart has fallen in the last twelve months. One year ago he was not only the toast of the Republican Party, Fox News, and the larger conservative movement, but Breitbart was also widely accepted (and trusted) within Beltway media circles as a breakout political star who was revolutionizing conservative journalism online.
But now seen as damaged goods, Breitbart can't even keep a one-time gig as an online commentator for ABC News' Election Night coverage, simply because professional journalists no longer trust his judgment or his word.
One headline arrived just before 5 p.m., yesterday and it came from ACORN, which announced that, after 40 years of community organizing on behalf of low-income people, the scandal-ridden group was officially filing for bankruptcy. In making the announcement, CEO Bertha Lewis seemed to acknowledge that the Breitbart-led assault last year on ACORN had tarnished the group's name beyond repair. She certainly conceded that defending itself against the right-wing changes of corruption had depleted ACORN's time and resources. ("The ongoing political onslaught caused irreparable harm.")
The proclamation didn't come as a surprise, since ACORN had previously moved in May to close its doors nationally. Still, ACORN's waving of the white bankruptcy flag should have set off another round of right-wing celebrations. After all, its crusade generated literally thousands and thousands of news reports one year ago and also spurred Congressional action. And make no mistake; it was Breitbart's 2009 ACORN crusade that made him a media star.
Yesterday's second headline though, confirmed that Breitbart's star had been extinguished.
Because, of course, the second headline was generated by ABC News when it unceremoniously dumped Breitbart and wisely un-invited him from its Election Night coverage. The proclamation restored a bit of common sense to what had been a bewildering attempt by ABC News to embrace and legitimize a propagandist like Breitbart by asking him to contribute to our national discourse under the ABC banner, despite the fact his qualifications consisted of mostly making stuff up and calling people names.
ABC's initial invitation set off of a firestorm of protest. And late yesterday afternoon, after first backing off the Breitbart liaison, which was quickly followed by opening battling with Breitbart who accused network executives of lying about his proposed role in the coverage, ABC divorced itself completely from the trouble maker. ("[W]e feel it best for you not to participate.")
And I think we're going to see a lot more of that in the future. I think Breitbart's time as a mainstream, albeit right-wing, media star is now on the descent. And that's not because of evil liberal bias. Network television, as well as all types of traditional, corporate news outlets, continues to extend their hands to conservative voices. It's just that mainstream news outlets don't want to deal with somebody who cannot be trusted. And not only can't he be trusted for the work he produces, he can't be trusted in work a professional manner when dealing with media outlets.
Meaning, Breitbart's mainstream bubble has burst.
The self-implosion has been unfolding in an almost slow motion manner all year. It started to unravel last winter when Media Matters, following the early lead of blogger Brad Friedman, started asking questions about that supposedly ground-breaking and heroic ACORN investigation. We started asking if the video clips were really what they appeared to be, or whether Breitbart and his team of undercover agents played fast and loose with the truth and concocted the narrative that videographer James O'Keefe had been dressed up as a Halloween-style pimp when he strolled into ACORN offices looking for tax advice for his illegal entrepreneur activities.
Soon, a handful of independent and law enforcement groups also started giving the video investigation a closer look and came to the same conclusions we did: Key portions of the tapes were a fraud, and it appeared that Breitbart had purposefully peddled a phony tale about ACORN in order to attack the modest advocacy group.
Another big Breitbart setback last winter came when news broke that his ACORN protégé O'Keefe had been arrested in New Orleans while he and his buddies were dressed up as telephone repairmen and charged with entering a federal building under false pretenses while they tried to talk their way into the office of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. Breitbart wasted his remaining credibility by going all in on behalf of O'Keefe, waging a propaganda war in the press, insisting his young online friend had been a victim of a massive law enforcement conspiracy that stretched from New Orleans to the Obama's Justice Department. In the end, O'Keefe pled guilty to the charges.
In July, Breitbart set off yet another humiliating firestorm when he posted an out of context video and publically tagged Shirley Sherrod as a racist. The claim was utterly bogus and seemed to seal Breitbart's reputation as a hateful, race-baiting provocateur.
And now comes to the ABC News snub.
I'm not suggesting that Breitbart's going away. He has built up a sycophantic following of right-wing believers who will gladly swallow whatever tall tale he's telling. Keep in mind, Dumbest Man on Internet Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has an audience and he's not even right twice a day. This is the conservative blogosphere where talking about here. There are no rules and there are no standards. It's a place where loyal readers apparently go to be misinformed on purpose. That's the whole point. So yes, Breitbart's medicine show is safe for now.
He'll continue his angry, and at times, incoherent stone-throwing routine, and his stable of unknown bloggers will dream upunimaginable conspiracy theories that purport to explain how the liberally wired world really works. But I think that from this day forward, Breitbart is destined for a career inside the right-wing bubble.
What's telling is that Breitbart clearly broke out of the right-wing media bubble with the ACORN road show last year. He appeared so often on Fox News, Breitbart seemed at times to serve as Sean Hannity's co-host. (Or at least his Ed McMahon.) Then glossy magazine writers came courting, anxious to interview the rising new media star on the right who hated the press, but loved to be indulged by the press.
But by his own actions and his own chronic dishonesty, Breitbart's now back behind the partisan barrier (back inside the bubblebabbling on about George Soros) and it's hard to see any mainstream media players who would want to take a chance of staining their reputation by aligning themselves with Breitbart again.
That's because the so-called "journalism" Breitbart and his bloggers produce is sloppy, unprofessional and unreliable, not to mention weirdly paranoid and more times than not just completely unhinged. And as ABC News discovered, Breitbart himself simply cannot be trusted.
So in a singular bout of industry humiliation, Breibart was publically pulled from ABC's dance card last night. With that, we may have reached a mainstream turning point in his career trajectory.
And you know what? Somewhere Shirley Sherrod is smiling