Big Government

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  • Breitbart News Has Always Been A Disaster

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Shapiro Breitbart PollakBreitbart News is currently imploding. The site's decision to prioritize its support for Donald Trump over its responsibilities to its own reporters has triggered what seems to be a staff uprising and potential exodus, with four writers out the door and others reportedly circulating their resumes. Breitbart management is now embroiled in a vicious back-and-forth with no end in sight.

    The purged are invoking the journalistic "legacy" of the site's creator, the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, as a key reason to flee. "Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew's life mission has been betrayed," wrote editor-at-large Ben Shapiro in his statement of resignation. "Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew's legacy."

    Under Andrew Breitbart's leadership, this story goes, the website did great things, but those who inherited his empire have ruined it.

    As a member of Media Matters' research staff, I have been reading the various elements of Breitbart's network since his "news" site Big Government went live in 2009. I have watched the launch of various sub-sites under the "Big" umbrella under Andrew Breitbart's stewardship and the relaunch as the Breitbart News Network shortly after his death in 2012. I can say with some authority that the notion of a "golden age" of Breitbart journalism is fiction.

    By all accounts, Breitbart was a loving father, husband, and friend, and a cherished mentor to a generation of young journalists. That said, his news site was always a hotbed of ridiculous smears and lies pushed by writers with little interest in the truth.

    Following the conservative writer's death, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf wrote of Breitbart's work:

    It would have been great if the Big sites aimed for higher quality journalism. Said libertarian press critic Jack Shafer in his obituary of Breitbart, "I liked the idea of Andrew Breitbart better than I liked any of his work at Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, Big Peace, Breitbart or Breitbart.tv." And no wonder. What are the best 10 pieces published in the history of those sites? You'll find more quality work in a single issue of City Journal than the sum total of everything Breitbart wrote or commissioned and published in his whole career.

    Breitbart's media empire began with his news aggregation site Breitbart.com and his video aggregation site Breitbart.tv. Big Hollywood, his group blog focused on culture, launched in January 2009. But it was Big Government, his political news site, that first made him a national political figure when it debuted in September 2009.

    The Big Government site launched with a major exclusive: conservative activist and videographer James O'Keefe's "nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation," a series of videos documenting supposedly illegal behavior by staffers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based organization that advocated and provided services for the poor. The story drewfirestorm coverage from the media as new videos trickled out one by one on Breitbart's website, triggering congressional action to ban federal funding for the organization and eventually leading to its collapse.

    It was also based on a lie.

    A series of investigations by state and local authorities found inappropriate behavior but no criminality on the part of the ACORN staffers. They also found that O'Keefe's videos, prominently trumpeted on Breitbart's website, had been "severely edited" by O'Keefe and a fellow activist, who had taken the statements of the employees out of context in order to "meet their agenda."

    Breitbart's sites spent much of the rest of 2009 publishing similar smears of progressives that did not survive the most minimal scrutiny. Was the White House making a political statement with Mao Zedong ornaments on the Christmas tree? (No.) Community organizers were praying to Barack Obama! (No.) The White House got union members to beat up a Tea Party protester! (Definitely not.) Meanwhile, the crew at Big Hollywood was spending significant time with birther nonsense as well as more pedestrian comparisons of Obama to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro.

    The site's low point may have been Jim Hoft's disgusting anti-gay smears of Ken Jennings, the Department of Education official responsible for preventing bullying in schools. Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet, wrote a series of posts targeting Jennings for his Gateway Pundit website, repeatedly drawing upon the work of hate group MassResistance. Hoft's attacks on Jennings were routinely cross-posted on Big Government.

    Breitbart's attempts to attack members of the administration culminated in his July 2010 effort to prove that Shirley Sherrod, an African-American official at the Department of Agriculture, was a racist who refused to provide aid to a white farmer. Sherrod was quickly fired as right-wing outlets began pushing Breitbart's story. But the claim imploded after full video emerged showing that Breitbart had taken Sherrod out of context, and the farmer in question came to Sherrod's defense, calling her a "friend" who "helped us save our farm."

    Sherrod subsequently sued Breitbart; she settled with his estate in October 2015.

    As Breitbart sought to defend his smear, he made what must go down as one of the strangest editorial decisions of his career. Big Government published two posts attacking Sherrod that were authored by one Dr. Kevin Pezzi, who claimed that Breitbart had sought him out himself. Our investigation of Pezzi quickly revealed the following:

    Pezzi, who says that "Breitbart asked me to write for BigGovernment.com," has a peculiar self-described history. Pezzi claims to be responsible for "over 850 inventions" and schemes such as a "magic bullet" for cancer, a "robotic chef," and sexual inventions like "penile enlargement techniques" and "ways to tighten the vagina" (because "men like women with tight vaginas"). Pezzi has started multiple websites, from term paper helpers to a sexual help site that answers "your questions about sexual attraction, pleasure, performance, and libido" (Pezzi is qualified to do so because "No doctor in the world knows more about sexual pleasure than I do").

    Pezzi's posts were subsequently removed from Breitbart's website, because while they represented "one of the most thorough and well-researched examinations" of Sherrod, "we have been made aware of other writings from this author which do not reflect the principles and values of this site."

    Breitbart followed up his fabricated smear of Sherrod as a racist by accusing civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) of lying that Tea Party activists protesting health care reform had hurled racial epithets at him.

    Breitbart's defenders cite his 2011 report that the married Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) had been sending sexually explicit material to other women as one of his websites' major victories. Breitbart published a series of Weiner's explicit social media posts, and his work triggered Weiner's resignation. But the story wasn't exactly Watergate.

    The rest of 2011 was basically par for the course for Breitbart's websites. There was the time they accused President Obama of having "marched with" the New Black Panther Party in 2007 (thousands participated in the march, which commemorated the 1965 march from Selma, and Obama actually spent the event with civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth). There was the time Big Government reported that an Occupy activist had been murdered inside a protest camp in Savannah (that did not happen). There were all the different times Big Journalism featured a Nazi-era anti-Semitic cartoon. And there was the time that, two days after Breitbart himself attacked birtherism, a blogger for Big Journalism promoted Jerome Corsi's book Where's the Birth Certificate under the headline "What If The Birthers Are Right?" (days later, Obama released his long-form birth certificate).

    In March 2012, following Breitbart's tragic death, the site released Breitbart's final column, which was designed to kick off his relaunched news empire's effort to "vet" Obama the way the media had purportedly failed to do.

    Breitbart's post revealed that in 1998, then-state Sen. Obama attended a Chicago play about activist Saul Alinsky and then took part in a panel discussion afterwards.

    In the months that followed, Breitbart's heirs unveiled a series of similarly shoddy efforts to "vet" Obama. Among the big stories was one about a "smoking gun" video showing then-Harvard Law student Barack Obama hugging the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell at a 1991 protest supporting Bell's push to have a woman of color offered tenure at the school.

    As Bell was, according to the website, a dangerous radical, this was supposed to be a big deal. In fact, Bell was a respected academic; even if he had been a dangerous radical, the video of him and Obama hugging would prove nothing, and the video had been available online for years and the event had been repeatedly reported on.

    Another supposedly big story covered a 1991 pamphlet published by Obama's former literary agency that erroneously describes him as being "born in Kenya." This supposedly fit "a pattern in which Obama -- or the people representing and supporting him -- manipulate his public persona." Hours later, the literary agency revealed that it had been a fact-checking error on its part.

    The years to come would bring embarrassments like the "Friends of Hamas" smear and the time the website tried to attack the wrong Loretta Lynch. The flagrant support for Trump has been a new and humiliating development for the site.

    But there was no journalistic legacy for Breitbart's heirs to squander. Big Journalism was always bad journalism.

  • Praise, Blame, Despair: Right-Wing Media Can't Decide How To Feel About Boehner's Failed Plan B

    ››› ››› DAVID SHERE, CHELSEA RUDMAN & MELODY JOHNSON

    Right-wing media have inconsistently responded to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) failed attempt to pass his proposed "Plan B" to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" standoff, including praising conservative Republicans who opposed the measure, expressing regret that the measure didn't pass, questioning the viability of Boehner's speakership, and blaming President Obama for the plan's failure, despite Obama's concessions to the GOP.

  • Right-Wing Media Vilify Roberts, Ignoring His Very Conservative Record As Chief Justice

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, right-wing media figures claimed Chief Justice Roberts' decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows that he's liberal. But Roberts' recognizing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act doesn't change his record as presiding over the most conservative and corporate-friendly court in recent history.

  • Right-Wing Media Ignore Fed Report Showing Increase In Wealth Gap

    ››› ››› REMINGTON SHEPARD

    A recent Federal Reserve study found that the wealth gap increased during the recent recession with the median net worth of the wealthiest Americans increasing between 2007 and 2010, while the median net worth for all Americans decreased. But right-wing media have ignored or misrepresented this aspect of the report in order to attack President Obama.

  • Right Wing Media Spin Recent Vote To Attack All Public Pensions

    Blog ››› ››› REMINGTON SHEPARD

    Right-wing media have used recent votes by California cities to change the pensions public workers will receive to attack all such pensions. In fact pensions for police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other public workers are not bankrupting states, and public pensions shortfalls at best need minor reforms to ensure their solvency.

    On Tuesday, facing budget shortfalls, voters in San Jose and San Diego approved plans to reshape the pensions for public workers in those cities, including cuts in benefits and a move from traditional pensions to 401(k) programs.

    Republicans have signaled that, emboldened by the election results in California as well as by the Wisconsin recall, they will fight more battles against public sector workers this election cycle. And the right-wing media stands ready to do its part.

    During the June 7 edition of Fox's Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto responded to the San Jose and San Diego votes by promoting cuts in public pensions:

    CAVUTO: I'm not saying your target those people entirely, but you've got to target what is right now the biggest and most ballooning part of public cost across the country, and that tends to be pensions, benefits. It's unfair, but it's the reality of the times, I guess.

    A June 7 Breitbart.com post claimed, "obscene pensions ... threaten to bankrupt to the country just like Greece, Italy or Spain" and that pensions and other benefits are "bankrupting America and all 50 of our states."

    However, public pensions are not the cause of state and local governments' budget woes, and radical restructuring of those pensions is generally not necessary to make them healthy.

    In a May 2011 report, the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) found that "[s]tate economies and budgets continue to struggle because of shrunken revenues and higher needs" and that: "long-term pension shortfalls are not the cause of current state fiscal problems."

  • CNN's Erick Erickson Calls Obama A "Composite Kenyan" While Praising Breitbart.com For Continued "Vetting" Of Obama

    Blog ››› ››› REMINGTON SHEPARD

    In a May 18 post, on his blog, RedState, CNN's Erick Erickson praised Breitbart.com for its May 17 "vetting" of Obama, using the post to call Obama a "Composite Kenyan." From his May 18 RedState post:

    The Breitbart Crew has done the world a very valuable service in finding a 1991 biography of Barack Obama from his literary agent claiming he was "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii."

    [...]

    The point is not that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. The point is that Barack Obama has repeatedly been perfectly okay embellishing and having others embellish his qualifications and biography to make himself someone unique instead of just another Chicago politician. The pattern goes back to his job as a "financial reporter". A former colleague of his and Obama fan, way back in 2005, claims Barack Obama really embellished his resume describing his financial related reporting.

    [...]

    [T]he largest point, however, is that the media is yet again caught flat footed, claiming the story is no big deal, irrelevant, or that somehow the Breitbart Crew is in the wrong and peddling Birtherism.

    They are not peddling Birtherism. The Breitbart Crew are kind of like illegal immigrants -- doing reporting Columbia journalism grads won't do. In 2008, the New York Times ran a big story on John McCain having an affair with a lobbyist. It got picked up all over the place. Reporters were on the trail. There was no *there* there.

  • CNN's Loesch Doesn't Disclose Her Link To Conservative Activist Investigated Over Possible McCaskill Threat

    Blog ››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is receiving extra security after an activist in Missouri, Scott Boston, said, "We have to kill the Claire Bear." But in defending Boston, CNN contributor Dana Loesch failed to mention that she co-founded a conservative activist group with him.

    From the Post-Dispatch:

    At an event Thursday in Springfield, Mo., Scott Boston, a St. Louis area activist who has been involved with the Tea Party, told the crowd "we have to get Claire McCaskill out."

    "We have to kill the Claire Bear ladies and gentlemen," Boston said. "She walks around like she's some sort of Rainbow Brite Care Bear or something but really she's an evil monster."

    The comment was seen as ominous enough to prompt the U.S. Capitol Police to seek extra protection for the Missouri Democrat.

    Police in Kirkwood, where McCaskill lives, confirm they were asked by the Capitol security agency to perform stepped up patrols around her house.

    McCaskill has also had extra security tailing her at public appearances.

    In writing about the incident at Big Government, Loesch reported that the FBI questioned Boston about his remarks at his home in St. Louis.

    In December, Loesch and Boston helped to found the Gateway Grassroots Initiative, which is dedicated to "advancing conservatism at the national, state, and local levels." Boston has also co-authored a post promoting the Gateway Grassroots Initiative at Breitbart.com.

    Loesch made no mention of her connection to Boston in her Big Government post.

  • Latest Breitbart "Exclusive": An Old Book Cover And Further Smearing Of Derrick Bell

    Blog ››› ››› TODD GREGORY

    The Breitbart team has a new entry in its flailing campaign to redefine former Harvard law professor Derrick Bell and critical race theory -- along with President Obama -- as radical. This time around, Breitbart editor-in-chief Joel Pollak offers up the previously known fact that Bell wrote a blurb for Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, that was published in the book's first edition.

    The "exclusive" part of Pollak's post appears to be a letter that Obama sent to Bell requesting the blurb. Pollak says the letter comes from the New York University archives, which hold Bell's papers. The portion of the letter that Pollak quotes is unremarkable:

    As for me, I'm keeping busy in Chicago. I'm currently working at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland here in Chicago, a small firm specializing in employment discrimination and voting rights/civil rights cases. I'm also teaching a seminar on race and the law at the University of Chicago law school -- your casebook has been an invaluable reference guide for that.

    The main reason I'm writing to you, though, has to do with a book that I've been writing, on again, off again, for the past two years. Originally, the book (called Dreams of My Father) was going to be a series of essays on issues of race and class, but as it has evolved it's become a memoir of my family and my experiences as an organizer in Chicago...

    Your name came to mind as somebody whose insight I've always appreciated, so I've enclosed an advanced reader's edition of the book. If you have time to read it and think it's worth of a plug, I'd be thrilled...

    Pollak goes on to link to a website showing a copy of Dreams From My Father that includes the blurb from Bell.

    All of this does nothing to change the fact that Bell is a mainstream figure. It is also not evidence, as the Breitbart team has been insisting, that the media have failed to "vet" Obama and his administration.

    Nevertheless, Pollak concludes:

    Clearly, Obama's link to Bell was more than just a "hug," but part of a sustained effort to align himself with the radical left--and to be seen by others as a legitimate radical--in the early stages of his public life.

    As a reminder of how wrong Pollak is about this, watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien explain the details to him back on March 8:

  • Right-Wing Media Try To Gin Up More Outrage Over Programs That Help Struggling Americans

    Blog ››› ››› REMINGTON SHEPARD

    Right-wing media have seized on comments made this week by Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, suggesting that Fattah "admit[ted]" that Democrats are expecting voters to back them in the fall in exchange for "handouts" and "protect[ing] their government-aid gravy train." These attacks are yet another example of conservative media attempting to gin up outrage over programs designed to help struggling Americans.

    During a discussion on the April 24 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation about House Majority Leader John Boehner's recent comment that Democrats have a one-in-three chance of reclaiming the majority, Fattah said in part that "people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training." From PoliticsNation:

    FATTAH: President Obama is right, we need to continue to invest. That's why our GDP is up, and that's why we've got 35 months of private sector job growth. We are headed in the right direction. Unemployment continues to drop, and those people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training. The idea that Republicans are trying to help those who are unemployed is nonsense. And I think on this Election Day, those who have a job can credit the administration for stabilizing our economy, and those who don't know that this administration is trying to put them to work.

    The Washington Examiner picked up Fattah's comments in an April 25 blog post, claiming that Fattah said that "unemployment could actually encourage people to vote for President Obama in order to secure welfare benefits such as food stamps." The Fox Nation later republished the Examiner post under the headline, "Democrat: Unemployed Will Vote for Obama to Keep Their Welfare":

    The conservative blog Gateway Pundit highlighted Fattah's comments and claimed that it's "all about the handouts," while The Blaze claimed that Fattah "openly admit[ted] that some voters are supporting President Obama because he's the most likely to protect their government-aid gravy train." And an April 26 Big Government post added:

    In other words, Fattah believes Americans who've been conditioned to live on Democrat handouts will certainly continue to vote for the Democrats. The last thing they'd do is vote for those rascally Republicans who want to rein in spending and encourage people to strive, once more, for some semblance of personal responsibility.

    Conservative media have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of "bribing" voters, and this latest round of echoes that theme. But the programs mentioned by Fattah -- the food stamp program, known as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and jobs training programs -- are hardly a "gravy train" that discourages unemployed Americans from "striving" for "some semblance of personal responsibility.

  • Breitbart "Exclusive": Kagan's Notes On Derrick Bell's Law Review Article Were "Handwritten"

    Blog ››› ››› CHELSEA RUDMAN

    Last month, the Breitbart team tried -- and failed -- to gin up outrage over a 1991 video showing then-law student Barack Obama embracing the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell. Breitbart editor-in-chief Joel Pollak went to great pains to cast Bell and the critical race theory that he espoused as radical, even pushing his spin in an appearance on CNN (where host Soledad O'Brien took apart his argument).

    In an April 25 post, Pollak returned to the Bell non-controversy, announcing in a post on Big Government that Breitbart News has obtained "exclusive" "handwritten notes" that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan sent to Bell back in 1985. At the time, Kagan was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, to which Bell had submitted an article.

    And just what did the Breitbart team find? Apparently nothing good, because the only thing the post proves is that Kagan questioned one of Bell's ideas.

    Pollak apparently found images of the notes themselves unworthy of inclusion in his post, save a single image of a few sentence fragments.

    Looking on for at least a transcription of the notes -- the headline refers to "handwritten notes" "on critical race theory" -- the reader has to wade through a few paragraphs of Pollak building tension. He seems to have found significance, for example, in Kagan's choice of paper: "Unlike then-Harvard Law Review president Carol Steiker, who corresponded with Bell via typed letter (apparently on a 1980s-vintage dot matrix printer), Kagan chose to write to Bell exclusively on yellow notepad paper. She did not explain her choice to write by hand, save to suggest in one note on Aug. 30, 1985 that she was pressed for time."

  • Big Government Revives Long-Debunked Planned Parenthood "Sex Trafficking" Smear

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    The Huffington Post reported on April 23 that Planned Parenthood has "reason to believe that anti-abortion activists are targeting it in a new organized sting operation" after a "string of suspicious incidents" at clinics across the country. According to the report, local clinics received "hoax visits" from women seeking "sex-selective abortions," putting Planned Parenthood officials on alert, especially after being the target of a deceptive smear campaign last year by anti-abortion activist group Live Action and its leader, Lila Rose.

    While Live Action has not been connected to these recent incidents, in early 2011, Live Action released a video attempting to expose what the group described as "Planned Parenthood's cover-up of child sex trafficking." But that claim was quickly discredited after it was revealed that Planned Parenthood employees had already reported the "potential sex trafficking" incidents to law enforcement officials.

    But despite Live Action's damaged reputation, conservative blog Big Government greeted the news of a possible new Live Action smear campaign by promoting the group's year-old, discredited charges, claiming the group "exposed victims" of "sex-trafficking."

    From the April 24 Big Government post:

    Planned Parenthood is worried that they may be targeted and outed again, this time for performing sex-selection abortions. They are accusing Lila Rose, the head of Live Action, the pro-life group that exposed victims of rape and sex-trafficking hiding their pregnancies by abortions through Planned Parenthood, of sending volunteers to various Planned parenthood clinics to ask about aborting a fetus because it's a girl.

    Big Government's effort to promote a possible new Live Action smear campaign while hiding the group's past failures should come as no surprise. The blog heavily promoted similarly deceptive hidden-video campaigns by Rose's mentor, James O'Keefe, even after O'Keefe's accusations were debunked.

  • As Experts Agree Food Deserts "Do Exist," Right-Wing Media Use Flawed NY Times Article To Claim They Don't

    ››› ››› CHELSEA RUDMAN & MARCUS FELDMAN

    A recent New York Times article highlighted two studies that the article claimed "question the pairing of food deserts and obesity" and may "raise questions about the efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods." While right-wing media have seized on the article to claim that food deserts are a "make-believe" issue, food experts have called the Times article "sloppy" and have said the two studies it highlights are "definitely outliers," in the face of "over 50 studies" in the past three years finding "the opposite."