In Andrew Breitbart’s up-and-down career as a conservative agitator, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Ten days ago, he broke the Rep. Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal on his website, Big Government, then on Monday pushed it to its conclusion with the release of more photos of Weiner, forcing the beleaguered New York congressman to hold a self-flagellating press conference hours later.
At the same time, Breitbart managed to steer clear of the accusations of selective editing and bias that have stuck to him as a result of several high-profile “scoops” that turned into fiascos, while painting himself as a victim of a left-leaning press quick to blame him for somehow engineering a scandal that, in the end, was entirely of Weiner’s own making.
Breitbart’s glee was apparent even before Weiner’s confession when he jumped up on the podium before the New York congressman’s press conference Monday afternoon to take questions from reporters and demand an apology. So, too, was his sense of exoneration after the way the left-leaning and mainstream media had painted him as a questionable source in the past.
“I would like an apology for allowing his political protectors – and this was his strategy – to blame me, to blame me for hacking,” Breitbart said. “’Don’t worry, Breitbart is a regular whipping boy. We can accuse him of anything and the press will not hold those journalists to account no matter what they say.’
“So I’m here for some vindication,” he said, declaring that “the big problem here is the coverup and the problem of trying to deflect blame on a journalist for doing his job.”
Breitbart’s seemed to be speaking not just for the last week and a half, during which left-leaning media outlets like the Daily Kos suggested he might have been involved in hacking Weiner’s Twitter account, but for his broader profile in the mainstream media.
That profile was shaped by the series of undercover sting videos Big Goverment posted in 2009 that appeared to show employees of the left-leaning community organizing powerhouse ACORN offering advice on facilitating underage prostitution. The tapes had a devastating effect - ACORN was eventually disbanded - but were later revealed to have been misleadingly edited.
The videos left the false impression that Breitbart protégé James O’Keefe was dressed in a cartoonish pimp suit while soliciting the advice from ACORN workers. Breitbart himself reinforced that impression, though he later admitted he “did not know that there was a discrepancy” between O’Keefe’s dress during an introductory sequence in the videos and that which he wore during his secretly filmed discussions.
Then last summer explosive video excerpts posted by Breitbart on Big Government forced the ouster of a black Agriculture Department official named Shirley Sherrod, who appeared in excerpts of a speech to be boasting of discriminating against a white farmer.
More complete footage released after Sherrod’s forced resignation showed that the speech was actually an appeal for racial harmony in which she recounted a change of heart that led her to help the white farmer.
Sherrod, who recently returned to work at the USDA , is suing Breitbart for “publishing an intentionally false and misleading clip” in a case that continues to wend its way through the legal process.
Breitbart has long been on the cutting edge of new media, first as an editor at the Drudge Report and later as one of the original forces helping to launch the Huffington Post.
In the last few years, he has pioneered a group of conservative-leaning blogs, including Breitbart.com, Breitbart.tv, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism and Big Peace as well as Big Government, that combine opinion, breaking news and investigative journalism.
He has argued vocally and persistently that the mainstream media is hopelessly biased in favor of liberals and has frequently cast himself as a victim of their unfounded attacks. And in his impromptu press conference Monday, Breitbart sounded a similar theme, saying he lost his Memorial Day weekend trying to fend off attacks from journalists and activists who falsely accused him of hacking Weiner’s account, based only on Weiner’s own insistence that that’s what had happened.
But Breitbart was also, of course, the driving force behind the story.
Big Government got word of Weiner’s lewd tweet - and a screen grab of it,which was quickly deleted – from a Twitter user who goes by the name @patriotusa76 on May 27, just as the holiday weekend was beginning.
Breitbart said he and his staff spent several hours verifying the story, and then posted it – dropping a bombshell the rippled across the media for more than a week. But Breitbart suggested that many in the mainstream media were ready to believe Weiner over Big Government because of the way his reputation had been dragged through the mud in previous scandals. And it was his anger at being maligned by the media and, by extension, by Weiner, that seemed to drive what promised to be his second bombshell.
After linking to evidence that Weiner was likely behind the lewd tweet all week, Breitbart wrote on Big Government Monday morning that the site had obtained a series of sexually suggestive photos, emails and texts between Weiner and a young woman that it would post in a slow drip throughout the day, including a devastating shot of Weiner sitting shirtless in an office that evoked disgraced Rep. Chris Lee of New York, who resigned after his picture was published.
Then at his press conference he said there was a even more devastating shot, which he described as “x-rated.” He said he was withholding it to protect Weiner’s family, but hinted that he might be forced to release it if Weiner continued to malign him with his denials.
But that wasn’t necessary. At his own press conference, Weiner repeatedly admitted he had lied and after being prompted by several reporters, he apologized to Breitbart by name.
That kind of corroboration was a dramatic contrast to the criticism Breitbart has received in the past and the complaints it has prompted that he has not been given credit for what he did report accurately.
Referring to both the ACORN and Sherrod exposes, Breitbart told POLITICO last year that “they were extensive stories where the lion’s share – 99.99999 percent was accurate – and that which wasn’t, we corrected the record. And none of it affected the material aspects of the story.”
But lawyers for Breitbart and his co-defendant in the Sherrod suit, Larry O’Connor, in an April court filing expressed less confidence in the degree of accuracy of their clients’ work.
“From the truthful facts laid out in the excerpt, Breitbart drew a contrary conclusion about the meaning of what was said, as Americans with different beliefs and formative experiences often do when the topic is the endlessly arguable subject of race relations,” the lawyers wrote.