Film overstates Breitbart’s impact
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, October 19, 2012
“I don’t have other human emotions, I admit it,” announces the subject of “Hating Breitbart,” a new documentary. “All I do is joke and get angry about perceived wrongs.”
That does pretty much cover Andrew Breitbart’s activities in director Andrew Marcus’s movie, which was shot before the right-wing muckraker’s death of heart failure in March. The depiction of an always energetic and often furious Breitbart may please the man’s followers. But Marcus makes little effort to illuminate Breitbart’s character or motivation, so this high-pitched portrait ends up a little flat.
The movie’s premise is that all the right -- that is, the left -- people loathed Breitbart. That may overestimate the stature of the founder of such liberal-baiting Web sites as biggovernment.com.
Asked to list the most troublesome Southern California celebs, most people would not rate Brentwood’s Breitbart as prominently as Mel Gibson or even Lindsay Lohan. A few television commentators who appear in “Hating Breitbart” -- notably Keith Olbermann -- seem to have genuinely despised the guy. But the bulk of the movie’s heat comes from his friends, not his foes.
Take, for example, Reason.com’s Nick Gillespie, who extols Breitbart’s ally, James O’Keefe. (He’s the guy who entered ACORN offices, posing as a pimp, and secretly videotaped employees who were so clueless or corrupt that they tried to help set up a brothel.) Gillespie calls O’Keefe “almost like the Al Qaeda of journalists.” That’s a compliment, apparently.
Breitbart’s conceit was that he and his cohorts were “citizen-journalists,” providing a counterweight to “the institutional left” and its media allies. But mainstream American journalism, with its devotion to official sources and conventional wisdom, is no more popular on the left than on the right. And Breitbart’s Web sites specialized in showing people behaving stupidly, which is (or should be) a relatively small part of what professional journalists do.
The movie offers four examples of Breitbart’s “new media” insurgencies. In two of them, the ACORN sting and former congressman Anthony Weiner’s underwear photos, the angry man clearly won. ACORN is defunct, and Weiner is out of office.
The other two episodes are murkier. A Breitbart-posted video of Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod seemed to contain an admission of anti-white bigotry, so she was forced out of her job. With added context, however, Sherrod’s reputation was restored. Then there was the matter of racial epithets possibly yelled at African American congressmen by tea party protesters. Breitbart couldn’t locate video to corroborate the incident, and therefore declared that it never happened. Others disagree.
Had he lived, Breitbart might have embarrassed many more targets. Yet it’s hard to argue that he left a major legacy. Some of his antagonists may have abhorred the guy, but “Hating Breitbart” doesn’t make the case that he merited all the excitement. In the new-media universe Breitbart celebrated, even the angriest ideologue can’t compete with Lindsay Lohan.