washingtonpost.com
ACORN video creates new conservative star

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009; A03

Andrew Breitbart blew into Washington recently for what amounted to a victory lap.

The Internet entrepreneur spent last week soaking up accolades from conservatives for having offered guidance to the two twenty-somethings who posed as a pimp and prostitute and took a hidden camera into several ACORN offices. The pair filmed workers from the national liberal community group appearing to aid them as they inquired about starting a brothel -- a move that has put ACORN on the defensive and made the activists, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, instant conservative heroes.

But in the end it's Breitbart who may be the biggest winner.

It was the 40-year-old Breitbart who masterminded the strategy of releasing the videos one at a time on his Web site, Big Government, as a way of maximizing exposure of the campaign against ACORN. And it is Breitbart who is being heralded as the conservative movement's new Web wizard and the answer to liberal sites such as the Huffington Post and Talking Points.

In Washington, the burly, white-haired Breitbart --who runs his Web sites from his basement in Westwood, Calif., near Hollywood -- was shuttled between on-air television interviews and meetings with conservative activists. Talk radio host Laura Ingraham praised him as an "Internet mogul," and he was invited to speak at both the Heritage Foundation think tank and a black-tie conservative dinner, where he spoke only minutes before former vice president Richard B. Cheney.

"They're able to frame the narrative and we're always on defense," Breitbart said to a group of conservative activists as he complained about what he called the "Democratic-media complex" -- Democratic pols, Hollywood and traditional mainstream media. "The Republican Party has never had a long-term strategy on fighting the narrative. The narrative should be fought on college campuses, it should be fought through the media and it should be fought in Hollywood, and the conservative movement is AWOL on all three."

Conservatives bashing the media is far from new, but Breitbart's timing is particularly good, as activists on the left and right feud over the power of conservative outlets, particularly Fox News, which the Obama administration recently heavily criticized as biased toward the right.

Breitbart, who once worked for both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post, has started a network of conservative news sites with a two-step approach: to generate reporting that highlights liberals' foibles, then shame other media into covering the stories. Case in point: the ACORN controversy.

Breitbart is also networking beyond his own sites. Before releasing the ACORN video, he alerted Fox personality Glenn Beck. Beck highlighted them on his show. Soon other media outlets were picking up the story.

Another Breitbart site, Big Hollywood, posted the transcript of an August conference call between artists and officials from the National Endowment of the Arts that resulted in an NEA staffer resigning after Beck repeatedly attacked him on air. Beck accused the NEA of recruiting artists to create works in support of Obama policies, an allegation administration officials deny.

"The mainstream media is oriented to the real and imagined scandals of conservatives and that provides a real opportunity for someone like me to expose corruption" from liberal groups, Breitbart said in an interview.

Media Matters for America, a liberal group that criticizes the press for bowing to conservative causes, has slammed Breitbart's efforts. "Capturing a raw video isn't journalism; journalism includes some content. A real journalist would have contacted ACORN," said Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow for Media Matters.

Drudge was a major conservative Web breakthrough, and in 2004 conservative bloggers effectively questioned the authenticity of documents used by "60 Minutes" in a report on President Bush's Air National Guard service, for example. But among some conservatives there's a sense that what Breitbart and others are building is a more coordinated path to bypass mainstream media.

"We don't need The Washington Post to cover things anymore," said staunch conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). "Something can get on a conservative blog, then on Fox News, then it's everywhere."

ACORN has been under siege since the videos emerged. The Census Bureau severed its ties with the group, Democrats, including the Obama administration, criticized the group and Republicans in Congress led a series of votes that could prevent ACORN from ever getting federal funds again.

Some liberals decry Breitbart's success as the triumph of partisan media, not a failure of journalism.

"By the standard measures of federal funding, political influence or links to elected officials, ACORN is simply not a big player in Washington," said Ari Melber, a writer for the Nation. "The fact that partisan media pressured Congress to act is a story about the influence of the partisan media."

Many news outlets, including The Washington Post, wrote about ACORN after the story first appeared on Fox.

Breitbart, who lived in Southern California his entire life except for attending Tulane University, said his anger at the left and the news media started in the early 1990s with the sexual harassment accusations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Interested in the growth of online media, Breitbart started working on the Web site of E! Entertainment Television, then met Arianna Huffington when she was a syndicated conservative columnist and became one of her researchers. He left Huffington in 1999 to work for Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, having long been a fan of the conservative site.

In 2005, he returned to work for the now liberal Huffington, helping her start the Huffington Post, which she partly intended as an answer to Drudge.

While helping to launch the Huffington Post, Breitbart experimented with starting his own media brand. He started Breitbart.com, which includes news wire stories and gets a traffic boost from Drudge's frequent links to his former protégé's site.

"I don't talk about Matt Drudge," said the otherwise talkative Breitbart. Drudge did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment. Huffington said, "I don't agree with many of his views, but he definitely knows how to use new media."

Breitbart earlier this year created the Big Hollywood site, where he and other conservatives blog and bash what they call the liberalism of the entertainment industry. He initially had planned to also launch sites on education and the environment, but soon turned his attention to the growth of government under the Obama administration.

"The left has done an excellent job of creating places online for like-minded people to gather and share information," said Brian Donahue, a GOP strategist who joined other party operatives in meeting with Breitbart last week. "Andrew Breitbart is filling that void on the right."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company