Loving Hating Breitbart

The late online impresario Andrew Breitbart (1969–2012) was
firmly on the right side of the political spectrum. But a new
documentary about his life, Hating Breitbart, transcends his
politics and instead captures the tectonic shift he helped bring
about from the legacy media to newer forms of distributed
news-gathering and opinion-making. This move from conventional gatekeepers and authorities
(think The New York Times, official spokespeople, and
established broadcast and cable news channels) to endlessly
proliferating tastemakers and outlets (think Instapundit, Gawker,
and Breitbart’s own suite of “Big” sites) doesn’t break along
conventional ideological lines. It’s more attitudinal,
more punk in the best sense of the word. When faced with
a world that didn’t cater to them and their aesthetics, the punks
of the late 1970s and early 1980s famously made their own clothes,
hairdos, and music. If they learned how to play their instruments
at all, they did it on the job. Disaffected and unsatisfied people
stopped simply choking down mass culture. Instead, they seasoned
off-the-shelf meals to their own tastes, tossed in whatever other
ingredients they wanted (or could steal), and stirred the pot until
the dish was OK by them.Breitbart pulled off something similar during his truncated
life. The guy who once worked as Matt Drudge’s “bitch” (his term!)
and who helped create The Huffington Post came
into his own by striking out on his own, first with the
aggregator sites Breitbart.com and Breitbart.tv and then with Big
Hollywood (born in 2008), Big Government (2009), and all the rest.
Like many on the right, he burned with resentment that the
mainstream media disdained not just his perspective but his
preferred ways of expressing it. As he notes in Hating
Breitbart, he had only two modes: jocularity and righteous
indignation. But Breitbart didn’t just stew in his anger. He
realized that it keeps getting  easier for individuals and
groups at every level of society and at every spot on the
ideological spectrum to enter into conversations about everything
under the sun.Reputation still matters, arguably more than ever. But there’s
no question that it has never been so easy to make a name for
yourself by bringing something new to the table. Ask Hot Air’s
conservative commentator Ed Morrissey, who not so long ago was
managing a Minnesota-based call center, or New York Times
stats maven Nate Silver, who made his bones as a baseball stats
nerd and whose first forays into political handicapping were done
anonymously. Also key is the notion of independence, which
Breitbart showed repeatedly, especially in high-profile fights
with Glenn Beck and with the organizers of “the
Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over their
exclusion of gay groups.There’s a strange and jagged line that runs from the explosion
in unlicensed pamphlets in 17th century England through the
anonymous publication of The Federalist Papers through the creation
of that first great alt-weekly The Village Voice through
WikiLeaks and beyond. That line runs through Breitbart just as
surely as it does through Mad magazine, the Whole Earth
Catalog, Salon.com, and Arianna Huffington. The best alternative
media doesn’t simply replicate what the old guard is doing; it does
something different that is plugged into the technological
possibilities and cultural shifts of the moment.Directed by Andrew Marcus, Hating Breitbart hits all the
highlights of its subject’s best-known scoops. The film recounts
how Breitbart’s Big Government site rolled out video compiled
by James O’Keefe that ultimately led to the
congression­al defunding of the activist group ACORN. It ends with
a short, punchy postscript involving disgraced pol Anthony Weiner’s
Twitter scandal. In both cases, the Breitbartian flourish of
dribbling out the news helped squeeze extra mileage out of the
stories. Both ACORN and Weiner responded to initial reports with
quick, emphatic declarations that there were no more revelations or
skeletons still in the closet—and then were promptly undermined by
subsequent releases.A highlight of the documentary is the section dealing with the
racially charged atmosphere around the 2010 vote on health care
reform. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that demonstrators
called him and other black members of Congress “nigger” more than a
dozen times when they were walking into their office building.
Despite a large crowd including various journalists and police
officers, Carson’s account was never corroborated by video or audio
from the scene (though several of his companions, including the
highly regarded Georgia Rep. John Lewis, backed Carson’s
claims). Breitbart eventually offered $100,000 to anyone
producing recorded evidence that supported Carson’s charge and he
also compiled a number of phone and flip-cam vids that undercut
Carson’s version of events. The specifics of the episode are less
interesting than the use Breit­bart made of distributed snippets of
video and information to challenge especially loaded charges.At more than one point in the movie, Breitbart asks members of
audiences he’s addressing to holdup their iPhones, pocket cams, and other recording devices and
to turn them on. You, he says, are the media. That
gesture is the essential takeaway of Andrew Breitbart’s work,
and of Hating Breitbart too.There’s no question that all the old sources of power and
privilege still wield enormous, perhaps even ultimate, ability to
shape conversations both large and small. Witness the constipated
flow of information about White House knowledge regarding the
attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi—and a thousand other
stories you, I, and our crazy uncles think are getting short shrift
in the old media. Internet-empowered journalism isn’t
a cure-all. But it does allow a lot more people to speak
up.“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one,”
The New Yorker’s A.J. Liebling mused back in the dark ages
(1960). Andrew Breitbart understood that it’s easier than ever
to own a press, and that despite the vast, incomprehensible
increase in chatter, the demand for even more is still infinite.
You may have hated or loved what Breitbart stood for,
but Hating Breitbart makes it clear that we’ll all be
living in the world he called home for a long time to come. And
that it’s filled with far livelier and more inclusive conversations
than it would have been if he’d never been born. 

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Loving Hating Breitbart

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