Huffington Post – Peter Dreier and Christopher R. Martin
Andrew Breitbart has a job to do and he does it well. Breitbart’s job is to lie and distort the truth in order to advance a right-wing agenda, embarrass liberals, and undermine the Obama administration.
Breitbart is not a journalist, researcher, or pundit. He is a propagandist. He operates several websites (BigGovernment, BigJournalism, and BigHollywood), where he and other right-wing bloggers spew their political pornography. The articles that appear on these websites are contemporary versions of what historian Richard Hofstadter called, in a famous 1964 essay, the “paranoid style” of American politics practiced by extreme conservatives.
Breitbart is part of the “paranoid style” conservative echo chamber that includes Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, and thousands of lesser-known activists who use a combination of talk radio, Fox News, dozens of conservative publications, and the new media (emails, blogs, youtube, facebook) to mobilize support for their right-wing crusade. Breitbart was a featured speaker at the Tea Party conference in Nashville in February and is a frequent guest on Fox News and right-wing TV and radio talk shows. His websites are propaganda vehicles for building a political movement. Unlike Fox News, he doesn’t even pretend to be “fair and balanced.” What much of America learned this week is that Andrew Breitbart is unfair and unbalanced.
What’s distressing is not that Breitbart does his job, but that the mainstream media and mainstream politicians, including the Obama Administration, take him seriously. The recent dust-up over the firing of federal Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, fueled by a doctored video on Breitbart’s website, is only the latest example of this.
Since he began his website operation, Breitbart has sought to inject himself and his blogger network into the political debate. Sometimes he succeeds in getting wider attention, outside the right-wing silo, for the manufactured scandals he tries to provoke.
Breitbart’s public visibility has peaked twice, according to an analysis of stories on the Lexis/Nexis database.
Regardless of what he’s called, the Sherrod story is a good example of Breitbart’s skill at what academics call “agenda-setting” and “framing”. A week ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of Shirley Sherrod. Now, she’s practically a household name. And many people who might not recognize her name at least know something of the story. In the past few days, almost every major news outlet has published or broadcast something about this story. That’s the art of agenda-setting.