Breitbart News is currently imploding. The site’s decision to prioritize its support for Donald Trump over its responsibilities to its own reporters has triggered what seems to be a staff uprising and potential exodus, with four writers out the door and others reportedly circulating their resumes. Breitbart management is now embroiled in a vicious back-and-forth with no end in sight.
The purged are invoking the journalistic “legacy” of the site’s creator, the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, as a key reason to flee. “Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew’s life mission has been betrayed,” wrote editor-at-large Ben Shapiro in his statement of resignation. “Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew’s legacy.”
Under Andrew Breitbart’s leadership, this story goes, the website did great things, but those who inherited his empire have ruined it.
As a member of Media Matters‘ research staff, I have been reading the various elements of Breitbart’s network since his “news” site Big Government went live in 2009. I have watched the launch of various sub-sites under the “Big” umbrella under Andrew Breitbart’s stewardship and the relaunch as the Breitbart News Network shortly after his death in 2012. I can say with some authority that the notion of a “golden age” of Breitbart journalism is fiction.
By all accounts, Breitbart was a loving father, husband, and friend, and a cherished mentor to a generation of young journalists. That said, his news site was always a hotbed of ridiculous smears and lies pushed by writers with little interest in the truth.
Following the conservative writer’s death, The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf wrote of Breitbart’s work:
It would have been great if the Big sites aimed for higher quality journalism. Said libertarian press critic Jack Shafer in his obituary of Breitbart, “I liked the idea of Andrew Breitbart better than I liked any of his work at Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, Big Peace, Breitbart or Breitbart.tv.” And no wonder. What are the best 10 pieces published in the history of those sites? You’ll find more quality work in a single issue of City Journal than the sum total of everything Breitbart wrote or commissioned and published in his whole career.
Breitbart’s media empire began with his news aggregation site Breitbart.com and his video aggregation site Breitbart.tv. Big Hollywood, his group blog focused on culture, launched in January 2009. But it was Big Government, his political news site, that first made him a national political figure when it debuted in September 2009.
The Big Government site launched with a major exclusive: conservative activist and videographer James O’Keefe’s “nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation,” a series of videos documenting supposedly illegal behavior by staffers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based organization that advocated and provided services for the poor. The story drewfirestorm coverage from the media as new videos trickled out one by one on Breitbart’s website, triggering congressional action to ban federal funding for the organization and eventually leading to its collapse.
It was also based on a lie.