The L.A. Times‘s James Rainey predictably seizes on the Sherrod story today, in a futile attempt to rehabilitate his reputation after his mishandling of the ACORN story last year.
If I told you that Rainey’s attempt at column is highly dishonest, would you be surprised?
Rainey first deceptively suggests that Ann Coulter has labeled Breitbart a fraudster:
But certain media outlets have played the story and the political ramifications for the Obama administration (and there are questions to be answered) as if they sprang out of the ether. There’s a continuing rush to talk about effect, and very little desire to talk about cause — the steaming pile of misinformation delivered on a platter by one individual with a giant ax to grind.
Andrew Breitbart, the conservative agitator behind websites like Breitbart.com and BigGovernment.com, likes it this way. Stirring the pot, gobbling up chunks of cable television time, doing whatever it takes to further his political beliefs, even if it means putting one woman’s reputation through a meat grinder.
The severely edited video posted on Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com shows Sherrod, who is black, telling an NAACP gathering in March that she had once scrimped on assistance to a white man in danger of losing his farm. Not included in the video posting was the bulk of Sherrod’s talk, in which she recognized the error of her ways a quarter of a century ago and helped the white man, saving his farm. As a result, the farm advocate and the white family formed a lasting friendship.
Breitbart headlined the video as “proof” that “the NAACP awards racism,” when in fact it showed one woman trying to teach a lesson about the shortcomings of racial discrimination.
Conservatives including David Frum and Ann Coulter have acknowledged that the video Breitbart posted is a fraud. But Frum, a former speechwriter in the Bush White House, wrote that he has seen this act too many times to expect Breitbart to apologize for “distributing a doctored tape to defame and destroy someone.”
Reading that passage, any reader would naturally conclude that Coulter has said Breitbart knowingly posted a deceptively altered video. But it turns out Coulter said nothing of the sort. Instead, she has proclaimed Breitbart innocent of fraudulent intent, opining that Breitbart was set up:
The whole key to this story is that Andrew Breitbart was set up. He was sent a tape that, as we now know, was massively out of context. It did look like this woman was saying something racist. When she first said it was taken out of context . . . we’ve heard that before from politicians telling racist jokes. This is the first time in world history it was literally taken out of context.
It was a lovely speech. Of course the White House reacted that way — of course you reacted the way you did. Anyone would have. I think Breitbart ought to reveal his source, because he was set up. This was a fraud. The person who sent the edited tape has to know what the full speech said, and whomever sent only that segment to Andrew Breitbart is the one who should apologize to Shirley Sherrod.
Rainey’s passage is of course technically accurate, but he damn well knows that it is calculated to cause the average reader to conclude that even Ann Coulter thinks Breitbart committed fraud. This dishonest implication is itself a form of fraud by Rainey.
Rainey naturally ties this back to his highly embarrassing missteps regarding ACORN:
Indeed, anyone who has watched television in recent days has seen an unrepentant Breitbart insisting he did nothing wrong. His previous encounters with controversy reveal a similar pattern — make no concessions, savage critics, change the subject and keep attacking. Don’t bet he’s finished with Shirley Sherrod.
I saw this up close last year when I wrote about the “sting” that a couple of young videographers performed on the liberal activist group ACORN. Breitbart posted and touted the videos as proof of liberal evil. He became enraged when I urged him to release the unedited tapes so the public could see everything that happened between ACORN workers and videographers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles.
Actually, Mr. Rainey, Breitbart took exception to your pattern of journalistic shoddiness and deception. Since you evidently believe that people have forgotten the details, allow me to revisit them.
Regular readers will recall how Rainey uncritically quoted an ACORN worker who suggested that she had ordered Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe out of her office. Rainey (who today lambasts Breitbart for failng to contact Sherrod) hadn’t bothered to contact Breitbart — or Giles or O’Keefe — to ask their side of the story. If Rainey had bothered to do his job, he might have learned that the ACORN worker in question turned out to be only too eager to help Giles and O’Keefe with their purported child prostitution ring.
Rainey then wrote an ass-covering column that minimized his error — and which included a purported quote from O’Keefe. After I investigated the source of the quote, it turned out to be largely fabricated.
Now that’s good journalism!
With this series of embarrassments as background, it’s little wonder that Rainey would seize upon the Sherrod episode as a way to suggest that Breitbart was the villain all along — and Rainey simply the truth-teller battling the wild-eyed partisan.
The fact that Rainey routinely slams his enemies without contacting them for comment (he also did it to Jill Stewart) lends a rich layer of irony to this complaint about Breitbart:
[D]idn’t this self-styled truth-teller have an obligation to get the full speech or a response from Sherrod? He apparently did none of those things.
When Breitbart fails to contact someone for a response, that’s unforgivable sloppiness, according to Rainey. But when Rainey fails to contact Giles, or O’Keefe, or Breitbart, or Jill Stewart, that’s tip-top Big Newspaper Journalism.
I have noticed many people savaging Breitbart for posting an edited video. In my view, Breitbart is not at fault for posting the video, which he says is all he had — but rather a) for overselling it and ignoring concerns about missing context, and b) for failing to contact Sherrod. These journalistic sins are hardly unknown to James Rainey, and as Rainey goes about wildly casting stones at Breitbart, he should remember that his glass house is looking mighty shaky and can’t take too many more blows.