Patterico's Pontifications

4/16/2012

Was David Carr Slamming Andrew Breitbart, or Praising Him?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:25 am

David Carr had a recent profile of Andrew Breitbart that contained the following passage:

On the Web, there was a huge outpouring of both invective and grief. Dark, unsubstantiated theories that he was murdered mushroomed immediately, while 24 of his friends used the hashtag #DJBreitbart on Twitter to offer a playlist of his beloved ’80s music. His own Twitter account (which included more than 80 tweets sent on the day before his death) now sits as a frozen memorial.

In the days following the death of Mr. Breitbart, many of his admirers adopted a meme of “I am Breitbart,” and vowed to continue his work. But even though his Web site, run by his business partner and lifelong friend Larry Solov, is fully staffed and unveiled a redesign after his death, there could be no real replacement.

For good or ill (and most would say ill), no one did it like Mr. Breitbart.

A friend passed that along, calling it a sneaky smear, and sent me a link to Bill Kristol slamming Carr over it:

“Most would say ill?” Really? I know of no empirical evidence that backs up this statement. If anything, my experience has been the opposite—almost all conservatives would say Andrew was a force for good, and even some liberals would deny he was a force for ill. I think Carr is intelligent enough to know this, and that he wouldn’t have written it. I suspect this parenthesis was added by Times editors who couldn’t stand the notion that innocent people might read Carr’s piece and decide that Andrew’s achievements were, on the whole, admirable.

If I’m wrong, David Carr is free to step forward to take responsibility for this parenthesis—and to defend it. If I’m right, we have here a striking example of the Times’s irresponsibility and mean-spiritedness.

You are about to call me hopelessly naive. But I suggest there might be a third option: Carr meant it as a genuine compliment.

Don’t get me wrong. When I first read the passage, I was angry, and started to bang out an ill-tempered screed about Carr. It was when I started writing the headline that I was forced for the first time to accurate characterize what Carr had really said . . . and I realized that it might actually have been a kind thing to say.

Bear with me.

“Nobody did it like Andrew Breitbart.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? For his admirers, it’s a bad thing, right? We want more people to do it like Andrew Breitbart. Andrew had his faults, but the qualities we admired were so great that, as Carr points out, many people want to carry on his legacy. But nobody was Andrew Breitbart but Andrew Breitbart. And that is a shame.

So if a guy says: “For good or ill (and most would say ill), no one did it like Mr. Breitbart” . . . I’m going to take that as a compliment to Andrew.

46 Responses to “Was David Carr Slamming Andrew Breitbart, or Praising Him?”

  1. We should have a similar list of “damned by faint praise” compliments on hand.

    Sorry, Patterico. I’m not with you on this one. Carr was being a snarky ass, who didn’t want to appear snarky…but just couldn’t help it.

    Glad you saw it as a compliment. I don’t.

    Simon Jester (8b9fa1)

  2. I think of it more as the most neutral sentence a writer at the New York Times can get away with in a profile of Breitbart, and not have to worry that you’re going to be persona non grata with the rest of the newsroom for a while. Depending on how you parce it, the line is something of a Rorschach test, with something for everyone (or, if you’re looking at it from Carr’s angle, an explanation for everyone).

    John (e98e1c)

  3. Should we want him to have said that most would say it is for the better that nobody did it like Breitbart??

    Patterico (feda6b)

  4. #2 is an interesting way to think about it.

    I’m just sorry the poor guy is no longer among us. I’m not quite sure what I think about him really (meaning his work), but he definitely had a notable sense of vitality, and it’s strange to think that he’s suddenly gone and won’t be returning. One way or another we’re all poorer for that.

    d. in c. (17012e)

  5. You may be right about this being a compliment. An old boss of mine once said “If you’re not pissing somebody off then you’re not doing your job.” If Breitbart focused more on pissing off the left than preaching to the right, that ain’t a bad thing.

    CrustyB (69f730)

  6. Why not encourage a poll to see how people viewed the article?

    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/04/15/Andrew-Breitbart-New-York-Times

    Russian Bear argument (it’s not how well it dances, but that it dances at all) doesn’t work for me. The MSM needs to be accountable for their bias and venom.

    Simon Jester (8b9fa1)

  7. The rest of the quote seems pretty positive. Could it simply be a line that might have been written more clearly? Surely as writers, you can look back over your posts and realize that one or two might have had an awkwardly crafted phrase. Might not someone have simply asked Carr what he meant?

    I don’t really read the Weekly Standard, and don’t know much about Carr, but from this quote alone, it doesn’t seem to be much of a slam. Actually, in the days after Breitbart’s passing, we saw much, much worse.

    Book (0def8c)

  8. How did the same article by Carr describe ACORN?

    Simon Jester (8b9fa1)

  9. Oh, crap. This was the Times. Nevermind.

    Book (0def8c)

  10. And indeed, there was much, much worse right after AB passed away.

    But praising someone for slapping instead of punching is odd. And that is what the MSM wants with articles like this: see how fair minded I am?

    At the same time, notice the way events are portrayed. Yes, Carr says some kind things about AB. But notice how events are portrayed (and not in an honest fashion). We will see a lot of it this year (like Hilary Rosen’s “apology” to Ann Romney).

    The MSM always has a knife out these days. Always. I urge people to keep an eye on this: to borrow for Jung, it’s what people do, not what they say, that matters.

    Simon Jester (8b9fa1)

  11. More here. To quote Instapundit: read the whole thing.

    http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2012/04/15/when-losers-write-obituaries/?singlepage=true

    Simon Jester (8b9fa1)

  12. I think you’ve got the right of it, Patterico. The controversial line follows right after a paragraph talking about the efforts to continue his work, and the fact that there can be no real replacement. In that context, the “ill” is that no one can really step up to fill his shoes.

    cnh (3b3713)

  13. Breitbart was effective, that’s why they hated him. Bottom line.

    Alex (31c567)

  14. It’s a vaguely written sentence that could be read in a couple of ways. Had I been editor on this, I think I would have asked for clarification. Does the “for good or ill” modify the “did it” part (“he did it for what most would call ill”) or the “no one” part (“it’s for ill that no one did it like him”)?

    That said, it has gotten everybody talking about the piece, which was presumably the goal.

    LYT (191703)

  15. I just don’t understand why some conservatives insist upon bending over backwards to err on the side of assigning “good intentions” to lefty weenies, when it’s so obvious that the lefties are displaying the back of their hand.

    If a conservative media outlet had written the same remark about a recently deceased liberal, it would make the nightly news as an example of a conservative showing a lack of class for the recently departed. The conservative journalist would be characterized as incapble of putting down their bows and arrows at a time when the grieving family is mourning their loss.

    So much of what the left wing lamestream media accomplishes is not done in an over-the-top manner like Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, or Saturday Night Live.

    Rather, the journalists inject subtle inferences and questions (and often omissions) into the conversation.

    The truth is, it wasn’t even necessary for journalist David Carr to use the phrase “for good or ill (and most would say ill).”

    What David Carr did is to inject the familiar straw man into the conversation. Obama is a master of it, with his “some people on the other side of the aisle say…” or “some of my opponents say…” or “there are folks out there who want to do X,” et al, so that he can knock it down.
    David Carr used the same tactic, so that he had an opening to sneak in the “most people would say for ill” comment.

    David Carr could have chosen to simply have written, “Nobody did it like Breitbart.”

    And it’s true—nobody did it like Andrew—that’s why the lefties hated him with such intensity.

    Andrew Breitbart was a Prince, and I’m fortunate to have known him.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  16. Dear Patterico,

    For months now – ever since the GOP primary season got under way – I have been trying to figure out why the party that styles itself as “the party of Reagan” is so profoundly NOT the party of Reagan. It is the party of Bush (both Jr. and Sr.), the party of Dole, of Hastert, of Lott, and a legion of philosophically adrift, slow-witted, weak-kneed nobodies. Sadly, it is the party of not-Reagans. Breitbart was a shining exception to this disheartening norm. It is most definitely for ill that Mr. Breitbart was an exception to the rule. The party could use a legion of Breitbarts. Unfortunately, Carr has it right about Breitbart and you, Patrick, have it right about Carr.

    Yours truly,

    ThOR

    ThOR (94646f)

  17. Per Ed Driscoll:

    More: Mickey Kaus spots Carr backing off slightly, at least on Twitter, from what Mickey calls “his embarrassing Breitbart Kaelism”:

    @gdnickel yer probably right. and the worst part is I thought it through. should have thought some more. 10:47 AM Apr 15th via web in reply to gdnickel Retweeted by 2 people

    carr2n
    david carr

    BfC (fd87e7)

  18. Based on David Carr’s history, we don’t have to twist ourselves into difficult yoga positions trying to parse words or split atoms about what Carr was trying to convince readers about Breitbart. He was trying to say that he believes “most people” perceive Breitbart’s work negatively.

    Keep in mind, this is the same David Carr who was on the Bill Maher show on HBO just last year, characterizing midwesterners in the flyover states as participating in “the dance of low-sloping foreheads.”

    ——————–

    Here’s a little something from Newsbusters;

    While Carr points and lectures, he isn’t exactly a model of cultural sensitivity: On the June 24, 2011 edition of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” he addressed Maher’s description of New Jersey as sophisticated with this charming response likening Midwest denizens to cavemen: “If it’s Kansas, Missouri, no big deal. You know, that’s the dance of the low-sloping foreheads. The middle places, right? …Did I just say that aloud?” Carr later apologized on his Twitter feed, though he’s employed the phrase before in less specific contexts.

    Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/clay-waters/2012/02/21/nyts-david-carr-who-called-midwesterners-low-sloping-foreheads-cries-ra#ixzz1sF11Ry7Z

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  19. I’m with you P. Had Mr. Carr said the more commonplace “for better or worse” it would follow that he seems to think it’s a worse situation that there aren’t more folks “doing it like Andrew.”

    Rich (d3c40c)

  20. Winston Churchill famously defended his wartime coziness with Joseph Stalin — a monster whom Churchill staunchly opposed before and after the war — by saying that “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” Similarly, from General F.W. von Mellenthin’s “Panzer Battles” (at 179-80):

    One of the finest examples of the chivalrous spirit developed by the campaigns in the Western Desert, was shown in Winston Churchill’s speeech in the House of Commons on 27 January 1942, when he said of Rommel: “We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.” [Churchill] adds in his memoirs:
    My reference to Rommel passed off quite well at the moment. Later on I heard that some people had been offended. They could not feel that any virtue should be recognized in an enemy leader. This chulishness is a well-known streak in human nature, but contrary to the spirit in which a war is won, or lasting peace established.

    Nevertheless, David Carr is no Winston Churchill, and from the context here, I don’t think Carr intended his statement as a good-faith but back-handed compliment of Breitbart. I agree with Kristol’s analysis.

    Beldar (4aa491)

  21. (If one chooses to take (that is, creatively interpret) Carr’s comment in a way that is less harsh than Kristol’s interpretation, that’s okay too. I wouldn’t call it naive. But I’m disinclined to accord Carr any benefit of the doubt because he’s been a consistent tool of the snarkiest, most juvenile variety in the past, and I don’t believe he’s capable of subtlety even on those occasions when he may have a generous impulse.

    Beldar (4aa491)

  22. And of course, Mickey Kaus’ mention of the “embarrassing Breitbart Kaelism” refers to the late New York based film critic Pauline Kael, who famously was shocked that Nixon won re-election in 1972, because nobody she knew had voted for Nixon !

    It’s probably similar, here, with Carr…in that everyone that left wing NY Times journalist David Carr is acquainted with does believe that Andrew Breitbart was a negative force.

    That’s a result of living in the bubble, far away from all those folks with “the low-sloping foreheads,” as Carr snarkily said last year on Bill Maher’s HBO show.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  23. We at least have foreheads here in fly-over land. Infuriating snark that I won’t let bother me, but I will remember it.

    htom (412a17)

  24. Well at least he’s not from the Midwest, wait isn’t Chicago part of the Midwest

    http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2012/04/16/obamas-falklands-gaffe-could-start-a-war/

    narciso (8d0f34)

  25. Keep in mind, this is the same David Carr who was on the Bill Maher show on HBO just last year, characterizing midwesterners in the flyover states as participating in “the dance of low-sloping foreheads.”

    Comment by Elephant Stone — 4/16/2012 @ 2:45 pm

    So that’s where that “slope-headed” phrase came from in the beginning of the Hating Breitbart trailer. Thought Andrew was just taking poetic license. Nope – being surgically correct.

    So I guess we know now what David Carr meant, however inartfully (or sneakily, depending on your POV) it was phrased.

    no one you know (325a59)

  26. Carr could have just as easily left it up to the readers to decide,

    For good or ill (and most would say ill), no one did it like Mr. Breitbart.

    I don’t see any reason to give him the benefit of the doubt in this. He’s a journalist, a writer and his profession is writing which requires one to be clear, concise, make every word count, and avoid subjective interpretation.

    His “low-sloping” foreheads comment referred to people from Kansas and Missouri.

    Dana (4eca6e)

  27. I repeat my comment at Newsbusters:

    I salute Breitbart: to have “done ill” in the estimation of the villians at the New York Times, is to have behaved with nobility in the estimation of good men.

    sherlock (503b64)

  28. It’s possible that the “and most would say ill” was added by someone else at the NYT (not Carr).

    Back in 1999, the NYT ran an article about George W. Bush’s bringing in experts to help prepare him on various issues. The reporters wrote, “Politicians in both parties said they had never seen such a comprehensive and elaborate undertaking, particularly this early in a campaign.” Then a different NYT reporter, Adam Clymer, inserted the following sentence into the article without the credited reporters’ knowledge: “There may never have been a ‘serious’ candidate who needed it more.”

    Joshua (79953a)

  29. I wonder if the editor was exploiting the chink in Carr’s armor — the famous lebenteen layers of editorial oversight.

    nk (875f57)

  30. They can’t stand that someone beat Michael Moore at their own game, and unlike Moore with the facts,

    narciso (8d0f34)

  31. Joshua makes a good point, hypothesizing that a sly editor may have inserted it into the article, under the cover of someone else’s by-line.

    However, in comment #17, it is brought to our attention that David Carr apparently tweeted this morning that he had thought it through, but that perhaps he should have thought some more.
    That would suggest Carr admits to writing it, and may even have a little remorse for doing so.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  32. History has judged Churchill, well. Rommel, too. They both tried to kill Hitler.

    nk (875f57)

  33. Mr. nk I’m sorry I really am but we’re gonna have to let you go

    espnfeet (3c92a1)

  34. It’s late, espnfeet, and I’m just nip and tuck on my commenting ability. Forgive my niggardliness, I’m tired.

    nk (875f57)

  35. I’m with Pat on this and I think the Carr quote from Kaus bears him out.

    Lee Stranahan (708cc3)

  36. For good or for ill, any criticism of a******s dancing on Breitbart’s grave is a good thing.

    nk (875f57)

  37. I think Patterico has the correct take, according to the way I first read it. However, on reading it back after hearing the alternative possibilities, it was awkwardly phrased.

    Ken in Camarillo (645bed)

  38. Well, it does say something when someone who really admired they guy is defending soemone who didnt

    EricPWJohnson (d84fb0)

  39. the not they – sorry

    EricPWJohnson (d84fb0)

  40. I think Carr’s statement speaks for itself. I’ll allow that it may have been meant as grudging acknowledgment that Andrew B. was often very very good at accomplishing what he sought to accomplish, was highly effective and innovative in the tactics he employed, and that he was fearless and unique (probably impossible to replace) in his abilities and the way he inspired others. But did Carr mean respect? Hardly. Was it a compliment to Andrew? No–a long way from one. It was more like a contented sigh of relief from Carr that now the left won’t have to contend with AB anymore. Furthermore, Carr’s real goal IMO was to undermine and publicly try to de-legitimize the good people and the fine work still being done by the able staff at Breitbart dot com.

    elissa (01e1a0)

  41. Nicely stated, Elissa.

    Next week, we’ll all be discussing the alternate nuanced meaning behind the words, “Hello, how are you today ?” when David Carr greeted the doorman at his apartment building.

    Ha, ha, ha.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  42. Back in 2008, I asked my democrat friends why they thought Barack Obama was to one person in America who should be president.

    He does not have enough management experience to get an interview for a position as president of a $100 m company. He had no legislative success as an State Senator until Emil Jones, the president of the senate, pushed him out front and gave him credit for other people’s work. He has not been in the military or served as the governor of a state or mayor of a city. His past was completely sealed and the only thing we knew about him was what he (or Bill Ayers) wrote in his books.

    Now we know why.

    Arch (0baa7b)

  43. “and most would say ill”

    – The problem, obviously (witness the very existence of this thread) is the way in which this comment is phrased. It is so open-ended and unspecific as to become either meaningless or subject to a wide variety of (mis)interpretations. If that statement were present in a Wikipedia article an editor would insert the tag [who?] to denote the lack of specificity. And indeed, the question of who does “most” refer to is at the heart of the matter.

    People like Bill Kristol will overreact and see it as an ad hominem attack on AB. In this case “most would say ill” translates as Carr saying “everybody knows it”; an unsupportable position that reflects the negative characterizations of AB that are prevalent in the MSM and the blogosphere.

    Does he mean ‘most of AB’s friends’? ‘most of AB’s enemies’? ‘most people that have an opinion of AB one way or the other’? The lack of specificity would lead one to conclude it’s the latter; if that is indeed the case, then “most would say ill” merely refers to AB’s considerable skills at provoking interest and reactions from both sides of the aisle, and Patterico’s take that it’s a compliment seems reasonable. The problem with this assessment is that it refocuses our attention onto the word “ill” and the connotation that AB’s provocations have had mainly negative results. Sure, he successfully stirred things up, but has the world been made any better for his efforts?

    Bottom line: it’s sloppy writing. Carr used a cliche

    Icy (ad6a1f)

  44. “and most would say ill”

    – The problem, obviously (witness the very existence of this thread) is the way in which this comment is phrased. It is so open-ended and unspecific as to become either meaningless or subject to a wide variety of (mis)interpretations. If that statement were present in a Wikipedia article an editor would insert the tag [who?] to denote the lack of specificity. And indeed, the question of who does “most” refer to is at the heart of the matter.

    People like Bill Kristol will overreact and see it as an ad hominem attack on AB. In this case “most would say ill” translates as Carr saying “everybody knows it”; an unsupportable position that reflects the negative characterizations of AB that are prevalent in the MSM and the blogosphere.

    Does he mean ‘most of AB’s friends’? ‘most of AB’s enemies’? ‘most people that have an opinion of AB one way or the other’? The lack of specificity would lead one to conclude it’s the latter; if that is indeed the case, then “most would say ill” merely refers to AB’s considerable skills at provoking interest and reactions from both sides of the aisle, and Patterico’s take — that it’s a compliment — seems reasonable. The problem with this assessment is that it redirects attention onto the word “ill” and the connotation that AB’s provocations have had mainly negative results. Sure, he successfully stirred things up, but has the world been made any better for his efforts?

    Bottom line: it’s sloppy writing. In trying to be simple and direct Carr used a cliché that (pun intended) ill-served him when it came to making his point.

    Icy (ad6a1f)

  45. Double posting due to iBlameWozniak

    Icy (ad6a1f)

  46. Dang all these new fangled have-a-mind-of-their- own-thinga-ma-bobs, Icy.

    elissa (01e1a0)


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