“I’m committed to the destruction of the old media guard.” ABC News and Andrew Breitbart.

Nov.
3
Wake up, journalists. You have no magic exemption from the requirements of political maturity. There are people out there who seek your destruction, and they are not evenly distributed.

“We think it’s important informationally. We are not allowing ourselves to think politically.”

Those are the words of former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie, explaining to author Matt Miller how decisions are made about what belongs on the front page. Not allowing ourselves to think politically is a piece of pressthink that fascinates me, and this is a post about that.

I understand what Downie meant. He meant that the news should be, as far as humanly possible, an ideology-free zone. In making up the front page, the editors of the Washington Post are not trying to advance an agenda they have, or solve a problem they think needs solving, or rally people to a cause they find worthy. They are not fighting for justice or against the enemies of reason. They have cooler heads. They are thinking informationally.

I get all that. I understand how pursuing a political agenda in the guise of providing news is a bad idea, unlikely to generate trust in the provider. As I have written elsewhere, “Power-seeking and truth-seeking are different behaviors, and this is what creates the distinction between politics and journalism.” But even so, not being able to think politically can get you killed in big league journalism.

ABC News got killed this week. These events are worth reviewing because they point to a blind spot in the mind of the mainstream press that seems to be getting worse.

“Andrew Breitbart will be bringing analysis live from Arizona.”

The episode began when someone at ABC News—we don’t know who it was—invited the right wing activist and online publisher Andrew Breitbart to contribute to the network’s election night coverage as a guest at a town hall meeting in Arizona that would mostly run online. Portions of the town hall would also be shown on the air, ABC said. This was enough to trigger an announcement at his Big Journalism site that Breitbart would provide election night analysis on ABC, along with the editor of that site, Dana Loesch.

Loesch was also featured in a press release from ABC; and she did appear on the network’s election night broadcast, sitting alongside longtime Democratic operative Donna Brazile, presumably to provide some kind of ideological balance, although the two figures are so incommensurate with each other that it’s difficult to know what the producers were, um… thinking.

When the announcement at Big Journalism started to circulate online it immediately posed a problem for ABC. Why would the network want to associate itself with Breitbart? As Salon pointed out, “It was really not that long ago that he publicized a misleadingly edited video of an honorable woman named Shirley Sherrod in an attempt to smear her as an anti-white racist.” That turned into a debacle for Breitbart and the Obama administration, which fired her before realizing that it had been tricked.

It just seemed like a strange decision. If ABC wanted a smart conservative who is not a George Will type, but younger than Will and more representative of where the political right is now, it could have gone with, say, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, or Jim Geraghty of National Review, or Ross Douthat of the New York Times, none of whom come with the explosive risks that a performance artist, culture warrior and media virus launcher like Breitbart carries.

“He has not been asked to analyze the results of the election.”

These risks soon became evident. Facing heavy criticism, especially from liberals familiar with Breitbart’s methods (and from me on Twitter) ABC News put out an awkward statement “attributable to Andrew Morse, Executive Producer, ABC News Digital.” It said:

Since conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart announced on his website that he was going to be a participant in ABC’s Town Hall meeting at Arizona State University, there has been considerable consternation and misinformation regarding my decision to ask him to participate in an election night Town Hall event for ABC News Digital. I want to explain what Mr. Breitbart’s role has always been as one of our guests at our digital town hall event:

Mr. Breitbart is not an ABC News analyst.

He is not an ABC News consultant.

He is not, in any way, affiliated with ABC News.

He is not being paid by ABC News.

He has not been asked to analyze the results of the election for ABC News.

Mr. Breitbart will not be a part of the ABC News broadcast coverage, anchored by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos…

Showing the kind of panic that set in once ABC woke up to what it had done, George Stephanopoulos posted on Twitter: “Breitbart NOT on ABC network broadcast….” But ABC News spokesman David Ford told Media Matters: “He will be one of many voices on our air, including Bill Adair of Politifact. If Andrew Breitbart says something that is incorrect, we have other voices to call him on it.”

This, of course, enraged Breitbart and his troops. From ABC Election Night Coverage to Feature Loesch, Breitbart on Oct. 29, Big Journalism moved to Email Reveals ABC News Walked Back ‘Bigs’ Publisher Participation in Election Night Coverage on Oct. 31. Breitbart went on the offensive against his would-be hosts, reprinting the ambiguous invitation he had received:

The show will be live on the web and ABC News Now as well as on the network from 4:00pm till 11:00pm MST. We would love for you to be a part of our program, and please let us know what we can do to accommodate your needs.

This is what culture warriors do: they escalate because war is the health of their state. ABC seemed to be utterly clueless about such a pattern. They had no idea who they were dealing with. But Big Journalism—which, remember, is edited by Dana Loesch, an ABC election night contributor—knew what to do. On election day it ran If You Can’t Beat Them, Silence Them: Left Blacklists Breitbart, ABC Caves, an attack on its usual suspects (Media Matters, George Soros) but also on ABC News, which was said to be “cowardly,” a “wuss,” spineless, engaged in “blacklisting.” ABC had “not only caved to the Left’s intimidation attempts, but also lied when they did so.”

At this point, Breitbart was still scheduled to be a participant in the online town hall on ABC News Now. But the situation was getting deeply absurd. Breitbart’s media criticism site was accusing ABC News of lying, cowardice and selling out the First Amendment. But ABC was going to extend to him a forum for commenting on the election? By Monday afternoon (here’s a timeline) ABC was in the position of simultaneously saying that Breitbart had sown public confusion about his intended role, and that he would provide a clear and valuable perspective the next day.

“We feel it best for you not to participate.”

The bosses must have huddled and realized what a disaster this was, and on the afternoon of election day, after Breitbart was already in Arizona, they cut their losses:

The following letter was sent from ABC and received by Mr. Breitbart:

Dear Mr. Breitbart,

We have spent the past several days trying to make clear to you your limited role as a participant in our digital town hall to be streamed on ABCNews.com and Facebook. The post on your blog last Friday created a widespread impression that you would be analyzing the election on ABC News. We made it as clear as possible as quickly as possible that you had been invited along with numerous others to participate in our digital town hall. Instead of clarifying your role, you posted a blog on Sunday evening in which you continued to claim a bigger role in our coverage. As we are still unable to agree on your role, we feel it best for you not to participate.

Sincerely,

Andrew Morse

I’m sure to the people at ABC News, that put an end to it. But it didn’t. Because on election night, there was Dana Loesch, the editor who ran one post calling ABC News “cowardly,” a “wuss,” spineless, a liar, a blacklister, and an enemy of the First Amendment, and another arguing that ABC had shown it could be “muscled and intimidated.” There she was, a culture warrior in open warfare with ABC News on the Net, sitting next to Donna Brazile, live on ABC’s air, even though she obviously held her hosts in high contempt. What a weird situation! And what a humiliation for the journalists at ABC.

How can we explain this sequence of events? After all, Breitbart’s aims are not a mystery. “I’m committed to the destruction of the old media guard,” he has said. ABC News is obviously a part of that old media guard, the destruction of which is Breitbart’s leading cause. Anyone who has watched him operate understands this. “Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart has always wanted to take down the ‘liberal media establishment,’” said The Atlantic in June.

Only a political moron and culture war innocent would fail to realize that the “liberal media establishment” includes the people in charge of election coverage at ABC News— especially on-air personalities like Stephanopoulos, who co-anchored with Diane Sawyer. Breitbart openly seeks the demise of those who invited him to contribute to their election night journalism. Don’t you think that’s odd?

This is what I mean, then, by not thinking politically can hurt you badly. ABC News does not have an ombudsman, so chances are we won’t get any public accounting for how this could have happened. But we can surmise that someone at ABC thought the network would be showing how committed it is to fairness, to balance, to overcoming culture war allegations of liberal bias, to seeking out voices from a resurgent right wing. It’s likely that Breitbart’s “bad boy” image added to the appeal, since it offered even more proof of how fair-minded ABC was prepared to be on a night when the Republican party was about to retake control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. It’s likely that the word “provocative” came up. How to cope with the Tea Party was probably involved, as well.

The children of Agnew

But this deluded and criminally naive estimate could only move forward because pro journalists equate “we are not allowing ourselves to think politically” with a commitment to truth, fairness and informational integrity. That equation is false, its reasoning rotten. The American press simply has to wake up to the fact that it has enemies within the political culture. Why is this so hard to grasp? Agnew was one, and the children of Agnew are now many. Culture war and the paranoid style in American politics cannot operate without elites to rage against. A growing portion of the Republican coalition has thus incorporated into its day-to-day agenda an attack on the establishment press. That’s what being “committed to the destruction of the old media guard” means.

I know, I know: there is anger and increasing hostility to mainstream journalism on the left, as well as the right. That is true. But let’s pull our chairs a little closer to the fire so we can see what we’re saying. Does mobilizing hatred for media elites play the same role within the progressive movement that it does for conservatives and Tea Party groups? (It does not.) Does running against the news media and refusing to face questions from journalists appeal equally to Republican and Democratic candidates? (Nope.) Is anyone on the left with the visibility of a Breitbart publicly committed to the destruction of the old media? (Can’t think of anyone.) There are even conservatives who recognize that “conservatives have become hostile to journalism as a profession.”

That the internal codes of that profession call on its practitioners to advertise their even handedness does not change in any way the fact that some people in the political system—and almost all of them are on the right—want the traditional press to roll over and die because they think it’s an ideological cadre aligned against them. And if Disney one day decided that having a news division at ABC was not worth the complaints and controversies generated by culture war politics, Andrew Breitbart and the people who staff his sites would raise their arms in triumph. They would be right to do so. Because it would be their victory.

ABC News had no idea what it was doing when it invited Breitbart to be a part of its coverage. It had no idea what it was doing when it gave the floor on election night to Big Journalism’s editor, Dana Loesch. By handing the microphone over to people who seek its destruction and are prepared in a flash to accuse it of lying, blacklisting, caving to political pressure and selling out the First Amendment, ABC acted out the stupidity of news professionals who believe that their refusal to think politically can only be a good and honorable thing. It is not a good and honorable thing. It’s dangerous to your reputation. You think Andrew Morse’s stock has risen at ABC News?

But notice how Breitbart wins either way. If he appears on ABC, he gains legitimacy for his campaign to undo the establishment press. If he is booted, he can gin up more outrage and fuel another round of extravagant charges. The producers didn’t think of that when they extended their invitation. They were on a reckless quest for innocence, which means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” that journalism is not an ideological trade. Well, it isn’t an ideological trade. But it still has enemies.

Wake up, journalists. You have no magic exemption from the requirements of political maturity. There are people out there who seek your destruction, and they are not evenly distributed.

54 Comments

  1. jason says:

    from what i have read it appears we DO know who invited andrew brietbart to appear on abc news. it was andrew morse ep of abc news digital. former ep of weekend gma.

  2. gnarlytrombone says:

    Not allowing ourselves to think politically

    The irony being, of course, that the Tabernacle of the Canny takes a form of “political thinking” too the extreme.

  3. Nan Sequitur says:

    If the “old media guard” means networks mainstreaming as “objective news analysis” the slants of Presidential operatives and partisanly political flamethrowers acting as Praetorians to their naked emperor against the criticism of the same public they’re lecturing, I can see the point behind Breitbart’s bitching about it.

    ABC knew damned well what it was doing; it was giving itself a chance to prove itself and display before the new media audience fans a broader viewpoint than professional network partisanship, because Breitbart’s exposes’ were effective. Exposures of corruption and bigotry at organizations where Democrats and supporters used Americans of color to shill for more minority dependence on government handouts and control while shielding their plantation mentality by declaring their critics and cynics to be bigots…the Breitbart exposes brought results, it was hard for Democrats to make a case against their opponents’ bigotry when it was laid bare they exploit minorities in the most cynical and crass way, so the left has to say that it’s a fraud, a cheat, it didn’t really happen, etc.

    In order to make certain nothing about these things are clarified in the public eye, the left is as selfish about sharing what it believes is its intellectual turf venue as an aging diva is about sharing the stage with any younger actress, so it did Tuesday what it always does when it has no moral, intellectual, or spinal capital to bargain with: It projected its own ill behavior onto the party exposing the chicanery of their proteges, then demanded ABC silence him or face the consequences.

    ABC made its choice last night; the American people made their choice last night, too. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years in news media!

    • Jay Rosen says:

      From the post, “If ABC wanted a smart conservative who is not a George Will type, but younger than Will and more representative of where the political right is now, it could have gone with, say, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, or Jim Geraghty of National Review, or Ross Douthat of the New York Times, none of whom come with the explosive risks that a performance artist, culture warrior and media virus launcher like Breitbart carries.”

    • timb says:

      …Democrats and supporters used Americans of color to shill for more minority dependence on government handouts and control while shielding their plantation mentality

      Wow! A racist explanation for not being a racist….a circle has been squared.

      Here’s a hint: not all Democrats are minorities, White America is a not an embattled minority, and Andy Breitbart is a liar. Not all conservatives are liars and not all conservatives traffic in white tribal resentment.

      Learn the difference

      • Bruce Majors says:

        I suspect he knows that all Democrats are not minorities, especially since several black, hispanic and Asian men and women from the tea party movement were just elected as Republicans from everything from Governor of South Carolina to Congressman and Senator from Florida.

        The question is: when are you and other Democrats going to face up to and end your modern day slave trade where you round up black kids and sell them to educrat unions for campaign donations?

        • Bill says:

          So having kids go to school and learn is now slavery? Trying to help people better themselves in the face of attempts to destroy schools is slavery?

          • JB says:

            Are you really going to play naive on this point?

            Give it up already – “Waiting For Superman” was made by a lefty.

            Cut the babe in the woods routine — even many on your side are no longer buying it.

        • Argh says:

          Every time I see you making a reasonable point, you turn around and dispense such an enormous attack of hyperbole that I can’t take the reasonable points seriously.

      • dball says:

        Amen.

  4. Malcolm Tredinnick says:

    Most of this struck the right tone between controlled outrage and analysis. Then I read the phrase “criminally naïve”… you don’t see the problem with using such a hyperbolic phrase (I’m sorry, *which* law was broken that made this a crime?) in an article admonishing others for supporting somebody who creates unwarranted battles?

  5. jayackroyd says:

    I know, I know: there is anger and increasing hostility to mainstream journalism on the left, as well as the right. That is true. But let’s pull our chairs a little closer to the fire so we can see what we’re saying. Does mobilizing hatred for media elites play the same role within the progressive movement that it does for conservatives and Tea Party groups? (It does not.) Does running against the news media and refusing to face questions from journalists appeal equally to Republican and Democratic candidates? (Nope.) Is anyone on the left with the visibility of a Breitbart publicly committed to the destruction of the old media? (Can’t think of anyone.) There are even conservatives who recognize that “conservatives have become hostile to journalism as a profession.”

    That the internal codes of that profession call on its practitioners to advertise their even handedness does not change in any way the fact that some people in the political system—and almost all of them are on the right—want the traditional press to roll over and die because they think it’s an ideological cadre aligned against them.

    Chris Bowers pointed this out on OpenLeft many years ago–that the conservatives could never be appeased because their goal was NOT improving the quality, accuracy or balance of news broadcasts or publication, but to utterly destroy the organizations as sources of information.

    The goal from the left is entirely different. The left DOES seek accuracy and balance, especially accuracy. In our view, the media is all too willing to permit falsehoods, or views that are very narrowly held, to be presented as of equal validity as views that are simply true (condoms DO prevent pregnancy and STD transmission) or are widely held by experts (anthropogenic climate change is clearly a consensus view).

    I have pointed this out to various ombuds and other media people; their response is invariably silence. Or some variation of “both sides pick on us, so we must be doing something right,” which is exactly the same thing as being silent.

    So, Jay, have you ever gotten into a actual discussion with an actual news person about these two very different agendas? Have you ever made anyone realize that the left actually has the same goals as they do, while the right views accuracy as a form of bias? That the right media critics simply do not acknowledge (aloud, anyway. Bill Kristol and others have let slip that these attacks are tactical rather than sincere.) that Downie’s program is possible, that all news reporting is inherently political?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Had a discussion, yes. To your other questions, no. My record is one failure after another.

      • jayackroyd says:

        IME, they just won’t address the issue. The reporters, as in your discussion with Karen Tumulty at virtually speaking, say such questions are outside their paygrade. Ombuds, like Deborah Howell, simply don’t respond to the question.

        Haven’t tried writing Brisbane about this. The previous NYT ombuds have never responded either on this issue, although they have regarding issue of anonymous sourcing.

        It strikes at the foundation of what they do, so I guess the cognitive dissonance is more than they can stand. Odd, though. It is not a difficult thing to get.

    • Bruce Majors says:

      You *assume* (and I am being charitable) that mainstream media engages in journalism as a profession, as opposed to flak-ery and hucksterism, PR and spin for the tax predator ruling class.

      There is no evidence for that.

      Real journalists, like those at the National Enquirer, who actually cover stories that “professional journalists” hide, are not attacked by the “right.”

      I think most on the right are capable of making distinctions of better and worse among those in the media brothel. I think many people recognize, for example, that one need not read the flaks at WaPo (unless you just want to know what the latest Milbank or Robinson whine is about), when the equally partisan street walkers at Politico do a better job at covering the Hill’s and the OEO’s machinations.

      • jayackroyd says:

        Certainly the journalists I know don’t do what you say. Can you explain further what you mean by flackery and hucksterism?

        • Bruce Majors says:

          Indeed I could. It would be easiest to do if you gave me a book contract, since the subject would take several volumes.

          Or you could just read Edith Efron’s “The News Twisters” and the volumes of criticism (particularly that not from Leftovers) of the media written since . It is rather obvious to anyone who pays attention that the networks and the Democratic leaning cable channels are little more than press agents for the State. (The right is more likely to contain divergent thoughts, like Napolitano My favorite example of this is the perpetually factually incorrect Rachel Maddow (who attacked me in August on her show, claiming I was a blogger in Maine, a state I visited only once 25 years ago for only two days), reporting from Afghanistan earlier in the year, saying that American troops are really there just providing essential city services that the anarchic Afghanis have never had.

          If I knew you I would worry that you have no inkling of how disconnected from reality mainstream media are. They are clueless about economic causality and generally illiterate and mendacious.

        • JB says:

          Two words: GRAMSCIAN WHORES.

      • scsecaur says:

        I can’t believe that you praised the National Enquirer, that yellow rag, sorry excuse for a newspaper, as a good example of journalism. This completely negates your arguments and shows you to be a moron. Case closed.

        • JB says:

          I believe he’s referring to the NE breaking the John Edwards (D) scandal. Which was, you know, completely true. And completely untouched by the lamestreamers.

          Who are not above printing salacious smears and innuendo (McCain had an affair with lobbyist…kinda…maybe…sorta) or ginning up partisan scandals for fun and profit (Macaca! Macaca! 30 days of Macaca!)

          Perahps you don’t see the hypocrisy because you’re blinkered or maybe you’ve rationalized it in some way. All the same it’s self-delusional bullshit.

    • JB says:

      “Chris Bowers pointed this out on OpenLeft many years ago–that the conservatives could never be appeased because their goal was NOT improving the quality, accuracy or balance of news broadcasts or publication, but to utterly destroy the organizations as sources of information.”

      Or perhaps, you know, they’ve tried and tried and judged the case hopeless.

    • hotshot3000 says:

      “…the right views accuracy as a form of bias?”

      I’ve been saying this for years. Good points.

  6. Steve vandenberg says:

    Very well written article by someone who is a biased lefty. Youre out of touch. Breitbart started a year ago…hes already eating mainstream medias lunch. He will accomplish his goal.

    • timb says:

      And, apparently, the country will be off for not having a professional, neutral media?

      the destruction of those institutions, leaving only Shirley Sherrod slanders on one side and a union newsletter on the other seems like a weird thing to celebrate. Then again, the things the Right celebrates are usually weird

      • Bruce Majors says:

        ABC, WaPp, NYTimes, etc etc are not a professional neutral media. Hegemony, or former hegemony, is not objectivity. You seem to have missed Thomas Kuhn.

        Ms. Zernike at the NYTimes, for example, tried to fathom what tea partiers “read” and was perplexed that they read, dusty old authors that no journalists she knows has ever heard of, like Frederic Bastiat, or FA Hayek. Hayek, a Nobel laureate and a critic of Keynes, upon whom Obama bases his policies, lived and wrote after Keynes, whose notions are being used to destroy the economy today. But his ideas are dustry, even though he wrote his refutations of current policy after current theory was articulated.

        Ron Paul, Tom Woods, Tim Carney, Michael Cannon, Johan Norberg, Michael Tanner, and all the other critics of Obama’s monetary, healthcare, housing, and financial fiascos, including several that have climbed the best seller lists in the past 2 years, journ-0-lisps seem to be in the dark about.

  7. Jason Gross says:

    Good article but I think you didn’t hone in enough on the real reason that Breitbart was asked to contribute in the first place. ABC did want a conservative to add the to the ideological balance but they also wanted one who was a known brand that would get recognition. Breitbart fit the bill but as you point out, it was for the wrong reasons.

    ABC obviously showed poor judgment in hindsight but even if they had let him contribute to the broadcast in some way, ABC would have still looked bad for legitimizing a so-called journalist who operates on a sub-tabloid level. To them, it was more important to have a discredited, shameless media figure who obviously doesn’t care about the truth because that would get them some recognition (which it did) and some ratings. It was pathetic pandering on the part of ABC and they basically got what they deserved for pulling this stupid stunt.

    It’ll be interesting to see if ABC (or the other networks) learn from this but I kind of doubt it. More likely, you’ll see other extreme, discredited voices in the mix, again for the sake of ratings.

    • Bruce Majors says:

      Thanks for making the point that very few media outlets pick a representative of an opposing viewpoint only because the commentator can contribute information and perspective on the subject at hand.

      MSNBC clearly picks the conservatives it uses, when it does, because they are faux conservatives, or have past associations with anti-semites, or are cross eyed etc.

      FOX picks liberals if they are blond and beautiful (as well as cogent), if they are hyperactive and entertaining, or if they are unusually honest in a way that sends their co-religionists into a tizzy.

      But I suspect you are correct that many outlets pick someone simply because they will drive up ratings through controversy.

  8. John McQuaid says:

    Jay, great post. I think the people who run ABC, unlike Len Downie, do not eschew political thinking so much out of principle (though that’s part of it) but out of a corporate/monolithic mindset. ABC offers a big, mainstream audience and legitimacy; an underlying assumption of the invitation was that “we’re bigger than you, and always will be, and your hostility toward us is like the buzzing of a mosquito. But your demographic is one we want to reach out to, so we’ll put up with the buzzing. It’s good for both of us. And after all, everybody wants to be on TV.” The underlying assumption is that Breitbart (and everybody) can and will be assimilated into the broader culture that ABC represents. A silly and outmoded assumption at this late date, but there it is.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Makes sense. “Everyone wants to be mainstream. You want to be mainstream, don’t you? ‘Course, you have to play by mainstream rules for a night. But you can do that, can’t you? Sure you can. Look, we’ll put you up at the Arizona Biltmore. Oh, and I’d love to have lunch sometime. Are you ever in New York?…”

      Yeah, I can see that happening.

  9. Fleurdamour says:

    It wasn’t a quest for innocence that motivated ABC, it was a quest for sensationalism, and it bit them on the behind. However, I still think Breitbart came out of this looking worse than they did – they never should have invited him, and it was bone-headed to do so, but he clearly tried to pad this resume credential before it even happened. He’s a serial fabulist, spinning madly and making things up to suit his purposes and he got called out for hit.

    • Bruce Majors says:

      I think the view that Breitbart’s Sherrod tape affair made her look good and him look bad is a parochial delusion that you and a few dozen friends may share.

      What it did above all was make the Obama regime look like fools.

  10. I’m remembering Network — the attitude of ABC in all of this strikes me as actually similar to the network in Network — all news is equal and its just a commodity and if it bleeds it leads.
    I don’t credit ABC with really knowing who Breitbart was or giving the decision to hire him much thought at all — the tone of their letter “We would love for you to be a part of our program” could have just as easily been used to ask him to appear on a game show or a dance competition. Some marketing type just thought he would be “new” and “cutting edge” and “attractive to the demographic” — more fool them.

  11. Bruce Majors says:

    Brazile and Loesch certainly are *incommensurate* with each other. Loesch hasn’t run any failed campaigns so far, nor has she appeared on ABC’s “This Week” discussing what a fine, fine, yummy looking man Rick Perry is.

    I assume ABC kept a box of fresh panty shields on the set.

  12. [...] his PressThink blog, media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen tries to figure out what the world ABC News was thinking [...]

  13. Jim Treacher says:

    Which part of that invitation was ambiguous?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      The part that said the town hall would be televised without saying whether Breitbart himself would appear on the air. He could say it did and they could say it didn’t and the text wouldn’t help us out. Thus: ambiguous.

      • Jim Treacher says:

        Why would they tell him they wanted him to participate, and that part of it would be on the network, if the two had nothing to do with each other?

        • Jay Rosen says:

          They let you believe what you want to believe. Their aim is preserve maximum flexibility because it’s live television and who knows what the evening will bring? Also, the person booking the guests is not the person directing the program. Strategic ambiguity is therefore the norm. Almost every time I have been on network TV, what I heard the producers telling me and what happened when I got to the studio were different. Except with Moyers. He did exactly what he said he would do.

  14. maggie says:

    Government handouts. Before you get any, the handoutee should be required to reveal their political party affiliation, and if you are a Republican, you get none, nothing, nada. Republicans make me laugh. None are poor apparently, and all have medical care, never been turned down for a preexisting condition, they just want to pay those high premiums to insurance companies. How about your favorite senator or congressman giving up his/her healthcare? I quit watching ABC News because of thier pandering to Breitbart, and I am this close to cancelling my hometown paper because of their endorsements in this campaign. Pretty soon all the Breitbarts will be running things, then you will have something to complain about.

    • JB says:

      “Government handouts. Before you get any, the handoutee should be required to reveal their political party affiliation, and if you are a Republican, you get none, nothing, nada.”

      Right – except let’s apply this standard AFTER we’ve fixed your failed economic and healthcare policies.

  15. BarronC205 says:

    Good article? Have I seen you on with Keith Olberman before? I am from JASPER, ALABAMA and finding an intelligent conversation is like finding a lake in the desert, it ain’t gonna happen. So thank you and everyone who has commented. I appreciate good discussions that do not consist of demeaning the person you’re debating because they don’t agree with you. There is hope for the future.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Have I seen you on with Keith Olberman before? No. Nor have I been on Maddow. Or Fox. I was on Newshour once on PBS. It was like a bad date and they didn’t call again. I don’t do well on TV.

  16. Neuro-conservative says:

    It is ironic that Jay repeatedly contrasts Breitbart with Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party hack who was forced to resign from the Dukakis campaign for below-the-belt tactics.

    But I guess it is correct that Brazile shares the same goals as ABC News, which is anchored by another Democratic party hack.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Jay repeatedly contrasts Breitbart with Donna Brazile.

      “Loesch was also featured in a press release from ABC; and she did appear on the network’s election night broadcast, sitting alongside longtime Democratic operative Donna Brazile, presumably to provide some kind of ideological balance, although the two figures are so incommensurate with each other that it’s difficult to know what the producers were, um… thinking.”

      “On election night, there was Dana Loesch, the editor who ran one post calling ABC News ‘cowardly,’ a ‘wuss,’ spineless, a liar, a blacklister, and an enemy of the First Amendment, and another arguing that ABC had shown it could be ‘muscled and intimidated.’ There she was, a culture warrior in open warfare with ABC News on the Net, sitting next to Donna Brazile, live on ABC’s air, even though she obviously held her hosts in high contempt. What a weird situation!”

      Those are the two references to Brazile.

      • Neuro-conservative says:

        Uh, OK. So you contrasted Dana Loesch with Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party hack who was forced to resign from the Dukakis campaign for below-the-belt tactics.

        My point is unaffected. Why is Brazile any better than Loesch and Breitbart?

  17. Lord Strokington says:

    Breitbart has a problem with lying? Isn’t that how he makes his living? Very smart guy but merely a tool.

  18. Gray, Tulsa, OK says:

    Mr. Rosen,

    Thank you for a well-written and thoughtful article. Thanks too for hosting the comments the many Intertubians who contributed their 2¢.

    Gray Strickland

  19. JP says:

    This is pure speculation, but beyond the attempt to achieve “balance” the biggest motivation for news networks is usually a pursuit of ratings. It may be that the online editor went after Breitbart in an attempt to expand the audience. I agree that people like Jim Geraghty, Ed Morrissey, and Ross Douthat would have more credibility. But it may be that ABC went after a person who was available who they thought might expand their demographic reach (e.g. two key qualifiers: availability, new audience). Just a guess, but beyond the pursuit of “balance” it’s important to remember that a lot of news organizations like ABC are concerned primarily with ginning up ad revenue and viewers.

    Either way, it was a significant blunder on the part of the online editor. You have to have standards, and based on any journalistic measure, Breitbart doesn’t measure up.

  20. …it was more important to have a discredited, shameless media figure who obviously doesn’t care about the truth because that would get them some recognition (which it did) and some ratingsJason Gross

    …many outlets pick someone simply because they will drive up ratings through controversyBruce Majors

    …beyond the attempt to achieve “balance” the biggest motivation for news networks is usually a pursuit of ratingsJP

    So this is the third time in this thread that “the quest for ratings” has been offered as an explanation for Rosen’s puzzlement about why on Earth it would even cross the minds of bookers at ABC News to hand the microphone over to activists committed to their institution’s destruction.

    These explanations rest on the statement of a simple formula — that controversial publicity is a ratings-generating mechanism.

    Let’s stipulate that all decisions made by ABC News — and similar journalistic institutions — are made with ratings in mind. Having said that, it turns out that this is no explanation at all.

    Is it true that short-term controversial publicity is a ratings-generating formula? What about long-term trustworthiness and credibility? Should ABC News appease its political enemies by inviting them onto its airwaves? Or should it report on them, as the objects of their political journalism, rather than consult them, as voices of expertise? Or should it eschew them, in attempt to cast them into a sphere of deviancy?

    Each of these tactics, if adopted, could be seen as a quest for ratings. Yet “a quest for ratings” turns out to be no explanation at all. It is like asking diners why they chose a hamburger or macaroni-&-cheese for dinner. The answer “a quest for nutrition” is no answer.

  21. Ronald Koven says:

    What seems to be missing from all the comments, including the original article by Jay Rosen, is that Breitbart violated generally accepted standards of common courtesy: When one is invited into someone’s home, it is understood that one isn’t going to spit on the carpet. As a veteran of more than 50 years in journalism, I’ve always been amazed that journalists often don’t seem to think manners have anything to do with them. ABC should simply have written Breitbart that he had been invited as their guest and that if he didn’t mean to act like a guest, then he was naturally and regrettably being disinvited. That’s reason enough to cut him off, without any need for extraneous considerations of Right-Left ideology in the discussion.

    If what Jay Rosen means by excoriating Len Downie’s profession of non-politics is that ABC should have realized Breitbart wouldn’t know how to behave decently, then OK. If using common sense and the rule of reason is what Jay Rosen means when he says journalists should think politically, then OK, too. But that just comes down to saying that virtually all tactical or strategic thinking is “political,” which makes the idea of “thinking politically” so broad as to be meaningless.