The past 36 hours have been a whirlwind for Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing bomb thrower who oversees a family of conservative Web sites — Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood — from an office building in Santa Monica.
The quick history: He released a video that seemed to show an African-American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a meeting of the NAACP saying she refused to help a white farmer. She was promptly fired. But it turns out, the video had been edited, and she was actually saying the exact opposite of what was depicted. It was a story of racial reconciliation, not division. The White House and Ag Sec. Tom Vilsack have apologized. But what happens to Breitbart?
Even though he's been a prominent member of the Internet elite for years as an editor for both Matt Drudge and Huffington Post, Breitbart has rocketed to prominence since the election of President Obama. It was his video of a pimp and prostitute (also selectively edited with a deceptive result) that helped cripple ACORN. (You remember Acorn, right? They stole the 2008 election.)
Anyway, this New Yorker profile gives a flavor of his flamboyant personality — he's a favorite of reporters for his love of gossip, red wine and provocative quotes, which, taken together, are like heroin to many political reporters.
But his impact rests to a large degree on his ability to push a story that is riling the right into the mainstream media. One would think he's lost credibility with this episode.
Indeed, here's Shep Smith on friendly Fox News saying he didn't run with the video because he doesn't trust the source.
Breitbart says that — as with the pimp and prostitute video — he didn't edit the video; it came to him like that. He also says he feels badly about how Shirley Sherrod, the fired Dept. of Agriculture employee, has been treated.
Sometimes it seems as if Washington media gets less and less credible all the time, amounting to an incessant arms race for stories that are glossed-up gossip or substance-free, horse race reporting.
For Breitbart, who acknowledged to New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead that he has little interest or expertise in public policy, but, rather, prefers the accusations and recriminations of the culture wars, Washington in its current incarnation is a perfect arena to operate in.
But even in that world, credibility still matters, at least a little. Will the dread MSM ignore Breitbart because he's lost credibility? Or is he good for ratings and page views? Bet on the latter.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the local kid who hit it big.