Many of us have heard of the infamous rightwing news outlet, Breitbart news. However, what many people don’t know is how this radical news outlet ever came to be. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of current Breitbart subscribers themselves don’t have the slightest idea who Andrew Breitbart was and have no idea what made him so well-known. While many Republicans love and adore Andrew Breitbart, the truth is that this man was no hero and was, in fact, one of the most vile media personalities of the 21st century.
Andrew Breitbart was born and raised and Los Angeles, Ca. and was the adopted son of very affluent parents. Andrew worked behind the scenes in Hollywood for a while and later would go on to own a restaurant and try his hand in the banking sector. A close friend of Andrew once described him as “not being very political”, which in my opinion indicates that Andrew was an opportunist who cared more about promoting and enriching himself, than he did about advancing good public policy through his political work. Midway through his career Andrew Breitbart would go on to be one the leading purveyors of dirty tricks and the “dark arts” of politics vis-à-vis his company Breitbart news.
Political dark arts and dirty tricks can best be described as cheating, but I like to describe them as pure evil political tactics. While this form of politics has been around for years, many trace its current roots back to the administration of Republican President Richard Nixon. Throughout the 70’s, the Nixon team fabricated stories, produced misleading propaganda, and distorted facts pertaining to their political opponents in order to advance their own rightwing political agenda. They created false stories which were designed to mislead voters and even mastered the art of employing “whisper campaigns”. A whisper campaigns is when a candidate’s team makes up a story about their opponent and repeats the story behind the scenes in hopes that the story will eventually permeate voter’s minds and lead them to vote a certain way. Whisper campaigns are not designed to be made public – because than the information could be fact checked and proven false. These types of dirty tricks continued for years and eventually culminated into the Watergate burglary where Republican operatives were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, DC, which as all of us remember, eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon.
For many Republican operatives, these dirty tricks and the dark arts of politics practiced by the Nixon team became like a religion to them. Instead of viewing these acts as reprehensible, young Republican staffers viewed members of the Nixon team as conservative heroes. One of these so called Nixon team heroes would eventually go on to work for the Trump campaign. In the Netflix documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone”, a team of videographers’ interview and detail the life of political operative Roger Stone who served as a political advisor to Donald Trump for several years. In the documentary (which I highly recommend) Roger Stone gleefully outlines the dirty tricks he has committed over the years and essentially admits that he would do absolutely anything to win an election. One of the most revealing parts of the documentary is where Stone, in describing Trump supporters, referred to them as “unsophisticates” – basically calling his own supporters stupid (he said it, not me). That just goes to show you the level of distain that the Trump team actually has for the very people they claim to be fighting for.
After the Nixon years, a newer, fresher and more energetic generation of dirty tricksters began to emerge. Men like Lee Atwater would rise through the world of the dark arts and eventually become the new leader of this fledgling cult. In the 1980’s, while working for the Ronald Reagan, Lee Atwater helped to develop the Reagan’s “southern strategy” which many political scientists today blame for many of the divisions our country faces. The original southern strategy was crafted in the late 60’s and early 70’s and worked to pit blacks against whites throughout the south with wedge issues such as the rejections of affirmative action and equal rights. As discussed in the post “Battle of the wealthy elite”, Republicans long ago identified race as a way to divide the working-class electorate and gain white working-class votes to support their rightwing agenda. Atwater put this strategy to use again in the 1988 Presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis where Atwater would be responsible for running the now infamous “Willie Horton Ad” Video. This ad essentially blamed Dukakis for the rape and murder of a young white women at the hands of a black man due to an early release from prison initiative Dukakis backed. The ad was misleading and played on racial stereotypes and fear.
Interestingly enough, the man who would work closely with Atwater on this project would later become the newest member of the dark arts futurity and assist George W. Bush in capturing the White House in 2000 and 2004. During the South Carolina primary campaign leading up to the 2000 presidential election, Karl Rove had his team develop a phony poll where participants were asked, “would you be willing to vote for Senator John McCain if you knew he father an illegitimate black child”. This, as we stated earlier, is the essence of a whisper campaign where you don’t actually come out and say what you are attempting to communicate, but people get the idea. When people would turn on TV or go to an event and see John McCain with his family and notice that one of his children had very dark skin, the hope was that people would assume the statement in the poll was correct. What many voters didn’t know is that this particular dark-skinned child was actually Bridget McCain, John and Cindy McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter who they saved while visiting an orphanage run by Mother Teresa. This dirty trick by Rove was probably one of the lowest, but not one of the most impactful.
In 2004, President George W. Bush was facing an uphill reelection campaign. With the disastrous war in Iraq and controversy surrounding his first four years in office, Republics knew they could only count on division and wedge issues to win them the election. At the time one of the main issue in the country was gay marriage and the ability of man or women to have the right to marry whomever they want. Knowing that this was one of the most divisive issues of our time, and also knowing that they needed a major part of their base (Christen Conservative) to show up at the polls, Rove worked with Republicans in battleground states to have anti-gay marriage initiatives placed on the ballot in those important states which Bush needed to win. Fired up on hate, Christian Conservatives showed up in mass to vote against gay marriage and, while they were there, vote for George W. Bush. This ploy was basically responsible for Bush winning his second term in office.
But now that you have a good understanding of the dark arts of political dirty tricks, and how Republicans have embraced these strategies over the years to win elections, let’s get back to Andrew Breitbart. It was around this time, throughout the 2000’s, that Andrew began to develop his penchant for misleading voters. With an investment from a billionaire we discussed in a previous post – Robert Mercer – Andrew was able to start his own news outlet, Breitbart News. The only problem was, Breitbart news was anything but news. The site played “fast and loose” with the truth and also dabbled in conspiracy theories purposefully developed to mislead voters. In the beginning circulation was low and most people viewed Breitbart as nothing more than a “crackpot” operation, but Andrew had other plans. He knew he had to find a way to captivate voters and at the same time continue to do the bidding of his rightwing paymasters. This is when Breitbart hooked up with a young follower of the dark arts, James O’Keefe. O’Keefe was a dirty tricks disciple and proved that he would do anything to help push the rightwing agenda. In 2010, Andrew hired O’Keefe to go around the country armed with a hidden camera in order to setup unsuspected victims who just happened to be their political enemies.
Breitbart and O’Keefe’s first target was to take down an organization by the name of ACORN or the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now. ACORN was a social justice organization which worked to uplift working-class families throughout the country by focusing on housing, community safety, health care, and voter registration. ACORN understood that while it was important to address service based needs for working-class people, it was also important to encourage working-class people to become politically active. Millionaire and billionaires have the power to advocate for their interests and Washington is filled with their hired lobbyist who fight each day to protect the interests of the rich and wealthy. But who fights for the working-class interests?? Where are our lobbyists?? ACORN knew that the only thing working-class voters had going for us was our ability to unite…..they have the money and we have the numbers (people). You can clearly see how an organization like this would be a threat to the wealthy elite establishment and their supporters.
So, Breitbart devised a plan to take the organization down. O’Keefe would go into the offices of ACORN dressed like a pimp (yes, you read that right….like a pimp) and with a prostitute on is arm he would seek advice from ACORN employees about how he could smuggle sex slaves into the country – and all this would be recorded using their hidden cameras. Guess what….it worked! For days, every news outlet in the country ran footage of O’Keefe getting advice from ACORN employees on how to smuggle sex slaves into the country. The only problem was….the videos were doctored! That’s right, O’Keefe and Breitbart selectively edited videos giving the appearance that the employees were providing O’Keefe assistance when in fact on a number of occasion O’Keefe was thrown out of ACORN offices. In one particular video an employee by the name of Juan Vera was seen assisting O’Keefe, only to then call the police and report the incident once O’Keefe left the office. Without first doing research on the matter, news outlets ran with the story according to Breitbart news only to have to retract the stories later. But sadly, the damage had already been done and ACORN lost funding and was forced to disband.
Breitbart and O’Keefe would go on to pull the same doctored hidden camera stunt several more times until the media finally caught on to their scam. But that didn’t stop Andrew – now, with Breitbart news gaining popularity from all the news publicity, Andrew could now run the stories exclusively on his website and still reach millions of impressionable voters. This would prove to be Andrew’s last big stunt before dying in 2012 at the age of 46. However, even after death Andrew’s noxious and disgusting legacy lives on through Breitbart news, who in 2016 ran a false conspiracy driven story which accused Hillary Clinton staffers of using a local DC pizza restaurant as a den to molest children. This story was passed around by Trump associates at the time leading to a disturbed man rushing into the restaurant at gun point and threatening to kill the employees. What a legacy! One can only hope that Andrew, before his death, was able to find some peace and ask for forgiveness – much like Lee Atwater did before his untimely death in 1991 at the age of 40. The story of the dark arts and those who dabble in them serves as a cautionary tale for voters across this country. It reminds us to do our research and homework before believing what we read or hear. It also reminds us to be on the lookout for those working hard each day to deceive us.