Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Andy Breitbart enjoys Larry Flynt's protection

Now that the tempest has passed and passions have cooled, it's just about time for Shirley Sherrod to file a libel lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart.

To refresh memories, Sherrod was the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the USDA when, back in July, journalist and blogger Andrew Breitbart libeled her by calling her a racist. As "proof," Breitbart released what he alleged was a video of Sherrod, a black, telling a meeting of the NAACP that she'd discriminated against a white southern farmer by not offering all of the assistance her office could have offered. Breitbart's defamation resulted in Sherrod being fired by an all-too-timid Obama administration, a firing that was later reversed when the Obamites realized they'd been had by a master manipulator and flagrant liar.

Mainstream media journalists and other liberals claimed that the episode marginalized Breitbart and other crazy-conservative blowhards by showing the lengths some will go to in their attempts to discredit liberalism. And they dropped the subject there, knowing full well they are wrong, that Breitbart will recover and will regain what dubious credibility he has among American fascists, and, like Dracula, will drain the lifeblood of American politics until a stake is driven through his heart.

That stake would be a libel suit, filed against Breitbart on Sherrod's behalf and with her consent, proving that Andrew Breitbart's sole purpose in blogging is to harm the reputations and careers of any well-intentioned, patriotic, and God-loving American who isn't exactly like him. Of course, mainstream media isn't going to call for such a lawsuit because of what I call the Larry Flynt Syndrome. That's a condition suffered by all mainstream media that causes them to tolerate and even rationalize outrageous and harmful behavior in others so their own behavior appears moderate in comparison. I named it after Flynt because of the way the media leapt to Flynt's defense during his legal battles in the pre-Internet days of the 1970s and 1980s. While we knew Flynt and his drugstore pornography was a disgusting aberration, we rationalized his existence by saying that as long as Flynt was fighting for his First Amendment right, the rest of us were safe. Flynt occupied the forward-most trench in the war against the Huns who would erase the words "freedom of the press" from the First Amendment. At one point in the early 1980s, the Society of Professional Journalists even contributed cash to Flynt's defense fund. "Better Larry fights the fight and takes the hits than us," was our justification. As long as the battle for freedom of the press was being fought way out there on Larry Flynt's filthy frontier, we on Main Street were relatively safe, never mind that Flynt was hiking the skirts of the Statue of Liberty and charging a penny a peek.

Now the mainstream media is being quiet for the same reason and, in its reticence, giving someone every bit as disgusting and filthy as Flynt a pass to the First Amendment. The worst thing Breitbart was accused of, by High Priest of Professional Liberalism Keith Olbermann, was being "a pornographer of propaganda." (Aside: Yes, I know I can link to it; do it yourself, search YouTube for it, it's there. Do a little of your own thinking for a change.) But Breitbart is more than a "pornographer," for even pornography isn't actionable, as Flynt proved by getting away with suggesting in print that a devout, if somewhat monomaniacal, Christian fundamentalist banged his own mother in an outhouse. So much for the conservatism of the Reagan-appointed SCOTUS.

Breitbart will get away with his libel, too. And libel it is. Any sophomore journalism student knows that libel requires three conditions: Publication, identification, and defamation. That is, the damaging text must be publicly circulated (in one God-awful miscarriage of justice, the U.S. Supreme Court even ruled that potentially defamatory memos and emails within a newspaper's news department constituted "publication"); it must unmistakably identify the victim; and it must damage the victim's reputation or otherwise cast the victim in a socially unfavorable light.

Even those three tests aren't enough, however. Slanderers of public officials are often free to spread their lies (thus the protected rise of the American Tea Party, among others) unless their victims can prove something called "actual malice." Actual malice is the publication of libel or slander with the full knowledge that the defamation is false, and with the intent to harm the victim despite the falsity of the slanderer's claims. And this is where Breitbart falls into the realm of actionable libel.

As the media fully and frequently reported in the aftermath of "Sherrodgate," Breitbart deliberately edited a video of Shirley Sherrod's speech before the NAACP to make it appear that she said things she, in fact, did not say. Breitbart has openly admitted he knew Sherrod was no racist, but edited the video to make it appear she was anyway. There can be only one reason for this: Andrew Breitbart was so consumed with hatred for liberalism that he broke the law to defame a woman who had worked hard to protect and assist America's independent farmers for over two decades. By any legal measure, Andrew Breitbart is a slanderer and a libeler and a liar.

Because of the Larry Flynt Syndrome, however, there will be no media outcry to have Breitbart hauled into court. Some have called Breitbart a "blogger, not a journalist," a comment I find personally insulting after a quarter-century of journalism experience. Besides, Breitbart is a columnist for the Washington Times. If the Times is a newspaper (and I would question even that assertion) then Breitbart is a journalist. Otherwise, the media have simply shut up and sat down on the subject, fearful that any agitation for having Breitbart charged with libel would somehow be a betrayal of the First Amendment.

What sanctimonious crap! Breitbart is a journalist. He embodies the purest form of First Amendment freedom, and as such he must be held to the highest standard of journalistic integrity. He has failed on the integrity test and, as such, needs to be charged, tried, and found guilty of libel.

And then we need to go after Larry Flynt.