The Ethics Lesson Of Breitbart’s Implosion: Unethical Cultures Are Deadly, And So Is Donald Trump’s Touch

Nice job, Andrew!

Nice job, Andrew! That’s some legacy!

The Breitbart conservative website empire is in the process of wrecking itself through its own corruption. Good. This is an invaluable lesson in the field of organizational culture, and perhaps it will prompt other unethical organizations to reform their cultures before it is too late.

I had  the good sense to abandon Breitbart as a trustworthy news source long ago, after I was burned by the site’s doctored Shirley Sherrod video. Conservatives, like liberals, often hold on to their heroes long after they have proven themselves unworthy of reverence or even respect; Andrew Breitbart was an especially unfortunate example. He created a group of websites that really delivered news the way Fox is unfairly accused of reporting. They ignored stories that impugned the honesty, integrity or reliability of conservatives, and actively sought stories that showed the worst of progressives, and often slanted those stories to mislead readers, shamelessly appealing to their confirmation bias. The corrupt culture he built, cheered by prominent conservative pundits who should have known better like Glenn Reynolds (Breitbart was “punching back twice as hard,” you see: Rationalization #2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming”), predictably became worse after its architect’s untimely death. Nothing showed this more vividly than Breibart’s decision to become, as resigning editor Ben Shapiro called it today, “Donald Trump’s personal Pravda.”  It attacked Trump’s critics and rationalized Trump’s outrages. I dissected a particularly disgraceful example here, but there were many others.

Then came, as almost always does, a chance event that has shattered Breitbart along its rotting fault lines.

Last week, Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields revealed in a post that Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski  grabbed her by the arm and yanked her away when she attempted to ask Trump a question after a news conference in Florida. The 28-year-old reporter’s arm was brusied by the incident. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris witnessed the incident and confirmed  Fields’ account, as did video of the event.

Fields filed a report with the  police department Friday, according to the Associated Press, and did an interview with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly explaining her decision. She said her editor, Matthew Boyle,  contacted Lewandowski, who Boyle said admitted to grabbing Fields. “He did not deny it,” Fields told Kelly. “He said that he didn’t realize that I was a Breitbart reporter.”

A promised apology never came, however. Instead, playing to form, Trump and Lewandowski denied the accusation in a statement and individually accused Fields of lying. Breitbart then published a post by senior editor at large Joel Pollak that sided with the Trump campaign against Fields, suggesting that she was mistaken, even though the site had previously issued a statement calling any physical contact with Fields as ‘unacceptable’ and demanding an apology from the Trump campaign.

Apparently having received his marching orders from Trump, Pollak commanded Breitbart staffers not to defend their colleague Fields. When a staffer wrote an internal memo that Lewandowski’s behavior was “a declaration of war” and that “silence is abandoning our team member.” Pollak responded, “In war, we wait for orders that are based on a careful plan. So wait.”

First to resign in the wake of this mess was Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella, who told Don Lemon on CNN,

“When you get to a point where you can’t 100 percent support the person you’re representing, the right thing to do is to step aside. They’ve been looking for a reason to disprove something when all the evidence from a Washington Post reporter’s firsthand account, to the bruises on Michelle’s arm, to all the photos and video clips that we’ve seen strongly suggest that Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was the one who did this. And there’s no reason to never support your own reporter.”

Next Fields resigned, saying, “I do not believe Breitbart News has adequately stood by me during the events of the past week,”  and Editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, the face of Breitbart to the most of the public, has also quit. His statement said in part.

“Both Lewandowski and Trump maligned Michelle in the most repulsive fashion. Meanwhile, Breitbart News not only stood by and did nothing outside of tepidly asking for an apology, they then attempted to abandon Michelle by silencing staff from tweeting or talking about the issue. Finally, in the ultimate indignity, they undermined Michelle completely by running a poorly-evidenced conspiracy theory as their lead story in which Michelle and Terris had somehow misidentified Lewandowski.”

This couldn’t get worse, right? Ah, you underestimate the complete lack of professionalism baked into Breibart. Today a weird attack on Shapiro appeared on the site, beginning

“Former Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro announced Sunday evening via left-wing Buzzfeed that he is abandoning Andrew Breitbart’s lifelong best friend, widow, hand-picked management team and friends in pursuit of an elusive contributorship at the Fox News Channel. Friends of Hamas could not be found for comment.

Shapiro, a Harvard lawyer and member of the State Bar of California, apparently violated virtually every clause in his employment contract during an appearance on The Kelly File last Thursday evening.

It was business as usual for the ambitious conservative gadfly, who is known to live on the edge, courting and then leaving a series of companies over the past several years.”

Weirder still, the piece was posted under the pseudonym used by Shapiro’s father when he wrote for Breitbart, “William Bigelow.” The post was quickly taken down, and Pollack claimed that it was a joke, published by mistake.

What a superbly professional organization! I’m sending in my resume right now, I can tell you that! Who wouldn’t want to work for such a dignified, principled crew? Who wouldn’t trust such a source’s news judgement, integrity, honesty and objectivity?

More staffers are expected to resign. “Trump’s personal Pravda” is looking just as corrupt and untrustworthy as he is..and as the real Pravda was.

Final observations:

1. GOOD. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving organization.

2. This, or something like it, was preordained by the cynical, ethics free, “the ends justify the means” philosophy of Andrew Breitbart, creating a terminally unethical culture.  Shapiro went out of his way to say that current management had “betrayed” its founders’ legacy.  Nonsense.  This fiasco is Andrew Breitbart’s legacy.

3. Ben Shapiro is no hero. He had to know what his employer was like. He only resigned when it looked like working there was becoming real resume poison. What took him so long?

4. Attention GOP: Donald Trump will corrupt everything he touches, including your party, and the United States of America. What are you going to do about it?



Sources: NBC,  BuzzfeedWashington Post, 

21 thoughts on “The Ethics Lesson Of Breitbart’s Implosion: Unethical Cultures Are Deadly, And So Is Donald Trump’s Touch

        • Isn’t it fascinating? Clarke considers it “Trump bashing:” to just tell the facts: he hires thugs, he won’t apologize for misconduct, he uses his money to pervert an admittedly already corrupt website, and it falls apart. But nobody’s supposed to criticize Trump for such things!

          • Maybe they’ve taken a page from the David Axelrod “any criticism of President Obama is racist bigotry” and put it to use. Ironic.

    • So, bashing, in this context, feels like you’re implying that he’s doing it unfairly or unjustly.

      If you’re going to leave anyway though, why not do us a favour and post your reasoning for supporting him before you go? Or do you not support him, and merely think Jack is unfairly biased against him? Either way I’d like to see you expound on that.

  1. See, I like Shapiro, he’s less bombastic than Milo, and he does just a fantastic job articulating the good arguments for conservative principles. There were some good writers at Breitbart… I always assumed they stuck around because Breitbart boosted their footprint… But at some point, this was bound to happen, and I’m amazed it took this long. I kinda hope they band together after this and even if the resulting organization isn’t the epitome of news ethics, I’ll hold out hope for the low bar of better than what we have now.

  2. Eventually things reach a point where you just say “I can’t do this anymore.” That said, I wonder why none of the liberal clearinghouses like moveon or dailykos have splintered. The closest thing I can think of from the liberal side was Cindy Sheehan’s brief resignation from public activity when the Democratic Party declined to commit political suicide by pulling funding from the war in Iraq. Trump’s campaign bit the hand that was feeding it.

    That said, I know myself only too well, and, had his campaign roughed up someone from a well-known liberal organization, even to the point of bruises and worse, I would probably have just sneered and said if she can’t take the heat she should get out of the kitchen, coupled with some mock-saccharine parentese to imply she was a baby.

  3. Jack, Today I did something I rarely do I commented somewhere other than here. It was a post Breitbart had up about Kasich that has been cited in many places. It used out of context quotes and false strings of quotes. The commenters were mostly Trump supporters, every bit as delusional as Sanders supporters. It wasn’t worth the effort, they are nuts, no rational or ethical bone in their bodies, lost causes.

    I then came here and this post was up. I think they have committed so much to trump succeeding that any threat inside or out to the narrative they have built has become an attack to their being, they are cult members with their reality completely altered, they can’t see the truth, nothing can penetrate the delusion.

    • Michael I think it really does come down to low information voters. Looking at the demographics voting Trump, dumb republicans, more male than female and a large slice of democrats, specifically white male democrats. Now some of the democrats may be doing it to poison the well but much of it may be disfranchised democrats that are not satisfied with their choices. Some Democrats may have felt they could afford to play shenanigans since Hillary was inevitable, their primary has had low turnout while republicans have had record high, but with sanders doing better than expected that may taper off. Although he is still winning he isn’t doing well, he doesn’t have a plurality of support. Even with dumb republicans and democrats voting for Trump he still hasn’t been able to clear 50 percent which is an anomaly at this point in previous primaries. That fact alone gives me hope, it proves a majority of the republican party aren’t complete idiots, just indecisive.

  4. I agree with Steve’s analysis.

    Trump benefits from a crowded Republican field even though most Republicans do not support him. Trump benefits from cross over Democratic and Independent voters who know HRC has the Democratic nomination locked no matter what (so why waste their vote?). Hillary knows that she will not be indicted, not because she is innocent but because the President has the final say and won’t let that happen no matter how many shallow graves are uncovered in Chappaqua. The hypothetical Democratic/Republican head-to-head polls indicate that Trump is the only Republican candidate that Hillary can probably beat. In a general election, it is hard to imagine that Trump can break 40 percent of the popular vote which is far short of what it will take in a two-way contest to win in the Electoral College.

    To a large extent, the Trump “false candidacy” is the product of the media hype and hidden political motivations. Breitbart is just one example and rather transparently devoted to promote Trump for their own ideological reasons. Fox News Network is also guilty, but maybe for slightly different motivations. CNN also part of the problem, and again for different motivations.

    If Trump gets the Republican nomination, the media will finally start to disassemble his candidacy and by November HRC will be looking more and more like Margaret Thatcher.

    The only hopes I can envision would be that either the RNC will somehow dump Trump or that a credible third party candidate emerges who is not a obvious “flake” or a probable criminal.

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