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.
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?