Andrew Brietbart is known for being a lightning rod for controversy. The conservative blogger and founder of Breitbart.com and BigGovernment.com is never one to pull punches on divisive political topics ranging from Shirley Sherrod to James O'Keefe. After we were guests on Fox News Channel's Red Eye last night, I caught up with Mr. Breitbart for an impromptu and revealing interview.
Among other things, we spoke about his role in the media fire storm surrounding the administration's dismissal of Shirley Sherrod, his appearance on the inaugural episode of CNN's new "Spitzer Parker" show and about uber-controversial activist James O'Keefe and O'Keefe's recent CNN prank that made worldwide headlines. Be sure to watch the full videos but here are some highlights.
On his "Spitzer Parker" appearance, Breitbart offered his view onBreitbart offered the new show hosts his unique take on the Sherrod firing: "At the very end of a nice pleasant interview, they asked me about the Shirley Sherrod case and I laid out why she was really fired and it ended the show on that note and I was surprised that Spitzer didn't have a comeback for it. I just found out that they cut that part out of the show. , which was triggered after he aired an on his conservative website that misleadingly portrayed her as racist. The White House, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and the NAACP all rushed to judgement, condemning Sherrod based on Breitbart's deceptive video. The subsequently had to , asking her to return to government service and turning their ire toward Breitbart.
"I'm sure that's standard operating procedure but they asked me a pointed question at the very end, I gave them an answer that I don't think they mainstream media wants to know about is that Shirley Sherrod wasn't fired in my estimation...Why did they force Shirley Sherrod to quit? They thought I was laying a trap for them, because Pigford was about to be funded at the end of the week. The fact is, I had no idea about Pigford when the Sherrod story broke but they didn't know that. That's why they took her off the stage."
We then moved on to one of the leading stories of this past week involving the infamous ACORN activist James O'Keefe who tried to prank CNN by attempting to "seduce" reporter Abbie Boudreau. Boudreau had been in touch with O'Keefe while working on her documentary special, Right on the Edge, which aired this past weekend on guerrilla journalists and included Breitbart.
"...When James went against CNN in his latest one, to me it's completely understandable because throughout the ACORN thing, the Landrieu thing and even with his other stories, they've done everything they can to falsely characterize him because they can. They don't like him. They don't like his tactics and they certainly don't like his politics. I have nothing to do with how he produces his videos, I never have. He's an independent producer. When he comes to me with the goods I try to advise him on the best media strategy to make the most amount of people to see it... I had no problem with Abbie Boudreau quite obviously, Hannah Giles had no problem. We complied, we were treated professionally and James according to his statement wanted to make an example out of CNN and mock CNN for the way they mocked him... I understand his motivation, I just think his style of work has seen better days..."
In his blog, Breitbart had a more concise rendering of the O'Keefe CNN prank: "...in my dealings with Ms. Boudreau, she and her producer, Scott Zamost, conducted themselves professionally, and I believe James owes them a candid and public explanation," he wrote. "From what I've read about this script, though not executed, it is patently gross and offensive. It's not his detractors to whom he also owes this public airing. It's to his legion of supporters."
During our interview, he compared O'Keefe's antics to those of some of our favorite pranksters:
"At the end of the day, it's not different from what Borat and what Ali G does and he admits it. It was a Punk'd sort of thing and it was script. So if you were to go through Ashton Kutcher's emails or Sacha Baron Cohen's email and say 'look at this script, look how outrageous it is.' I think it's an unfair standard to set for James O' Keefe."
So I asked, is O'Keefe an entertainer or an activist?
"He's a hybrid and he's an original. I grew up as a liberal democrat and I admired Hunter Thompson who broke the boundaries of what was acceptable as journalism. I grew up admiring Abbie Hoffman who was a hybrid comic/activist so for people to hold James O'Keefe accountable to one genre and one standard when he's clearly breaking ground."
His final words of advice to the 26-year old media-rouser?"I think he needs to listen to what his supporters have to say when they have a problem with this. Not to be so head strung, to listen when some people give you advice... There are people out there who are trying to reach him and telling him that he's going to be held to a higher standard and that he should hold himself to that higher standard."
Yesterday, O'Keefe posted his first statement on the entire debacle on Breitbart's blog, BigGovernment.com. Regardless of whether you believe O'Keefe or suscribe to Breitbart's politics, there remains a fascination about how the Internet has empowered this new generation of activism--and how it's shaping the mainstream media coverage of politics, and ultimately culture.
If O'Keefe wants to end these supposed lies mainstream media is disseminating about him, then it's time to come out of the shadows of the Internet and into the spotlight to confront the media itself. Be interviewed live on a network or online where you can be sure no edits will skew the conversation. Open up the dialogue to include questions from the audience at large too. Or maybe O'Keefe rather just remain somewhat anonymous, misunderstood and keep the media on its toes.