Another month, another Breitbart debacle

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Fresh off of watching his ACORN pimp hoax unravel in public view this winter, and awaiting his protégé, James O'Keefe, who faces criminal charges for his recent arrest in New Orleans, Andrew Breitbart is spending his springtime overseeing yet another dubious campaign. He's running around claiming that the often unhinged anti-Obama Tea Party movement is categorically void of any racial (or anti-gay) animosity, and that any suggestion to the contrary is a flat-out lie designed to smear the good patriots of the right-wing movement.

How can Breitbart be so sure? Because he knows these Tea Party people and can, apparently, vouch for all of them. Well, for most of them. Maybe not her:

Or him:

But Breitbart is adamant about one thing: No Tea Party demonstrators directed the N-word at Reps. John Lewis and Andre Carson as they attempted to pass through a right-wing mob to reach the U.S. Capitol on the day members of Congress passed historic health care reform legislation. Breitbart, who was not present in Washington, D.C. that day, insists that the congressmen lied when they told reporters about the racist attacks they heard that day. Breitbart makes that claim because he's apparently sure that the only racism in America today comes from the political left.

Led by Breitbart and his juvenile no-they're-racists allegation, the GOP Noise Machine has casually accused liberals and Democrats and blacks of "race hustl[ing]" and playing the race card in the wake of the health care showdown. According to the suddenly race-obsessed Breitbart, civil rights hero Lewis is "lying" about the verbal slurs, and when black members of Congress walked across the street to go vote for health care reform that day in late March, that "in and of itself" was "an act of racism." (I'm not making this up.)

The issue has continued to simmer for weeks, and here's how last weekend's column from Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander tried to shed some light on the controversy:

Roxana Tiron, a reporter for the Hill newspaper, said she was talking with a congressional staffer inside a House entrance to the Capitol when a "trembling" and "agitated" Carson said he and Lewis had just been called the N-word by protesters outside. "He literally grabbed me by the arm and . . . said 'You need to come out with me,' " imploring her to step back outside to listen to the taunts. Post reporter Paul Kane was nearby and witnessed Carson's reaction. "It was real. It was raw. It was angry. It was emotional. And he wanted it documented," recalled Kane, who said U.S. Capitol Police prevented them from going outside. Carson later told the Associated Press the protesters had chanted the N-word "15 times." Breitbart told me the "phantom 15 words" is "beyond absurd."

So now we have independent witnesses from that day describing how the Congressmen were "trembling" and "agitated" immediately after saying they were called the N-word, and wanted reporters to quickly document the event. But Breitbart claims it was all a hoax. And besides, his side has video of the alleged encounter and there's no indication of the epithets. Writes Breitbart:

The video also shows no head movement one way or another. Wouldn't the N-word provoke a head turn or two?

Of course, it's rather odd to claim that because an incident wasn't recorded and posted on YouTube, that means that it never happened.

And by the way, if a Tea Party member did catch the N-word on tape that day, why would that person ever post the damming evidence on YouTube for the world to see? But it's the best Breitbart could do and he built his entire claim on the fact the video he posted on his website proved the N-word wasn't used.

So, ready for the inevitable Breitbart-related punch line? It came courtesy of the AP [emphasis added]:

A reconstruction of the events shows that the conservative challenges largely sprang from a mislabeled video that was shot later in the day.

Breitbart posted two columns on his Web site saying the claims were fabricated. Both led with a 48-second YouTube video showing Lewis, Carson, other Congressional Black Caucus members and staffers leaving the Capitol. Some of the group were videotaping the booing crowd.

Breitbart asked why the epithet was not captured by the black lawmakers' cameras, and why nobody reacted as if they had heard the slur. He also questioned whether the epithets could have been shouted by liberals planted in the crowd.

But the 48-second video was shot as the group was leaving the Capitol -- at least one hour after Lewis, D-Ga., and Carson walked to the Capitol, which is when they said the slurs were used.

Did you follow? Breitbart's smoking gun video, which he cited as evidence that the N-word was never used, and which he dissected again and again like the Zapruder film, searching for telling clues to the epithet whodunit, captured a scene one hour after the congressmen claimed they were assaulted with the racial slur.

That's right: The clip that GOP bloggers claimed debunked allegations of racial slurs, was a video of a non-event. That is, if you consider a mob of angry, right-wing demonstrators screaming at Congressmen to be a non-event.

Breitbart's brilliant response to the AP's embarrassing revelation?

"I'm not saying the video was conclusive proof," he said.

Huh? Breitbart's own site had published a headline about the alleged incident that included the phase "VIDEO PROOF," in convenient all-caps.

Also, please note this nugget from the AP article:

A fourth Democrat, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who is white, backed up his colleagues, telling the Henderson (N.C.) Times-News that he heard the slurs.

So apparently this whole thing was an elaborate, Passion Play-like production, involving a large cast of characters, including unsuspecting reporters as well as a noted civil rights leader, a Blue Dog conservative Democrat and a labor union leader, who plotted, in advance, to concoct a racist confrontation and then to have all sorts of people confirm it in real time (i.e. It was a "set-up"). Either that, or once again, Breitbart has no idea what he's talking about.

It's your call.

Meanwhile, what about the claim that on the same day in D.C., some members of the prowling Tea Party mob also hurled anti-gay slurs at Democratic Congressman Barney Frank? If that kind of ugliness did unfold and if Tea Party mob members felt comfortable launching hateful, verbal smears against an openly gay member of Congress like that, it would likely convince undecided observers that the N-word was hurled around that day. I mean, if people were comfortable screaming "faggot!" at Frank, why would they not scream racial slurs at African-American members of Congress, right?

Well, it turns out the Frank mystery doesn't run quite so deep. As CNN's Candy Crowley recently reported, Tea Party activists yelled "anti-gay slurs" at Frank "more than once" that day.

But apparently a Breitbart blogger didn't know anything about that clear confirmation, and instead focused his attention on Alexander's column, which addressed the issue and made this point [emphasis added]:

The episode involving Barney Frank is more clear-cut. Many readers have told me there is no evidence to support The Post's report that Frank was subjected to anti-gay slurs. They're wrong. An ABC News video recorded the incident inside a House office building. When ABC aired its video, the epithets were bleeped. A review of the unaltered footage, made by ABC at my request, clearly captures a protester shouting, "Barney, you faggot." Case closed.

Case closed, indeed.

Here was the Big Journalism response:

So, ABC News reviews its own video and then tells us what's on it. Is there some reason we can't all see the video unedited and judge for ourselves? It may come as a surprise to Alexander, but a review by ABC of its own video does not, in the minds of all, represent a "case closed.

Wow. Just, wow.

Because for folks who've been following the sad saga of Breitbart's ACORN hoax, you'll recognize that the demand to see the unedited tapes in question is precisely the challenge critics have been making about his undercover ACORN videos for months now.

And yes, it's the exact same challenge Breitbart has steadfastly sidestepped, apparently afraid to make the ACORN clips public. Instead, Breitbart wants people to keep looking at the released videos, which scores of independent sources have concluded were "severely edited." As for the raw clips that tell the whole ACORN story, Breitbart doesn't have the nerve to release those for all to see.

Yet while doing damage control for gay-baiting Tea Party protesters, Breitbart's site demands that the corroborating evidence of the slurs -- the ABC News videos -- aren't believable because the unedited clips haven't been viewed by outsiders.

Like I said, another month and another Breitbart debacle.

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