Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. By Andrew Breitbart. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011, 258 pp.
Andrew Breitbart understands the value of an image. Breitbart, who made headlines when his websiteBig Government released scandalous pictures of Congressman Anthony Weiner, believes that new media have the ability to destroy the mainstream media. He argues that new media allow citizen journalists to report the news more effectively and with less bias than the mainstream media.
In his new book, Righteous Indignation, Breitbart argues that the mainstream media, which he calls the Democrat-Media Complex, has a liberal agenda. To support his argument, Breitbart lists examples of when the mainstream media neglected to cover stories that were unfavorable to liberals. For instance, he talks at length about Newsweek’s decision to not break the story about President Clinton’s affair with a White House intern. He then goes on to praise Matt Drudge, founder of The Drudge Report and Breitbart’s mentor, for being the first source to report on the story. Drudge’s reporting on the scandal was unquestionably a major turning point for internet journalism. Breitbart argues that this was a clear example of how the mainstream media failed where new media succeeded. He believes this failure is evidence of the mainstream media’s liberal bias. What his argument fails to acknowledge is the fundamental differences between the mainstream media and new media. For instance, new media is not always held to the same journalistic standards as the mainstream media. Had Newsweek reported on the Clinton scandal without verification, their credibility would have been forever tarnished, whereas Drudge is not necessarily held to that same standard.
In order to counteract what he sees as a “vast left-wing media apparatus that rigs the national narrative in the pursuit of partisan politics,” Breitbart has embraced new media. Big Government, has released a series of internet-only videos that discredit liberal politicians and organizations. His most popular videos feature a conservative activist dressed as a pimp seeking advice from ACORN, a liberal organization, about illegal activities. Ultimately, the viral success of these videos led to ACORN losing its federal funding. Breitbart happily takes credit.
Recently, citizen journalists armed with cell phones and flip video cameras have broken major news stories. As Breitbart argues, “The key to success of the New Media, though, is making news by breaking news.” However, Breitbart also realizes the limitations of breaking news over new media. Discussing his roll out plan for the ACORN videos he says, “We also surmised that there was no real exposure to be had on the Internet from a video being seen a million times.” In other words, he realized that in order to be noticed, the videos would have to get mainstream media attention. While Breitbart’s disdain for the mainstream media is palpable, it is also clear that he needs them in order to push his political agenda.
Large sections of the book come across as conspiratorial and overtly partisan interpretations of the media. Breitbart’s new media successes have been significant, but they have also shown the limitations of the types of stories that new media can break. The Big Government exclusives have primarily been investigative or scandal driven exposes on liberal politicians. Perhaps the scandal-focused nature of Breitbart’s “exclusives” further shows the limitations of new media journalism. The stories are shocking, but are they newsworthy? Are these exclusives more a reflection of a scandal-driven celebrity and tabloid culture? In other words, maybe the reason that the mainstream media refuses to report on these particular stories is not because of a liberal bias, but because they do not consider them newsworthy. While these stories might fill the investigative journalism void left by the 24-hour news cycle, they hardly threaten the mainstream media establishment. While Breitbart might genuinely believe he is “saving the world” from the mainstream media, he is actually just creating a different type of information portal.