William Kristol, Andrew Breitbart: Compare and Contrast

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William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, is pretty sure that the New York Times is trying to tarnish the late Andrew Breitbart's reputation.

Kristol noticed, in a Sunday Times piece about Breitbart, the parenthetical embedded in this sentence: "For good or ill (and most would say ill), no one did it like Mr. Breitbart." Kristol thinks the author of the piece, David Carr, is "intelligent enough" that he wouldn't have written this. "I suspect this parenthesis was added by Times editors who couldn't stand the notion that innocent people might read Carr's piece and decide that Andrew's achievements were, on the whole, admirable."

I agree that the parenthetical assertion, being essentially unknowable, didn't belong in Carr's piece. But Kristol's weird claim that this was some sort of high-level editorial conspiracy--as opposed to a lapse of judgment on Carr's part--reminds me of Breitbart himself, and of why I don't think he was "on the whole, admirable."

If you want to see Breitbart's own version of an unfounded conspiracy theory about the left-wing media, just look at the last piece he wrote, which was published posthumously. It asserted that "the media does not want you to know that the president is a radical's radical whose presidency itself is a love song to a socialist 'community organizer'."

The community organizer, of course, is Saul Alinsky. Breitbart's piece was devoted to revealing the insidious link between President Obama and the 1998 Chicago production of a play called "The Love Song of Saul Alinsky."

The connection was as follows: Obama agreed to participate in a panel discussion of the play after a performance. And wait until you hear about some of the other people who also agreed to do that! One of them, Breitbart wrote, "worked with secret Communist and Soviet spy Lee Pressman to support strikers at Republic Steel in Chicago in 1937." Another of them "worked closely with the Socialist Party in the 1950s, becoming president of the local chapter of the Negro American Labor Council, an organization founded by Socialist Party leader A. Phillip Randolph."

And Barack Obama, only ten years before becoming president, was in the same theater as those people, on the same stage, having a discussion with them. Just to make sure you're putting two and two together: Recall that one of these people, only 61 years earlier, had worked with someone who was a Communist and a spy!

With evidence this damning, no wonder the left-wing media had to engage in a coverup!

I'm not surprised that Bill Kristol is springing to the defense of someone who practiced McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics. The magazine Kristol runs isn't exactly averse to them, as became clear during the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy, when the Standard tried to smear Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

But I am surprised by how fiercely some other conservatives, who have generally been above that sort of thing, defend Breitbart's legacy. I mean, at a time when America's political discourse has been so venomous, was Andrew Breitbart really what the doctor ordered? A guy who, on the day Ted Kennedy died, called Kennedy "a special pile of human excrement" and tweeted, "Rest in Chappaquiddick"?

I don't doubt that Breitbart's many conservative friends had reason to feel deep sorrow upon his death. People who knew him say he was genial and endearing. Indeed, the Carr piece says Breitbart was happy to break bread with ideological adversaries; though he loved to berate lefty protestors when the cameras were rolling, in one case he later "took some of them to dinner at Applebee's."

Commendable. But if Breitbart saw merit in cross-ideological communication, why did he work so hard to turn America's left and right into warring tribes? And if he didn't like to give people ideological litmus tests before sitting down with them, why did he seem to want a world in which everyone in public life has to be careful who they sit down with for fear that someone will later use that association to cheaply vilify them?

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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