The Plum Line

No, both sides don’t do what Breitbart does

A Column by Greg Sargent featured in The Washington Post

Now that today’s New York Times has weighed in on this topic, I’m going to hit this one more time, because I’m telling ya, it’s important.

As I’ve been noting here, the real takeaway from the Shirley Sherrod mess is this: Not all partisan media are created equal. Right wing media are willing to engage in tactics that simply have no equivalent on the left — even if mainstream news orgs and commentators keep taking refuge behind the notion that “both sides do it.”

Now The Times’s Brian Stelter has weighed in with a stand-alone piece that raises questions about what the Sherrod tale has done to the credibility of Breitbart and others on the right.

Some will think that Stelter’s story doesn’t go far enough. It asserts, for instance, that it is an “open question” whether conservative media have suffered a hit to their credibility. But I’ll take it. It’s a stand-alone story in the Paper of Record that’s focused squarely on what this tale tells us about right wing media, with no nonsense about how “both sides” do it.

What’s notable about this story is how few other outlets have done the same. And as a result, one of the most important aspects of the Sherrod mess is going almost entirely ignored: The vast difference it highlighted between media on both sides.

To make this point one more time, it’s true that “both sides,” to one degree or another, let their ideological and political preferences dictate some editorial decisions, such as what stories to pursue, how to approach them, who to interview, etc. But what’s underappreciated is the degree to which the Breitbart-Fox axis goes far beyond this, openly employing techniques of political opposition researchers and operatives to drive the media narrative.

This simply has no equivalent on the left. The leading lefty media organizations have teams of reporters who — even if they are to some degree ideologically motivated — work to determine whether their material is accurate, fair, and generally based in reality before sharing it with readers and viewers. They just don’t push info — with no regard to whether it’s true or not — for the sole purpose of having maximum political impact. Period.