Big winner in Weiner debacle

By Rupert Cornwell

The loser in the Anthony Weiner debacle is obvious: a bedraggled one-time star in Congress whose career now lies in ruins.

Scandals can have winners too - and the big winner in this one is Andrew Breitbart.

To describe the 42-year-old Breitbart as a conservative blogger is akin to describing Barack Obama simply as a successful politician.

He runs a stable of six websites that are a clearing - and smearing - house for news against the Democrats.

In this hyper-partisan age, where American politics is a 24/7 war conducted at the speed of cyberspace, Breitbart is perfectly equipped to succeed.

He is a bear of a man, a tireless self-promoter who invariably manages to make himself the story.

The downfall of Weiner - who resigned yesterday - is his biggest coup yet. Weiner, until the last three weeks, was seen by many as the next mayor of New York but became the target of an ethics inquiry after sending a lewd photo to a woman over Twitter before lying to try to protect himself.

It's not just that Breitbart has been proved right. This time, a man who had largely made his name by lambasting the mainstream media for its perceived liberal bias has worked with ABCNews, one of the three traditional television networks.

When Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old single mother from Texas and one of Weiner's online female partners, went to Breitbart, the latter brought in ABC, which interviewed the woman about her relationship with the Congressman.

Thus collapsed Weiner's earlier version of events - that the bulging underwear crotch-shot disseminated on Twitter had been an isolated incident, caused by someone who had hacked into his account.

For Breitbart, naturally, the episode was proof of much more - that far from being just a conservative muckraker and scandalmonger, he was a serious journalist, exposing cover-ups wherever he found them.

"One of the reasons I went to ABC," he told the New York Times, "was to take this out of the partisan rancour realm." Of course. But there is no denying the Weiner affair has given him credibility.

It was not always thus. Breitbart has made headlines before - first as an accomplice of James O'Keefe, the right-wing activist and video sting practitioner who targeted community organising group Acorn and National Public Radio in highly questionable circumstances, and then thanks to the Shirley Sherrod affair.

In July last year, he released a specially edited video of a March 2010 speech by Ms Sherrod, a black official at the Department of Agriculture, that suggested she was a racist.

The video clip went off in Washington like a bombshell. Ms Sherrod was ordered to resign - only to be offered a grovelling apology and reinstatement when the full tape surfaced, showing that she had helped, not discriminated against, a poor white couple in Georgia. She has now brought a lawsuit against Breitbart, claiming a reported US$13 million ($16 million) in damages for defamation.

And for a few days after the Weiner scandal broke on May 27, it seemed like more of the same; just another Breitbart hatchet job on a troublesome Democrat. Then more photos appeared on Breitbart's Big Government site, followed by the Broussard interview and Weiner's tearful mea culpa at a Manhattan hotel, complete with the words no one thought they'd hear a liberal utter: "I apologise to Andrew Breitbart."

Muckraking and bitter partisanship are as old as America. In reality however, Breitbart is but the latest of a modern tradition dating to the emergence of right-wing talk radio in the early 1990s.

He started out as a liberal but, as he tells it, two things changed him: the brutal 1991 confirmation hearings in which white Democratic senators accused the future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and the election of the zipper-challenged Bill Clinton to the presidency the next year.

"The feminists ignored Bill Clinton and they excoriated Clarence Thomas," Breitbart once said. "That's everything to me."

In 1995, he went to work for Matt Drudge, who started what would become the Drudge Report as an email service to subscribers, before helping Arianna Huffington set up The Huffington Post. Like Drudge, the Breitbart stable of websites operates on news aggregation.

In their careers, if not personally, the Clintons and Breitbart have repeatedly crossed paths.

In 1998, Drudge scored his biggest scoop by breaking the Monica Lewinsky story. That year, Hillary Clinton railed against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to destroy her husband.

Now there is a new connection. Huma Abedin, whom Weiner married last year, is a top aide of Hillary Clinton and now finds herself in her boss's situation when the Lewinsky scandal consumed America. It would be astonishing if she were not seeking quiet advice from Hillary Clinton.

All of which inevitably reinforces the left's view of Breitbart as a rabidly partisan attack dog but, for the right, he is a hero. Why do conservatives bring their dirt on Democrats and Democratic causes to him? Because, he declares, "they know I'm willing to march through the fire with them".

- INDEPENDENT

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