By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Acorn

Andrew Breitbart’s mixed legacy

Andrew Breitbart at the CPAC conference in Washington last month.

It’s a tribute to Andrew Breitbart’s skill at media manipulation that when word of his death started spreading around Twitter this morning, the first reaction many people had was that it was a hoax. Only after confirmation from the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations did people believe it was really true.

Breitbart was someone I kept maybe half an eye on, at best, so I don’t have a fully developed take on his career as a media provocateur and what it meant. He seemed to be someone of endless energy and pugnacity, which served him well in bringing down Anthony Weiner, but which proved an embarrassment with the deceptively edited ACORN and Shirley Sherrod videos.

Two people asked me today if Breitbart was “a journalist.” I think it shows how much the media environment has changed over the past decade that the question didn’t strike me as making much sense. He was a conservative activist and a showman, and one of the things he did was journalism, both good and bad. If you do journalism, are you a journalist? Does it matter?

I ran across three pieces today that I think are worth sharing.

The first is a remembrance by Josh Marshall, editor of the liberal website Talking Points Memo, who gets at Breitbart’s dual nature. Despite being well to the right of someone like Marshall, and exceedingly unpleasant on occasion, Breitbart had a certain way about him that people found compelling. Marshall writes:

There are some people who live for the fight. It’s something I try not to be part of. Yet it’s a big, punchy, vivid and outrageously honorable tradition in the American public square. I cannot think of many people who lived more out loud than he did, more in primary colors.

The second, a 2010 profile by Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker, was pretty much definitive at the time and holds up well. Despite its warts-and-all depiction of Breitbart, it comes across as fair, and Breitbart emerges as a not-entirely-unsympathetic character driven mainly by resentment and disdain for those he considers to be liberal elitists. And if that’s not a good description of what the modern conservative movement is all about, I don’t know what is.

Finally, apostate Republican David Frum has written a very tough assessment for the Daily Beast that acknowledges Breitbart “was by all accounts generous with time and advice, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend,” but that is unstinting in its criticism of Breitbart’s brand of media activism. Frum writes:

Breitbart sometimes got stories right (Anthony Weiner). More often he got them wrong (Sherrod). He did not much care either way. Just as all is fair in a shooting war, so manipulation and deception are legitimate tools in a culture war. Breitbart used those tools without qualm or regret, and he inspired a cohort of young conservative journalists to do likewise.

Like Frum, I wonder if Breitbart might have grown if given the chance. His Weiner takedown surely must have showed him that getting it right brings a completely different level of respect and influence than does faking a video and getting caught.

Breitbart was only 43 years old and leaves behind four young children. Was he on his way to media respectability, or is that just wishful thinking? We’ll never know.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Did Acorn help Al Franken win? (II)

It’s been more than 24 hours, and Katherine Kersten has not responded to my e-mail asking how voter-registration fraud in Minnesota could have led to election fraud that helped put U.S. Sen. Al Franken over the top in his race with Norm Coleman.

At this point I have to assume she’s firing blanks.

The heart of her argument, published in the Star Tribune, is that Acorn registered 43,000 new voters in Minnesota last year; that, given Acorn’s track record, some of them must have been fraudulent; and that since Franken won by just 312 votes, only a tiny fraction of those registrations needed to be transformed into votes in order to explain Franken’s victory.

Of course, the alchemists believed that if they could transform just a tiny fraction of the lead they had in their possession into gold, they’d all be rich.

Let’s try to keep in mind what this is about. Acorn hired temporary field workers who, in many cases, were paid by the signature to sign up new voters. That created an obvious incentive for the workers to fill in as many names as possible and thus make more money.

I’m not aware of an allegation being lodged anywhere in the country that an ineligible voter showed up on election day, identified himself by one of those phony names and then cast a ballot. The right has spent months — years — looking for such evidence only to come up with nothing.

And when you understand the nature of the very real fraud that was committed, it’s impossible to see any connection. It’s like tying the health-care debate to the color of Queen Elizabeth’s hair.

Did Acorn help Al Franken win?

Mickey Kaus is excited about an opinion piece in the Star Tribune suggesting that U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s narrow victory over Norm Coleman may have been the result of Acorn voter-registration fraud.

For a long time now, the Acorn-obsessed right has struggled to explain how voter-registration fraud becomes ballot fraud. Well, here’s a golden opportunity. I’ve sent the following e-mail to Katherine Kersten, who wrote the Star Tribune piece in question:

Dear Ms. Kersten —

I would like to ask you a question about your commentary regarding Acorn and the Minnesota Senate race.

As has been reported pretty extensively, the Acorn voter-registration fraud consisted of field workers making up names so that they could get paid more. Your argument is based on the notion that some small percentage of those fraudulent names might have been used by real people who showed up at the polls on election day and cast ballots for Al Franken. You tell us that “Minnesota’s laws on proof of voter eligibility are notoriously loose.” I’ll take your word on that.

But what you don’t tell us is how it is even remotely conceivable that a field worker would write down a fake name — say, Peter Smith of 34 Jones Ave., St. Paul — and then some ineligible voter claiming to be Peter Smith of 34 Jones Ave., St. Paul, would then show up on election day and request a ballot. To me, at least, it makes no logical sense.

Could you help me out?

I plan to post your response on my blog, Media Nation.

Thank you,
Dan Kennedy

I’ll post Kersten’s response as soon as she sends it.

Please do not post any comments to this item. I’ve asked a question, and I want to wait for Kersten to reply.

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