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On the Media: Even when in error, Andrew Breitbart is on the attack

The conservative agitator didn't bother to vet the video that damaged Shirley Sherrod's character, yet he's unapologetic.

July 24, 2010|James Rainey

A Fox News executive released notes from an internal meeting to show that the network's news producers had been urged to treat the video story with caution. But anchor Shepard Smith zinged some, including programs on his own network, for swallowing the story whole.

"We didn't know who shot it, we didn't know when it was shot, we didn't know the context of the statement," said Smith, adding that Breitbart's history didn't inspire great confidence. "In short — we did not and do not trust the source."

Too bad that message didn't reach the operators of Fox's websites and commentator Bill O'Reilly. FoxNews.com posted the story on Monday, and the FoxNation.com website followed with the video and the accusatory headline: "Caught on Tape: Obama Official Discriminates Against White Farmer." That night, O'Reilly called on Sherrod to resign. (She had already agreed to leave her post before the O'Reilly segment aired.)

O'Reilly at least apologized for proceeding without all the facts. (Though he then proceeded to backhand Sherrod for two days running, suggesting she might be too dangerously left wing for government service.)

The Fox corporate rep who took my phone call this week wouldn't explain why Fox's Web newsers made the same mistake — failing to recognize that the Breitbart video was a clip job or that Sherrod's story dated to a quarter-century ago, long before she worked for the feds.

But never mind all that silly detail. Breitbart had unleashed his stink bomb. It had wafted through the media atmosphere just as he had hoped. If he had intended to exonerate the racial intentions of Tea Party activists, a topic worthy of discussion, he had failed. Instead, he stirred the race cauldron. And most of the go-go guys and gals in the Washington press corps would focus only on the White House's lame response.

And if the fomenter of this fakery got any nasty questions, why respond to them? Breitbart could take advice from his ACORN-busting pal Giles, who last year told an audience how video provocateurs should respond to criticism.

"Above all, attack, attack, attack," Giles said. "Never defend."

Twitter: latimesrainey

james.rainey@latimes.com

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