What Breitbart and an emotionally stressed dog have in common

Just for fun, let’s accept that Andrew Breitbart and friends are exactly right: The mainstream media is in fact a vast and sickly warren of liberally elite left-wing writers, all bent on spending, apologizing and surrendering the American empire’s way into oblivion. Done and done. I’m at it basically 24/7, with hammers, tongs and an immorally stable gay marriage on the side.

I would be psyched. Except for a few small details: e.g., my liberal ass is still employed by powerful, largely conservative tycoons whose own financially conservative ways matter so much more than my moist liberal ones, and so much less than their own profit/loss standards, that I can’t believe I just spent a minute typing this paragraph. I mean, it’s only so obvious.

But even the most absurdist statement can take root in the public consciousness if you say it often enough, and so the liberal bias meme has long since come to dominate the American public’s conception of the nation’s media. And life goes on nonetheless, albeit with a distinct whiff of Orwell (tea, cigarettes, angst) in the air.

It grows even more distinct the closer you get to Andrew Breitbart’s web empire, dominated as it is by A.B.’s sirens-blaring conservativism, which is all well and good right up to the point where advocacy turns to distinctly dishonest propagandizing, as per his blatantly misleading take-down of agriculture dept. exec Shirley Sherrod.

But while it’s one thing for Breitbart to torment the truth on his site, it’s something else altogether when the liberal media swallows it whole and trumpets the story to high heaven. Leading to Sherrod’s public humiliation and defenestration (since rescinded). Due entirely to Breitbart’s twisted, innacurate version of what she said.

That’s an odd kind of liberalism, isn’t it? Largely because it’s the sort of liberalism that gets run through large-scale corporate structures, the sort that have been designed to rake in huge piles of cash on a daily basis. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the MSM has been, and will always be, up to. Not that it’s always a right-ward task (consider CBS/Dan Rather’s ill-reported attempt to prove the long-since-obvious charge that George W Bush dodged Vietnam through artful, if perfectly legal, avenues open to the crafitly well-to-do).

Also worth noting: That the one high-profile news anchor who stone-cold refused to have anything to do with Breitbart’s story was the increasingly heroic Shepard Smith of, yes, that’s right, Fox News. “I didn’t trust the source,” he said.

Now more than ever, the political drift of any story matters far less (not at all?) compared to its potential for snagging eyes, for going viral, for becoming this moment’s cause celebre. In the absence of strict (increasingly unenforceable) rules governing balance, equal time and etc., the airwaves and cables pulse with the shiny, the splashy, the shot to the gut. Why dig into the subtleties of, say, health policy and insurance industry standards when you can focus on the fiery ad hominem attacks between legislators charged with protecting Americans’ interests in that life-altering debate?

Straight-up information is a nice idea, but everything about it (the expense of thorough reporting; the dry-ness of the resulting stories; the comparative effort-to-buzz when opposed to conflict-of-the-moment stories) makes it a no-brainer.

Thus this charming tale of web news reportage designed entirely to connect the dots leading to hit-friendly, if perfectly nonsensical (how to wear a sweater vest? stress-relieving massage for your Shih-tzu?) stories. Is it truly possible that trained journalists whose jobs have come to include original web content, are instructed by their web editors to ignore tendencies toward thought and creativity, the better to write content designed to maximize browsability, linkage, clickability, and so on? That the needs of mercurial and suspiciously hostile commenters matter more than the pursuit of actually interesting writing?

I wouldn’t know nothing about that. But that’s what some of my writer pals have been saying. Though they’re clearly all liberals, so take it with a grain of organic sea salt.

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