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Breitbart claims he’s handling Election Day analysis for ABC News, but network disagrees

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, November 1, 2010 18:44 EDT
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SECOND update: ABC News kicks Breitbart off town hall panel

Hours after this story’s publication on Monday evening, an ABC News spokesman told Yahoo News that there’s “technically a scenario” in which the network would air Breitbart’s words during its election coverage.

Network spokesman Jeffrey Schneider reportedly cautioned that Breitbart had “exaggerated the role he would play,” making it necessary for ABC to clarify that offering on-air political analysis “was never the role he was supposed to play.”

HOWEVER (update Nov. 2, 4:45 p.m.) …

The following day, as prime-time election coverage drew nearer, ABC changed its position once again, sending a short letter to Breitbart explaining that the aggrandizing of his role with the network had given them reason for second thoughts on his inclusion.

Dear Mr. Breitbart,

We have spent the past several days trying to make clear to you your limited role as a participant in our digital town hall to be streamed on ABCNews.com and Facebook. The post on your blog last Friday created a widespread impression that you would be analyzing the election on ABC News. We made it as clear as possible as quickly as possible that you had been invited along with numerous others to participate in our digital town hall. Instead of clarifying your role, you posted a blog on Sunday evening in which you continued to claim a bigger role in our coverage. As we are still unable to agree on your role, we feel it best for you not to participate.

Sincerely,

Andrew Morse

Morse is head of ABC’s digital division, The Washington Post noted.

Speaking to Politico, Breitbart called ABC’s move “cowardice” in the face of “left wing pressure.”

Original report follows

Online entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, known to many as the “noted propagandist” who created the racially-charged Shirley Sherrod controversy by deceptively editing a video, is likely to see his favor in mainstream media decline significantly after this debacle.

Days ago, ABC News drew a torrent of shocked reactions when it announced that the conservative blogger would be joining them for Election Day coverage. The network’s post outlining plans for on-air coverage did not mention Breitbart, but it did mention that an online town hall would be conducted at Arizona State University, moderated by David Muir and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg.

Pouncing on this, Breitbart’s website declared that he’d be “bringing live analysis from Arizona.”

The circles of online journalism practically shook with dismay. An unnamed source within the ABC News political team told The Washington Post they were “blindsided” by the decision, “[and] not in a good way.”

Two days later, ABC News responded to the backlash, explaining that Breitbart is not an ABC News contributor, is not being employed or paid by ABC News and that he would not be appearing on any part of the network’s Election Day broadcast.

“He has been invited as one of several guests, from a variety of different political persuasions, to engage with a live, studio audience that will be closely following the election results and participating in an online-only discussion and debate to be moderated by David Muir and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg on ABCNews.com and Facebook,” ABC News Digital Executive Producer Andrew Morse explained. “We will have other guests, as well as a live studio audience and a large audience on ABCNews.com and Facebook, who can question the guests and the audience’s opinions.”

In response, Breitbart published two private emails, ostensibly from an ABC News producer (he redacted the person’s name), that do not appear to show any inconsistencies on the network’s behalf. While the emails do note that the town hall would be broadcast online and on ABC News radio, it does not specify how the network would use footage from the event. ABC later revealed that Election Day anchors would excerpt highlights of the town hall periodically throughout the evening.

To Breitbart, that means they’re liars — not that his site exaggerated its publisher’s importance.

The conservative blogger instead insisted that ABC News had “walked back” his role and that the whole fracas was part of a “well-funded” campaign meant to “crush dissenting voices” like his. He provided no further information on this alleged campaign or where the money may be coming from.

In spite of this, ABC News appears intent upon allowing Breitbart to participate in their town hall.

“This is worth noting, because it shows how insane it is for any serious news organization to play footsie with this guy,” Post contributor Greg Sargent wrote. “He’s a relentless self-promoter who’s clearly seizing on this standoff to turn himself into some kind of First Amendment martyr, even if it means dumping all over the organization that originally extended him the invite to participate.”

He concludes: “[What's] remarkable is that the Shirley Sherrod affair wasn’t enough to persuade media people that Breitbart is nothing but bad news, and that if you get anywhere near the guy, you’re going to get badly burned. It’ll be interesting to see if this latest affair is enough to persuade them.”

In addition to Breitbart’s involvement with the deceptively edited Shirley Sherrod video, he’s long been seen as the man who created James O’Keeffe, the conservative media prankster whose ruse involving a fake pimp and prostitute deceived Congress into de-funding the community welfare group ACORN.

O’Keefe most recently tried to film himself seducing a CNN producer on hidden camera, but his scheme failed when his assistant told the journalist what was about to happen. In the aftermath, Breitbart threatened to sue media outlets that credited O’Keefe as one of his employees — even though the conservative blogger admitted to having paid O’Keefe for posts on his website.

“It’s a wild, ugly spectacle for ABC News,” Media Matters’s Eric Boehlert wrote. “And like I said, it’s not like we didn’t try to warn them: When you lay down with Breitbart, you’re gonna get fleas.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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