(Note: RealClearPolitics has since updated the post in question.)
In defending the media against conservative charges of bias in the Herman Cain scandal, Carl Cannon, Washington editor of RealClearPolitics, claims today that Andrew Breitbart did the same thing to Anthony Weiner that Jonathan Martin of Politico did to Cain–make a broad, salacious claim based on one piece of evidence, and wait for the truth to emerge.
I don’t remember conservative commentators agonizing over the journalistic ethics practiced by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart in the Weiner “sexting” case. Acting on a hunch, Breitbart threw a salacious picture on his site, asserted he had evidence that it was Weiner, and let the blogosphere do the rest. And when it was clear that Weiner was misbehaving, and lying about it, the mainstream media basically hectored this guy into telling the truth, which he ultimately did — at the cost of his career in Congress.
That is, emphatically, not what happened in Weinergate. It is a gross distortion–an inversion, even–of what happened. In fact, Andrew and the entire team at Big Government and Big Journalism were meticulously careful in Weinergate, because we knew that as conservatives, we would be held to a different and higher standard than the mainstream media.
It is worth pointing out that Anthony Weiner outed himself, publicly tweeting the infamous “grey underwear” picture to a woman in the Seattle area. Big Journalism’s first story on Weinergate reported that fact, and noted that Weiner had claimed his Facebook account had been “hacked.” Weiner’s “hacking” claim, in itself, made the story newsworthy. Neither Andrew nor anyone else at the Bigs, at that point, claimed to have definitive proof that the person in the photograph was Weiner himself.
Other evidence, publicly available through Weiner’s Twitter profile and Facebook account, suggested the congressman had been communicating with other young women. When Andrew made that allegation on CNN, making clear the source and basis for his claim, the network attacked his credibility and brought analyst Jeffrey Toobin on air to declare Andrew’s story “outrageous.”
What Andrew did not reveal was that at the time of Weiner’s errant tweet, we already had evidence that Weiner had been involved in an online relationship with a woman in Texas, who claimed to have even more pictures of Weiner. As Andrew details in a forthcoming new chapter of his book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World, to be released in the book’s paperback edition, we spent several days researching that story before releasing it.
We could have done what Martin and Politico did–and which Cannon wrongly accuses us of doing: report that we knew of an inappropriate relationship, and allow the media to ask Weiner the tough questions. Except that we knew they wouldn’t, because Weiner is a Democrat, and we are a conservative news source. We had also been reluctant to pursue a story that seemed, until Weiner’s “hacking” allegation, to be solely about Weiner’s personal life.
Politico had no such scruples.
When Politico ran its initial story about Herman Cain’s alleged inappropriate behavior, few in the media bothered to ask Martin why he had relied entirely on unnamed sources and vague accusations. Howard Kurtz, to his credit, was one of the few mainstream journalists who was (almost) as skeptical about the Cain scandal as he was about Weinergate, grilling Martin about his methods and ethics:
Why publish the story then when you couldn’t answer the essential question: What precisely is Herman Cain alleged to have done to these women?…
You had to make a go or no go decision. I think at a lot of news organizations an editor would have said ‘you have done some terrific reporting here, you’ve got some great leads here, but you don’t have it. You can’t, you know, have a quote of what he said to any of these women, you’re obviously not able to name the women, you don’t have the details of the sexually suggestive behavior that made them angry. Go back and get more. You could have waited, there was nothing forcing you to publish this last Sunday.
Others in the mainstream media were not as skeptical, and eagerly published dozens of stories about the Cain scandal in the space of just a few days, before any concrete allegations had been made and before any accusers had come forward publicly. Politico itself devoted ninety stores to the Cain scandal in five days, far exceeding its coverage of similar, and far more serious, scandals. These stories added little new information about the allegations to which Martin’s original report had referred.
In the Weinergate scandal, Big Government and Big Journalism published numerous articles as the controversy unfolded, but we did not publish the most explosive allegations, accompanied by new pictures of Anthony Weiner, until June 6, 2011–nine days after Big Journalism had broken the original Weinergate story on May 28. By that time, it had taken us more than two weeks to verify the details of Weiner’s alleged online relationship with the young woman, who came forward later the same day.
In sum, Andrew and the Big websites were careful and methodical in handling the allegations against Anthony Weiner. We did not publish information until we could confirm it or unless it was already publicly available. We published the names of our sources and the details of their accusations–except when we could not verify they were of legal age. Through it all, we absorbed false attacks from Weiner and left-wing journalists, as well as constant attempts by mainstream journalists to discredit the story.
In criticising conservative commentators for rallying to Cain’s defense against mainstream media bias, Cannon acknowledges: “The double standard is not imaginary.” However, in his mischaracterization of how Big Journalism and Big Government pursued the Weinergate story, Cannon has unwittingly demonstrated that double standard.
Quite simply, if Andrew Breitbart had done to Anthony Weiner what Politico has done to Herman Cain, Weiner would still be representing New York’s 9th congressional district.