Washington Post’s Erik Wemple – The Breitbart News Interview, Part 2

In part two of our three-part interview, and with our encouragement, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple did most of the interviewing. Along with the recent uproars over Tucker Carlson, Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, we discussed the media’s handling of the IRS scandal, Ferguson, CNN, and that crazy coincidence that results in all of the mainstream media focusing on all of the same stories in the exact same way.

How does that happen?

TUCKER CARLSON, BILL O’REILLY, BRIAN WILLIAMS…

THE WASHINGTON POST’S ERIK WEMPLE: I wanted to ask you about Tucker Carlson.

BREITBART NEWS NETWORK: Please.

EW: What about this email issue with his brother?

BNN: As far as the email itself, it was terrible. No question. Had he sent the email to her intentionally, that would have been just beyond the beyond.

EW: But it wasn’t intended.

BNN: Right. It was just two guys, two brothers — and listen, I don’t want to give you the impression I talk that way with anyone, because I don’t.

EW: I believe that.

BNN: To me, him not intentionally sending that email to her makes a huge difference. I don’t know Tucker Carlson or his brother, I’ve never even met or spoke to either of them, but I’m just guessing that his brother was angry at this woman, the way she requested the correction, and he needed to blow off some steam, and thought he was doing so in private to his brother. Unfortunately he sent the email to her in error, and even if she’s the worst person in the world, it had to be awful for her.

I also look at it this way — again, the emails was vile, but I can’t remember the last day that’s gone by over the last few years where I wasn’t called something just as vile. You should see my Twitter feed, the emails I get, the comments on my posts, the stuff that was published about me after I published a story critical of Lena Dunham.

But I grew up in a world where my teachers and parents taught me “sticks ‘n stones.” When someone picked on me, for my own good, they would lovingly sit me down and say, “Deal with it. No one’s throwing rocks at you. You can’t control what people say about you, and if you worry about it you’re going to be an emotional cripple your whole life.”

This stuff rolls off me. People need to get stronger, get over it. Writing someone off as an asshole and going on with your life is emotionally healthy.

EW: My beef is that Tucker had an opportunity to handle this correctly. I understand him not wanting to throw his brother under the bus. Had he said “no comment” no one would have held that against him. Everyone understands that this is family. Instead, though, when he was asked about it, he joked that “My brother meant it in the nicest way.” He chose a different route, which was to make light of it.

I would not have written the first word about Tucker had he said, “This is not the best situation. I have no comment.” That’s doing two things at once: not throwing your brother to the wolves and not sort of endorsing that email. I can understand your point about the “sticks ‘n stones,” but I also think that when something denigrates an entire group, it’s a bigger deal and should be treated like one.

BNN: Not to dismiss that point, which I think is valid, but Tucker and I are from that generation where you just shrug this stuff off. He’s probably a few years younger than I am, but he seems as baffled as I am by a culture that treats words like acts. And again, had his brother sent the email intentionally, we would be having a much different conversation.

EW: One more for you: What’s your take on Brian Williams versus Bill O’Reilly.

BNN: Overall, I don’t compare Bill O’Reilly to Brian Williams because there’s a big difference between a debate over how someone described something that really happened to them, and a debate over someone just making stuff up. That’s not even in the same universe. Williams just made stuff up. In some cases, O’Reilly went a little further in his descriptions than I would have, but it’s not an outright lie.

I realize there are charges against O’Reilly claiming he did make things up, like being on the scene when a suicide occurred.

EW: Right.

BNN: You’ve covered this, and O’Reilly has a witness who says he was there. I also know that someone who claimed to be O’Reilly’s cameramen at the Falklands protest says he wasn’t rescued by O’Reilly as O’Reilly claimed. But O’Reilly says he’s not the guy.

Then, as you know,  you have a CBS reporter come out and back up some of the claims in the original Mother Jones article, but contemporaneous reports proved that guy a liar. There was indeed gunfire at the Falklands protest and some American journalists were roughed up.

EW: I pulled the accounts of the local media at the time and they speak very clearly of gunfire. Not just rubber bullets and teargas, but the Spanish word for gunfire.

BNN: Once the attacks got dumb and desperate, I tuned them out. The thing about the nuns was the last straw.  My mother will tell you she saw a man walk on the moon. I will tell you I saw Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record and the Twin Towers come down. I didn’t. I wasn’t there. But when you live through something, using passionate language like “I witnessed this, I saw this…” is understood.

As far as Brian Williams, NBC coming up with the six- month suspension was pretty smart. If he comes back, and I personally don’t think he can, but if he does, I think he paid a price and I’d be prepared to move on from it. I believe in second chances.

EW: I’m not sure many people feel like you do. But weren’t you one of the first people to start tweeting that he was a liar? You really went after him. In fact, the next morning you apologized. I’ve never seen you that mad.

BNN: Yeah, I apologized and deleted the tweets. I regretted that. I still do. What made me see red was Williams’ apology that night — where he justified his lying as a tribute to the troops.

EW: (joking) Do you drink?

BNN: (laughs) Totally fair question. But no. Not at all.

 

THE IRS SCANDAL

BNN: Has the media has told the full IRS story — has run that to ground to your satisfaction.

EW: I would eagerly read a big investigative report on the story — the tick-tock that names names — that would be helpful to me. I’ve heard both sides, meaning the complaints about the IRS also targeting left-wing groups — then I hear they weren’t. Admittedly I’m sitting here unsure. So I would love to see more reporting on it.

BNN: And if there’s anything the media can do, it can put enormous pressure on anything or anyone to get the information it wants. Other than Lois Lerner, who is currently sitting on a fat pension and disappeared emails, I have no idea who the wrongdoers were — if they still have jobs.

If the media really is about protecting the powerless from the powerful, you would think the powerful federal government using its most feared domestic weapon — the IRS — against everyday citizens for political purposes, would be the biggest political story of the decade.

This is what I think is the primary media bias — to protect central government power. The IRS scandal gives those the media sees as “crazy righties” an excuse to lobby at decreasing government power. So the IRS story evaporates.

EW: The lost emails were a pretty big story.

BNN: Sure, it got covered. But there was zero pressure to get to the bottom of it, hold people accountable… None.

EW: So you’re saying it was covered but there was do editorial demand for accountability.

BNN: None. Donald Sterling says terribly racist things and the media hounds him out of the NBA — which is appropriate.

EW: So you’re down with that.

BNN: A proven racist driven from a position of power, I’m down with that. The fact that the IRS didn’t get the Donald Sterling treatment from the media actually frightens me.

EW: The IRS touches your life more than a Donald Sterling.

BNN: And the IRS, for partisan political purposes, is oppressing everyday Americans for no sin other than disagreeing with Obama. And the media, frankly, doesn’t give a damn. The NFL got hammered last year. You might disagree, but there has never been an accountability phase of the IRS story.

EW: No, you’re right.

BNN: If the media treated the IRS with the same scrutiny, demand for accountability, and contempt as they did the NFL, I’d feel much better about our democracy. The NFL commissioner was forced to do a news conference, forced to dole out appropriate discipline, forced to do an internal investigation, forced to release the results… The media drove all of that and put none of that same pressure in the IRS.

EW: Is it possible that the level of secrecy, especially in a place like the IRS, and the impossibility of getting documents from them, is really what’s going on here — that this is a black box, so to speak.

 BNN:  Where’s the media shitstorm to open the black box? That’s the power the media has — the shitstorm.

EW: There’s no excuse for that.

 

MSNBC VS. CNN

BNN: I have to admit that I have never understood the rationale for relentlessly going after MSNBC over bias.

EW: You just go after CNN.

BNN: Right. MSNBC is openly left-wing. I appreciate the honesty; go with God, enjoy yourselves.

EW: From what I could tell, you used to like Chuck Todd’s old daily MSNBC program.

BNN: “The Daily Rundown” was a superb show with Todd at the helm. Relevant, smart. Although I frequently disagree with him, I have a lot of respect for Chuck. I watch everything on CNN and MSNBC, and now that the “Daily Rundown” is a shell of its former self, the only other show I enjoy and respect is what Jake Tapper is doing on CNN.

EW: Tapper’s show is great.

BNN: He and Chuck Todd are two of the top four or five minds in the news business.  But the reason I don’t care about MSNBC — and I think this is a misperception the media has about those of us on the political right who cover them — is that it is not important to me that the media believes what I believe. What drives everything I do is bias.

EW: (laughs) I know. I follow you on Twitter. I know this.

BNN: I just want media outlets that pose as objective to give my beliefs and ideas a respected seat at the table.

EW: Other than Tapper, you don’t see objectivity anywhere else on CNN.

BNN:  God I hate CNN.

EW: CNN kills you. They drive you crazy.

BNN: (laughs) They do. And yet I love and relish the fight. If CNN ever goes out of business, as good as that would be for America, all the passion will go out of my professional life.

EW: What about Fox? Do you like “The Five?”

BNN: My job is to watch the rest of the media, so when I’m not on the clock the last thing I want to do is watch more cable news.

EW: You want to watch stuff like “The Fast and the Furious.”

BNN: Exactly. And Jimmy Cagney movies. Anything but cable news. A few times a week I’ll watch Bret Baier. After 12 hours of the MSM bubble, “Special Report” is a good way to box my compass. It’s also the best news show on television.

 

THE NARRATIVE, SHARYL ATTKISSON, & FERGUSON,

BNN: How do all of these MSM news organizations get on the same story at the same time and cover it in the same way? Can’t be coincidence.

EW: That is such a good question. I’m going to refer to someone who has blocked me on Twitter and who is sure I’m a sworn opponent of hers — but in Sharyl Attkisson’s new book “Stonewalled,” which has some great and not-so-great moments, and I’ve covered both — she makes a great point about how editors are always afraid of brand new stuff.

She talks about how she would bring editors stories and they would always say, “What about this story so-and-so already has? Shouldn’t we weigh in on this?” So there is a need to conform, a need to match. I feel it. Maybe you do. But it is something that exists.

So there is something to what Attkisson identifies as a follow-the-leader media culture.

BNN: Of course everyone is going to cover something like the Iran deal. I get that. What I don’t get are the smaller stories, like a political gaffe, leading every single hour on every single newscast, and placed at the top of every single Web site. For example, no one played wait-and-see with Ferguson.

This monolithic thinking makes me believe that somewhere in a hollowed-out volcano the MSM meets to coordinate all of this. Jeff Zucker strokes his white cat and says, “This is how we attack the right tomorrow…”

EW: (laughs) Well, I’m unaware of any coordination like that but I do know that one of the most common emails in media is, “Why don’t we have this?” But your point isn’t just the big stories but also the little piddling stories that get blown up into big stories because of the conformity?

BNN: Without knowing anything in Ferguson, every single news outlet premised every story as a racist white cop shooting down an innocent black gentle giant. No one in the MSM said wait and see, or wait for the facts. And that of course ended in a real tragedy: riots, looting, fires, two cops shot…

EW: Have you gone back and looked at the New York Times and Washington Post — the early coverage.

BNN: I can’t say I’ve gone back but I certainly remember it. Look at what happened when one New York Times story questioned the Ferguson Narrative; their own ombudsman attacked the story for presenting both sides. She has now apologized, but that was the climate at the time.

The media is always good about taking it back.

EW: You really think so? You really think enough has been done to clean up the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ thing?

BNN: Probably not. But I guess I’m less interested in mea culpas than I am in the media learning from the consequences of their reckless behavior. They never learn. And that’s because I don’t think they want to. After falsely screaming racism in Ferguson, CNN and company just moved their trucks to New York City to scream racism with no evidence. And we all saw how that ended.

In the third and final part of our interview, we discuss Fox News, media coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, and the role of the fact checker.


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