Tim Wise and Sam Seder, Comrades in Cowardice: The False Machismo of the Would-Be Libel Defendants

Tim Wise (R) on CNN, accusing Tea Party of racism (2009)

Left-wing online talk show host and Huffington Post contributor Sam Seder recently interviewed self-proclaimed “anti-racist” Tim Wise on his program, Majority Report.

Wise and Seder have a shared dislike (to put it mildly) of Andrew Breitbart, and Seder used his YouTube interview with Wise as an attempt to settle old scores.

After declaring that the “driving force in [Breitbart’s] life” is his “feelings of being rejected from Hollywood,” Seder invited Wise to discuss Breitbart’s alleged racism.

Sam Seder on CNN, criticizing David Letterman for apologizing to Sarah Palin for a sexual joke about her teenage daughter (2009)

Seder compared Breitbart to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (which would be a great surprise to the many Ron Paul supporters whom Breitbart routinely debates). Noting that Paul had been prepared to make money from newsletters with racist content, Seder asked Wise to consider the loaded question: “Is Breitbart really any different from that?”

Wise admitted that he did not actually know, but that “every single thing [Breitbart] does sort of smacks of that.”

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He went on to tell the following story, prefacing it by noting that “Andrew’s threatened, in the past, to sue me–but he can’t, because it’s true”:

When we were at Tulane, I know that he certainly wasn’t too bothered by racism. Our senior year–actually, my senior year, his junior year–there was a cross-burning that took place on the lawn of his fraternity, the Delta Tau Delta house at Tulane. And I’m not–and Andrew didn’t do it, I joked about that several months ago by just sarcastically saying that, well, you know, given the evidence that Breitbart uses for other people, we should just accuse him of it and be done with it. I was obviously being sarcastic.

What Wise is referring to as a “joke” is the following comment, posted on Wise’s Facebook page on May 31, 2010:

Tim Wise wonders if Andrew Breitbart was involved in the cross-burning at Tulane in 1989, in the front yard of HIS fraternity. I know one thing: the official position of his frat was that the event “might not be racial,” and they went to great lengths to cover up what happened. I think, based on his own standard of evidence that we should just declare him guilty now and be done with it…I want that bastard destroyed. Now.

Wise tried to cover himself shortly thereafter, in later comments, adding that “I have no reason to think he did it” but that Breitbart “said nothing publicly to condemn the act,” and “so as far as I’m concerned he’s as guilty as whoever burned it.”

Clearly, Wise was not “joking,” even if the point he sought to make was a rhetorical one.

Breitbart responded via Twitter on June 4, 2010, noting that Wise had wished harm on him and his family, and hinting at a lawsuit to follow: “R U worried Tim Wise that lawsuit born of your libelous ‘cross burning’ tale will show I was SOLE SPONSOR of black rushee at my frat?!”

The facts of the incident, as documented by A.R. Ward at Big Government, are precisely as Breitbart presented them:

The cross burning was believed to be in response to a black pledge being sponsored to join the fraternity. Guess who the sponsor was?

Andrew Breitbart.

In fact, Breitbart was the sole sponsor of the black pledge. No one was ever caught for the cross burning, but authorities believed that it was actually targeted at Breitbart and the black pledge.

In other words, Tim Wise managed to say the exact opposite of reality.

Evidently, Wise is indeed fearful of being sued for defamation, because he has backed away from speculating that Breitbart was involved in the cross-burning itself–even indirectly.

Now Wise only claims that Breitbart “assisted a cross burning cover up”–a rather fanciful interpretation of events. According to Wise’s repeated speculations, the fact that Breitbart made no public statement at the time, and did not leave the fraternity when it allegedly “covered up” its investigation, is enough to prove him guilty of that alleged “cover up.”

Wise has accompanied that false speculation with other ridiculous claims, such as the repeated (and also false) allegation that Breitbart is a racist and “a perpetual drunk.”

In relating the story to Seder, Wise dropped his original, recklessly untrue and libelous accusation that Breitbart was actually involved in perpetrating the cross-burning, but repeated his false claims that Breitbart was guilty of a “cover up,” along with other fantasiess:

He didn’t do it. And it was actually a cross burned because his fraternity had offered a bid to a black student for the first time. And someone–probably an alum of that fraternity or something–didn’t like it and burned a cross. And at the time, you know, those of us who were anti-racism and civil rights activists on the campus, we called a press conference, we made a big deal out of the fact that both the fraternity and the school covered up the incident. For two weeks, no one knew anything about it. The fraternity–the head of the fraternity, who was a friend of Andrew’s, said, you know, “This wasn’t a campus issue, it wasn’t a racial issue, we didn’t think, and so we just kept it quiet.” And Andrew Breitbart himself never went public, didn’t talk to security, even though he claims now that the black kid against whom the cross-burning was intended was actually a friend of his who he tried to get into the fraternity. He says he was the guy pushing for this young man to be in the fraternity. And maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.

Note that Wise admits he does not know the truth–“maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.” He could have found out, but has not. Yet earlier, he asserted that Breitbart would not dare sue him for telling his story, “because it’s true.” He deliberately confuses fact and speculation in order to paint himself as the brave truth-teller whom Breitbart dare not challenge.

Wise continues:

In the wake of this happening, Andrew Breitbart did not quit the fraternity in protest of their cover up, which the head of security at Tulane at the time said they had engaged in and that it hampered the investigation.

Note that Wise has not actually quoted the Tulane security official directly stating that there had been a “cover up.” His speculation is based solely on the complaint by the official that there had been a “delay”–i.e. that the fraternity failed to report the cross-burning sooner. Not that it had withheld information, or destroyed evidence, or tampered with witnesses–but that there had been a delay that had made the crime harder to investigate. From that “delay,” Wise extrapolates–falsely, and without further evidence–that there was a “cover-up.”

He didn’t quit the fraternity, he made no public statement, he didn’t come to the press conference to offer his support for his quote-unquote friend or the larger black community at Tulane. And I think that says a lot about this guy’s character and his feelings around this issue. He had a chance to come forward, not only to make a statement about broader social truth, but to defend this guy who he says was a friend. And he didn’t do it. And he stayed in that fraternity for the rest of his college career because I guess going out to the bars in New Orleans and getting drunk was perhaps more important to him than standing in solidarity with his friend. I think that’s sort of really all you need to know about this guy.

What Wise deliberately ignores is the fact that Breitbart and his friend were the apparent intended victims of the cross-burning. There are good reasons for victims of crimes on campus, or in any community, not to want to “come forward”–particularly when political activists who do not know them, and who have their own particular interests and agendas at stake, want to make a public spectacle of their experiences.

Because Breitbart and the young man in question did not play the political role Wise had assigned to them, Wise deduces, as he has before (and, again, falsely), that Breitbart is both a racist and an alcoholic. He does so in deliberately speculative language, with carefully placed qualifiers such as “I think” and “perhaps,” designed to dodge legal responsibility even as Wise puts up a faux-macho façade of fearlessness in the face of a defamation lawsuit.

Seder, nodding and affirming Wise’s false tale throughout, concludes by offering to be sued by Breitbart as well, on the (dubious) legal basis that he would be equally liable for having broadcast his interview with Wise: “Sign me up as a co-defendant.”

The reality is that Wise has backed down from his statement that Andrew Breitbart was “involved in the cross-burning at Tulane.” He has also backed down from stating that Breitbart was indirectly guilty. He is afraid of the defamation suit he mocks.

Instead, Wise now claims that Breitbart was guilty of a “cover up,” admitting that he does not know the essential facts, but referring to hearsay in a newspaper article, whose conclusions he distorts. He continues to speculate that Breitbart is both a racist and an alcoholic. Neither opinion which is libelous per se, particularly in the case of a public figure like Breitbart (who must satisfy a higher standard of proof in a defamation case), but both of these ridiculous claims are nevertheless untrue. Regardless, Wise’s fevered rantings are so transparently ridiculous that most judges would conclude as such and refuse to entertain a legal action.

Despite his repeated dares to Breitbart to sue him (“I will own you b4 its over: u and yr wife’s “Orson Bean money?”! All $50 of it), Wise lacks the guts to state as fact what he knows is fiction, because he knows he cannot prove what he is alleging. Luckily for Wise, despite his fantasies of “destroying” Breitbart, no one–save the hapless Seder–takes him seriously.