In an otherwise excellent article about the Breitbart scandal/Sherrod non-scandal*, Eric Alterman writes the following:
To be fair, Kurtz does come up with one legitimate example [of liberal excess]. He quotes MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, observing that Sherrod’s reputation had been “assassinated by Fox News”–which is undeniable–but who also referred to and “that scum Breitbart.” Olbermann is always the example that conservatives use, but even though he does go too far on occasion, his antics are in no way comparable to those of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.
What’s more, there are more accurate ways to refer to Breitbart, such as a “deliberate liar” and a “purposeful character assassin”….
While Olbermann can be a bloviating blowhard, I don’t see what he did wrong here. Granted, he could have been more specific: “deliberately lying scum” or “character assassinating scum” would have been more accurate.
But Breitbart is scum. I bring this up because science bloggers, when we’re not making Virginia Heffernan clutch her pearls, have discussed ad nauseum how scientists should deal with denialists and other flat-out liars. Yet there is, with rare exception, unanimity about the actual nature of denialists–they are viewed as disingenuous hacks. Instead, the debate focuses on the best tactics and strategies to oppose them (i.e., should we call them hacks?).
If we consider Breitbart’s support for the ACORN sliming–which involved falsehood, quote mining, and highly selective editing–and which led to the demise of ACORN, it has to be viewed as something only scum would do. While the political press focused on ACORN as a get-out-the-vote organization, that really wasn’t ACORN’s primary focus.
ACORN was critical in helping poor and low-income people find and keep housing (when I lived in Long Island, they uncovered widespread rental housing discrimination, and were part of the solution). They opposed lending predation. ACORN also helped the needy navigate the confusing maze of assistance programs. It is not hyperbole to say that, every years, thousands and thousands of people were lifted out of destitution because of ACORN’s efforts.
Breitbart et alia attacked ACORN (and these claims have been shown to be false) to weaken the turnout of Democratic-leaning voters (Remember: when ‘real’, white Americans are organized, that’s canvassing, and when minorities and the poor are organized, that’s like totally HITLER!). In other words, to help his allies gain political power, he destroyed an organization that helped some of the neediest among us.
So how is calling this man “scum” going too far?
Then there is the whole–again, entirely false–campaign against Sherrod. And, as before, Sherrod actually spent her career reaching helping those in need, and reached across the racial divide to do so.
If Alterman thinks it’s inappropriate for a prominent figure to call Breitbart scum because it will backfire politically, fine. Make and support that argument. But someone has to state for the record that he is a disgusting, reprehensible excuse for a human being. Until the Coalition of the Sane repeatedly points out that reprehensible actions define reprehensible people, there is far less cost to Breitbart’s kind of crap than there should be.
*While Breitbart and many others sucked, Sherrod did nothing wrong here. We should remember that.