Journalists of all ideological stripes, from all places on the journalistic firmament, can be irredeemable sleaze balls. Bad behavior knows no political complexion or business model complexion. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot. But this story from Hunter Walker, one-time TPMer now with Yahoo Politics, illustrates something rather deep into the Breitbartian stream of right-wing journalism. It’s journalism not as journalism but a sort of cartoonish ideological info-warfare, intermixed with various personal vendettas and generalized nonsense. If that sounds like a good match for the Trump campaign it is. But let’s stick to the matter at hand, the topic of Hunter’s article.
The basics: You remember when the Breitbart reporter was grabbed by Trump’s then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. There was a dispute about what happened. Then charges were brought. Then the charges were dropped. But Breitbart was pro-Trump and basically turned against its own reporter in the matter. The reporter, Michelle Fields, eventually quit and was quickly picked by Huffington Post for another reporter gig.
So far, whatever. There was no shortage of drama in the whole affair. The Breitbart folks are dirty and play dirty. I don’t really have any particular thoughts about any of the people involved or the whole drama in its entirety. But after Fields had left and gone to Huffington Post, Breitbart’s DC Editor, Matthew Boyle, wrote up a “An Open Letter To The Huffington Post From The Progressive Community” and then tried to find some folks on the left who would “write” it and start a campaign with it on their own to get Fields fired.
As you might expect if it had been written by someone on the left it spoke of the unique threat Trump poses to the country and argued that Fields, who’d seemed fairly pro-Trump when she was at Breitbart, couldn’t be trusted to cover the campaign.
Apparently, Boyle’s goober dirty tricks operation never took flight.
Now let’s be clear. I don’t see this as uniquely evil. I see it as extremely cynical, petty and most of all stupid. It’s not a crime against journalism; it’s a crime against being an adult. More than anything else its journalism practiced as a sort of dingbat Game of Thrones – enemies, dirty tricks operations, vendettas. And most of all derp. (Remember, we’re just learning that Roger Ailes ran his own dirty tricks and harassment operation off the Fox News budget when he was still capo.) When I see this stuff, which doesn’t surprise me in the least, it reminds me more than anything else of the Spy vs Spy series in the old Mad Magazine, only with humans, or at least people who purport to be humans.
I know the Daily Caller is now hard in the anti-Trump wing of right-gonzo journalism. But many of the folks at Breitbart were once at The Daily Caller and from what I could tell in the past they seemed to migrate back and forth, sort of like wrestlers in pro-wrestling crews or the old Roller Derby teams I used to watch on the weekends as a kid (a bit before I graduated up to Wally George).
In any case, it is an odd, odd bunch.
I vividly remember a few years ago when one of these worthies was stalking one of our reporters at TPM. It went on and on. Weeks of weird contact, threatening DMs, foreboding messages by various electronic mediums, weird claims about entourages and legal teams. Then finally our reporter, on my advice, put his foot down and said if he didn’t stop our organization would have to take some formal action. This prompted the stalker to have a mini-breakdown, recant, apologize, demand a response, lash out, apologize again. At this point he was basically speed-harassing us to say we wouldn’t get him in trouble. There definitely seemed to be crying involved. The upshot was that he finally told his would-be prey that he’d been driven to the unfortunate behavior by another TPM reporter who’d threatened his life. His family, we were told, was also upset that feral TPMers were threatening to take him out. It had brought out the worst in him.
As you can imagine, a lot of weird shit comes across my desk, both literally and figuratively. (My literal and figurative desk. Not actual shit so far.) I remember the day this rather insane tale washed up on it. Notwithstanding the torrid derpstorm we appeared to have on our hands, I of course wanted to know what this “death threat” thing was about. Risk-aversion is the secret to longterm survival in any business, especially this one.
Needless to say the “death threat” which had purportedly sent this gent on his weeks long freak bender was a nothingburger tweet sent by someone who didn’t even work for TPM anymore. For this fellow, Gary Coleman’s iconic “Watchu Talkin’ About, Willis” line likely would have counted as a death threat or perhaps even lethal combat in itself.
In any case, what to do?
Probably needless to say, having heard this febrile tale, I said we should try to keep our distance from this fellow – walk backwards slowly, close the door on the whole affair and hope he never came out.
And the best punchline? The “death threat” guy was Hunter Walker!
Right, the author of the article I told you about at the top of this post. Hunter Walker, who looks every bit the goon out of an episode of Sopranos, someone who probably kills at least one unlucky bastard a year.
I kid, I kid, of course.
Not only is Hunter Walker a teddy bear of a guy and a great reporter. But no, there was no “death threat,” – I saw the tweet in question – the whole claim was just the panicked, ridiculous, delirious reaction of someone grasping for some explanation because he thought he was going to get into some kind of trouble.
And there you go. These folks aren’t all quite like that I’m sure. But that’s the world, that’s the culture: combat journalism, whether of the Breitbart variety or provocateur James O’Keefe or whatever other nonsense those fever swamps are currently churning to the surface. They embrace it; they excuse it; they enable it; they celebrate it. It’s who they are. And now the Lord of that warm Pile is running the Republican presidential campaign, which is to say he’s running the Republican party.
That’s where we’re at.