James Taranto is Sillier

July 23rd, 2010 at 7:50 am David Frum | 36 Comments |

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Over the past few days, we’ve heard many weird defenses of Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart himself has claimed that he never intended to target Shirley Sherrod. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have raised the possibility that the whole business was a White House sting operation.

But the prize for bold cynicism has to go to James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. Taranto yesterday posted a short column under the heading “David Frum is Silly.

It was, Taranto says, “extraordinarily slipshod” of me to suggest that somebody like Andrew Breitbart had any moral obligation not to broadcast defamatory lies.

Taranto does not deny that the original Breitbart story about Shirley Sherrod was a reckless defamation of an innocent person. Taranto describes the original story as “journalistically shoddy” and acknowledges that Breitbart’s methods have been “grossly unethical.” But that’s OK! The methods are grossly unethical only by the outdated standards of “institutional journalism.” Breitbart, says Taranto, is not an institutional journalist – so anything goes.

It was a very effective bit of Alinskyite political theater, and in a way more so for Breitbart’s having gotten the story wrong. As it turned out, the NAACP condemned Shirley Sherrod based on a false, secondhand accusation of racism. Members of the Tea Party movement know just how she feels.

All the more effective for being wrong.  Let those words sink in for a moment.

In his column, Taranto objects that I described conservatives these days as having a “unique capacity to ignore unwelcome fact” – the fact in this case being Breitbart’s involvement in the Sherrod smear. Taranto emphasizes: He does not ignore this unwelcome fact. He delights in it. Breitbart set out to destroy the career of a person who had done nothing wrong, without any effort to verify the story he broadcast to the world.

As Taranto tells it, the truly guilty party here is the NAACP. In Taranto’s view, the NAACP committed two wrongs:

First, they relied upon Breitbart-provided information. (As Otter says in Animal House: “You fucked up. You trusted us.”)

Are we to believe that [NAACP head] Ben Jealous thought Breitbart was what Dan Rather, before his fall, claimed to be–an impartial and reliable purveyor of facts? In the unlikely event that the answer to that question is yes, doesn’t his failure to know better reflect a stunning incompetence?

And second, when confronted with apparent racism within their own ranks, they acted promptly to condemn it.

[Breitbart] correctly identified the organization’s moral weakness. Confronted by a video showing apparent racism at an NAACP function, its leaders appear to have panicked and made a snap decision to denounce one of their own so as to pre-empt the charge of employing a double standard.

Personal background here: I worked at the Wall Street Journal editorial page from 1989 through 1992. As a new hire, I was sent to an orientation session. There I was shown an opinion survey ranked the Wall Street Journal in first place as America’s most trusted media source. Message: check and double-check everything – the value of the brand depends on the writers’ care and integrity.

The idea that a columnist for the Wall Street Journal would endorse falsehood and defamation as legitimate political tactics … while denouncing non-hypocrisy as a “moral weakness” … I’m not shocked by much these days, but I’ll admit: I’m shocked by that.

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36 Comments so far ↓

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Only a pawn in their game.

  • franco 2

    No. David Frum is silly.

  • franco 2


    Lets look at some REAL context here. The NAACP has accused elements of the Tea Party as racist. Part of their case is PURE hearsay that has been unsubstantiated, despite the presence of many cameras, some held aloft by those who claim to have been offended. There is a $100,000 reward posted for the video footage confirming the allegation. Nothing more that (at this point) FALSE charges have surfaced.

    Shirley Sherrod was NOT Brietbatts target at releasing this video. The NAACP was. This is a PARTISAN organization that carries water for the DNC. Journolistas are ON RECORD disseminating tweets encouraging journalists to call people racists as a distraction from the Rev Wright revelations. A prominent Democrat is on record concurring that charging someone (falsely, even) with racism is an effective strategy.

    Shirley Sherrod an avowed leftist and socialist and former (I suppose) racist in her own way is NOW claiming that Fox news,

    …would love to take us back to… where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person.”

    Really Shirley? I’m struck by the high minded approch Shirley and the NAACP take when it comes to race relations….NOT.

  • Oldskool

    Of course he and his loony pals would be singing a different tune if they were in Sherrod’s shoes. They’d have an attorney and would already be deciding what to do with the money they recover in damages.

  • franco 2

    I’m looking forward to hearing the NAACP retract the racism charges leveled at Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek Don Imus (an asshole but not a racist) Trent Lott (a Statist whore but not a racist) and countless others.

    NAACP a race-based political group with an agenda for Democrats, using (and destroying) the racism meme for their own purposes. Despicable.

    And that black hole greeting card thing is downright funny – tells you all you need to know about this group.


  • ZombieTory

    David has it dead on here. Society hinges on a basic expectation of honesty; the notion that it only applies to professional journalists is absurd. There’s a word for people who dismiss honest dealing outright: sociopaths.

  • Watusie

    I switched from the WSJ to the FT a few years ago with no regrets. Well, I guess I did have one – when Rupert Murdoch bought it I wasn’t a subscriber so I could not cancel my subscription in disgust.

  • andydp

    Just a reminder: the NAACP is not on trial here, the discussion is about Mr Breibat and very shoddy work a la Dan Rather. Rather was justly condemmed for his slipshod work. Mr Breibart should be condemmed for his. Yet now the blame is being “shifted”.

    I’ve had to remind friends who send me the usual email falsehoods they are NOT going to win converts by spreading lies. This goes for ANY organization reguardless of political orientation.
    Mr Briebart sent out a less than one minute video which made his point about reverse racism. Had the rest of the video been shown it would tell a much different story.

    I do hope Mr Sherrod does sue and sue for a lot. Only then will Mr Briebart listen.

    As for Rush “I’m not a racist” Limbaugh quotes. go here:


  • forgetn

    Of course the NAACP was the target, falsehood and everything else included. Ms Sherrod was just collateral damage. Although, Breitbart made a stupid mistake (a) she can sue the crap out of him for intentionally sullying her reputation with false alegations, (b) the American legal system than can make anyone’s life a misery.

    If Breitbart gets away with this, its a tremendous incentive for both side to make up facts — XYZ is a pedophile, or has hired a hooker (OK maybe a little to close to reality). If the new Republican mantra becomes “screw the facts” as long as we make the other side look like morons… This kind of all out war has serious consequences, never mind going negative, “making shit up” becomes destructive to the political process.

    Maybe that is already the game plan for the 2010 / 2012 election cycle. I understand that some of the more radical wing of the Republican party have a stated a strategy (if they gain control over the House or the Senate) of tying up the Obama administration in endless investigations, to shut down their legislative efforts. In other words shutting down the government until they can install their guys.

    This kind of nuclear option has grave consequences for the nation, because although the Republicans are good at dirty tricks, its not like the other side are neophytes.

  • Oskar

    Poor little Frum! Each day it seems as though the author of “Unpatriotic Conservatives” is whining about how pushed around he is. It is a real hoot to watch these goddamn neocons haggle with each other. Pat Buchanan has more honor and integrity in his little finger than all of the Frums, Tarantos, Breitbarts, Levins and the rest put toger.

  • easton

    “Members of the Tea Party movement know just how she feels.” OK, specifically which members? Shirley Sherrod is an individual whose life very well could have been ruined. Stating that all tea party members feel the same way as Sherrod when people state that there are some racists in the Tea party movement is obscene.

    And poor poor franco, so much resentment, so little logic or sense. Of course the naacp is partisan, it kind of goes with the name, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons. It used to be politically more in tune with Republicans until the Republicans decided to sell out to attract Southern whites.

  • LFC

    Easton asked… “Members of the Tea Party movement know just how she feels.” OK, specifically which members?

    I’ll tell you which member. Mark Williams, former face of the Tea Party Express.

    Oh, wait. He did, in fact, make offensive racial remarks. Never mind.

  • lolapowers

    Mr Frum..I’m on your side. You are a courageous conservastive and I’m watching you!

  • dante

    The WSJ has become nothing more than FauxNews in print. They use the same talking points (“It’s actually all about the NAACP and the Obama administration, *not* Breitbart), they spout the same buzzwords, they make the exact same errors in facts. I once read their newspaper religiously, since all but the editorial page was well researched, well thought out and non-partisan. Now if you read it, you’ll see distinct buzz words and lines inserted into most of their articles, little comments that seem to push their agenda however subtly.

    So trust me, WSJ thinking Breitbart is honest and trustworthy says more about the WSJ than it does about Breitbart.

  • pampl

    The FT is generally better than the WSJ but they have a bizarre hang-up about recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

  • jerseyboy

    This is a willful misreading of Taranto. Frum is getting into a bad habbit of straining to interpret the facts to fit his theories.

  • willie9797

    is david a republican or not? if so, why does he question republican groupthink? does not compute.

  • easton

    lets distinguish between the editorial page of the WSJ (which has been rubbish for years) and the solid news reporting.

  • jakester

    Funny how the right been tossing around the Alinsky accusation since 2008, “Alinskyite political theater”. Yet Breitbart openly admitted he uses the same tactics that he claims those evil liberals use. Obviously these types want to have it both ways.

  • medinnus

    franco 2 demonstrates the standard Tea Party mentality – rather than own up to racism in their ranks, as evidenced by countless racist signs appearing at their rallies, and standing up to and expelling the bad apples, he turns it around; those accusing the racists are the REAL racists, and the Team Party hapless victims. Poor tea Party victims… what is a oppressed rich white guy to do? Besides get your 15 minutes on Faux News.

    Its enough to turn your stomach.

  • easton

    medinnus, nah, franco makes me chuckle, the only commentators here who do so are the ones who have reasonable and well thought out posts one day and absolute drivel the next.

  • msmilack

    Excellent piece, David. You are 100% right. I suppose I have known for some time that the Wall St. Journal is not what it used to be but in case I needed a reminder, Taranto provided it. I admit I feel shocked by what he wrote. As is often the case, your critic made you look 8 feet tall and made himself look the opposite.

  • ktward

    Thanks, David, for reminding me why I remain a FF reader and participant.

    During my blogging tenure here from the former NM get-go, there’ve been times when, faced with reading some of your more predictably myopic, fringe editorial contributors (Linnane & Guardiano come immediately to mind) and your own frustratingly myopic Zionist ideo rationalizations, I have seriously questioned my time investment here.

    This piece reminds me why I came here in the first place. And why I will continue to listen, with respectful interest, to what you have to say, despite the fact that I very often disagree with you.

    You are a deeply thoughtful, conscientious writer. And you’re no drama queen– a noxious quality for which I’ve no compunction in hiding my contempt, Left or Right.

    I can say from long, first-hand experience, that Breitbart is a partisan p*ssy. Which is to say that, much like Beck and other media caricatures, he has zero interest in contextual fact. He operates strictly from an ideological agenda: any bit of unqualified info that promotes said agenda is ‘truth’; conversely, any bit of qualified info that might refute said agenda is ‘lie’.

    Typical of most Indies, that kind of silliness equally wearies and frustrates me. Seriously, I’ve zero idea how the GOP–today shaped and marketed by its most extreme, caricature voices and pols–can possibly hope to woo critical Indies.

    Your work remains cut out for you.

  • Ruminant

    David, if you are shocked by anything that the Wall Street Journal puts on its editorial pages, you must not read those pages all that often. After all, the WSJ once claimed that Bill Clinton’s gun control policies had failed… because there was less gun crime at the end of Clinton’s presidency than there was at the beginning of it!

    The original article is here. If you aren’t a WSJ subscriber, you can read a copy of it. Keep in mind that the “most recent Justice statistics” mentioned in the article were from 2001, the year after Clinton left office.

  • jakester

    Frum used to work for the WSJ

  • jakester

    franco 2
    named after the Generalissimo?
    Well Sherrod was the target of all these attacks so she is allowed to pout and rant about it a bit.

  • jorae

    Is there no shame anymore? I can’t imagine holding up a signs against any race or religion. I just couldn’t hold my head up and participate in such cruelty. Somehow Breitbart’s ego and his self worth seem to be stroked when crushing an innocent individual. Isn’t that a bit how Bundy felt when he had his victims pined down?

    There is something growing in the Right Wing mind that needs to be addressed, and when people like Mr. Frum calls them out, they just spin the blame game back.

    I feel Shirley S. should sue Breitbart. Then maybe more newspapers will think twice before they play the charter assassination game.

  • Non-Contributor

    WSJ = FOX News.

    I switched to the FT a few months ago. Could take reading Carl Rove and hearing about Glenn Beck any longer.

  • sinz54

    jorae: There is something growing in the Right Wing mind that needs to be addressed,
    The hard-core right (as typified by RedState.com) sees the Obama Administration as heralding the end of America as we have known it.

    They are convinced that Obama and his netroots supporters want to remake America in the socialist mold of Canada or Europe, which is utter anathema to them. And so they see this as not just politics but WAR against un-American forces that have to be stopped at all costs.

    The rest of us conservatives don’t see this as a war. But we are equally opposed to European-style Social Democracy and don’t want to import it into America.

    My ancestors came to America to get away from Europe, and it would be spitting on their memory if I helped turn America into a carbon copy of Europe. Four times in the last 100 years, the United States had to save Europe from itself. If we become just like Europe–soft, effete, indolent pacifists who tolerate high unemployment in the name of social “justice” and are flaccid before the threat of Islamism, then who will save us next time?

  • sinz54

    ktward: I’ve zero idea how the GOP–today shaped and marketed by its most extreme, caricature voices and pols–can possibly hope to woo critical Indies.
    As seen in the recent polls, independents’ disgust with Obama is all the GOP needs to win.

    Historically, the opposition party just capitalizes on the mistakes and inadequacies of the incumbent party, rather than acting as a “shadow government” the way the British parties do. The Dems did in 2006, despite having no better answers for the War on Terror.

    So I expect the GOP will do quite well this November, as long as the unemployment rate remains above 9%.

    The problem isn’t how to win. The GOP has demonstrated it knows how to win–they propelled Bush to the White House in 2000 despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore.

    The problem is how to govern if you do win.

    If the GOP does succeed in winning a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, what are they going to do with it? Where’s the 2010 Contract with America? I haven’t seen one?

  • LauraNo

    Sinz, you point out just what Frum is saying. Conservatives are happy to ‘win’ no matter what immoral thing they have to do. Stealing an election was just the start.

  • Rokker

    Once Rupert Murdoch got his grubby hands on WSJ ‘journalistic integrity’ ended. Now like Fox it is there to serve a political agenda.

  • jorae

    Giving up European monarchies is one thing. Considering we lead the way with the Constitution for the people and they followed proves they pretty much were in agreement with our original way.

    Then they improved “for the people.” We stopped for the benefit of rights to your money and gave it labels to teach our children. Which moved us back more into a monarchy without titles.

    America has suffered by not taking care of our own people.

    When wealth rises in just one part of the community, you see divorce and crimes go up. That is the world you get when you take “for the common good” out of government.

  • ktward

    If we become just like Europe–soft, effete, indolent pacifists who tolerate high unemployment in the name of social “justice” and are flaccid before the threat of Islamism, then who will save us next time?

    The “threat of Islamism”?
    As is disturbingly typical of Zionist ideologues–both Christian and Jewish–you conflate the threat of terrorism with Islam.

    Terrorism is terrorism.
    There’s zero difference between AQ– waving their self-righteous flag as ‘Muslim’ activists– and our own homegrown Timothy McVeighs, Tiller killers, and Hutaree militias waving their self-righteous flags as ‘Christian’ activists.

    You, sinz54, attempt to foster the very same kind of ideological, propagandist bullshit that the terrorists themselves hang their hats on.

  • the rooster

    As a regular reader of Mr. Taranto and an occasional reader of Mr. Frum, I have read the back and forth with great interest, and must sadly conclude that, through either intellectual laziness or dishonesty, Mr. Frum’s claims are inaccurate. Read both of Taranto’s columns (in addition to Frum’s piece) and see if you don’t agree.

  • Who Snookered David Frum? | Lux Libertas - Light and Liberty

    [...] David Frum has posted an astonishingly feeble response to our Thursday item on the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, in which we took issue with an earlier Frum post on the subject. Normally we shy away from back-and-forths with bloggers, on the theory that engaging in them is somewhat self-indulgent. But because Frum outrageously misrepresents our views, and in ways that are potentially harmful to our professional reputation, we feel we must respond. [...]