Rep. Anthony Weiner’s decision to resign brings a scandal that consumed Washington for several weeks to an end—and no one benefited from it more than controversial conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
Breitbart, who first publicized the lewd photo that Weiner accidentally sent on his Twitter feed, achieved a measure of redemption from the episode—after being marginalized in the mainstream media for releasing videos maligning liberal figures and organizations that were misleadingly edited.
At Weiner’s first press conference on June 6 where he confessed to sending the photo, Breitbart declared, “I’m here for some vindication.” He received an apology from Weiner, but what Breitbart was looking for was vindication from his peers.
Now Breitbart is watching his credibility rise thanks to Weiner’s misdeeds. He provided the primary source material that made the story one of the most heavily covered on the cable newscasts over the past several weeks. He shared some of the more compromising pictures with a mainstream media organization (ABC), which ran with the story.
“One of the reasons I went to ABC, believe it or not, was to take this out of the partisan rancor realm,” Breitbart said in an interview with The New York Times.
On the other hand, he held back juicy information as insurance in case he needed to defend himself. "You know, I'm not thinking of it that way, but I certainly have it in my possession,” Breitbart told NBC’s Today, on the explicit photo of Weiner. “I guarantee you he would use this against me and the people on the left side of the blogosphere would have used this against me. I could have put it out there and his career would have been over today.”
And the explicit photo of Weiner was released thanks to XM/Sirius shock jocks Opie and Anthony, who took a picture of the picture that Breitbart kept on his cell phone.
Breitbart walks a thin line between being a journalist and being an activist. Breitbart doles out information bit by bit, a key lesson, he writes in his memoir, Righteous Indignation, that he learned while working with Arianna Huffington on the Huffington Post.
“If I didn't have the secondary source, the woman from Texas who came forward with a cache of online communications including even more offensive photos than the initial tweet, there would have been a split country where half the country blamed me for hacking and the other half would have said Anthony Weiner got caught with his pants down,” Breitbart told Fox News this afternoon. “I'm glad we were able to have the secondary source.”
His concerns were not misplaced.
The initial photo of Weiner, which was tweeted and deleted at around 11 p.m. on May 27, was first published on Brietbart’s Big Journalism website at 12:20 a.m. that night. The post included screen shots of Weiner’s original tweet and of the photo that had been posted on his yfrog account. Breitbart later revealed that a man who goes by the name “Dan Wolfe” and uses the Twitter handle @patriotusa76 alerted him to the Tweet. In the ensuing days, several liberal blogs accused Wolfe, and later Breitbart, of an elaborate scheme to plant the photo on Weiner’s Twitter account in order to defame him.
On June 6, Breitbart announced on his Big Journalism and Big Government websites that a woman who claimed to have had an online affair with Weiner had sent him a cache of photos and messages from the congressman. Throughout the morning, Breitbart posted photos allegedly sent to him by Meagan Broussard, who admitted to exchanging messages and photos with Weiner for several months before the scandal was exposed.
The final straw, it seemed, was a series of photos Breitbart published at 10:30 that morning, revealing a shirtless Weiner. Around 3 p.m., Weiner announced that he would be holding a press conference in Manhattan where, an hour later, he admitted to sending the photos and lying to the media.
Although media outlets picked up the initial photo, the story didn’t reach a fever pitch until the day Breitbart released the additional photos, and subsequently the day Weiner admitted the photos were indeed of him.
The media was initially hesitant to jump on Breitbart’s story, likely due to past incidents involving edited videos released on Breitbart’s sites. The most recent incident was back in July 2010, when Breitbart released an edited video of Georgia USDA employee Shirley Sherrod giving what seemed like a racially-infused speech at an NAACP event.
Television news outlets ran with the story, pundits called for Sherrod’s firing, and by the time morning news programs were over, the damage had been done. Sherrod was asked to resign from her post, and only after the unedited tape surfaced did she receive an apology from President Obama and a new job offer.
Sarah Mimms and David Beard contributed.