MELISSA BLOCK, host:
With each passing day, news of Congressman Anthony Weiner's Twitter problem riveted the media.
As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik points out, Weiner's apology yesterday was nearly trumped by the appearance of the conservative blog entrepreneur who made the scandal a national fixation.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Forget Congressman Weiner for a moment. If you can just get those images out of your mind and think instead about the performance of the other famous guy at the center of this scandal.
Mr. ANDREW BREITBART (Publisher, BigGovernment.com): I want to hear the truth from Congressman Weiner. Quite frankly, I'd like an apology for him being complicit in a blame-the-messenger strategy.
FOLKENFLIK: Anthony Weiner brought the scandal upon himself, but the media's coverage of this story from the moments after he set that errant tweet has been orchestrated almost entirely by one person: Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart has targeted liberal politicians and institutions, and he's a bombastic critic of the mainstream media. But in this case, he set the tempo for the press.
The pictures shooting around the world were first posted on his sites. Even the network TV interview with one of Weiner's tweet-hearts was brokered by Breitbart. And Weiner singled him out for attack during a defensive interview last week on CNN.
Yesterday, before Weiner's tearful confession, Breitbart stole the spotlight, once again hopping up behind the lawmaker's lectern at a Midtown Manhattan hotel, where he proceeded to lecture both Weiner and the press corps.
Mr. ANDREW BREITBART (BigGovernment.com): The media says Breitbart lies, Breitbart lies, Breitbart lies, Breitbart lies. Give me one example of a provable lie. One.
FOLKENFLIK: Breitbart was happy to embarrass a fierce liberal fighter, and got a lead to Meagan Broussard, a single mother from Texas, who said she had swapped racy photos with Weiner.
The thing about Breitbart is that he veers back and forth between sounding like an opinion journalist and a conservative activist. When Breitbart describes how his sites made use of Broussard's pictures, he sounds like a journalist.
Mr. BREITBART: Evenly pace it, let people savor the first photo and then, you know, tell them that there's going to be another one, and, you know, get people into that refreshing mindset.
FOLKENFLIK: But when Breitbart describes why he was doing it, he sounds like an activist.
Mr. BREITBART: I thought that this would put a sufficient amount of pressure on the congressman with a, you know, an escalating level of impact to each photograph. In the third photograph where he was shirtless, I thought that that would be a sufficient siren in his mind to realize that if he continues to go down this path, his peril is going to only get greater.
FOLKENFLIK: Upon arriving in New York City yesterday afternoon and learning Weiner had scheduled a press conference, Breitbart acted like a journalist, hoofing it to the hotel to report. Upon getting there, though, he took command of that lectern, answering questions from reporters and warning Weiner there were worse pictures to come.
Among Breitbart's targets yesterday was Joan Walsh of the liberal Salon magazine. She has criticized his sites Big Government and Big Journalism for promoting highly disputed stories, such as the Shirley Sherrod video, in which the version Breitbart posted of a black federal official speaking about her own racism toward a white farmer was cut off before the redemptive end to her story.
Salon's Walsh says he was right about Weiner, but that hasn't altered her skepticism toward Breitbart.
Ms. JOAN WALSH (Salon Magazine): In a moment when I guess if he wants to be a journalist, he is being validated and he did something right. All he's calling attention to is the controversy around what he did right, and in the process he is flinging accusations at me that aren't true.
FOLKENFLIK: Some other journalists are more willing to follow his lead. Breitbart's criticism aside, he wanted the credibility of the mainstream media, so he advised Meagan Broussard to share her photos with ABC and told ABC News Producer Chris Vlasto how to reach her. Chris Cuomo was the correspondent on the story, which the network raced to report.
Mr. CHRIS CUOMO (ABC News): Well, as a journalism exercise, this was a very fascinating endeavor because it checks all the boxes for difficulty in journalism: Subject matter, difficult. There's a taste issue, there's a morality issue, there is an impact issue.
FOLKENFLIK: ABC says it paid Broussard between $10- and $15,000 for the rights to her pictures. Breitbart said he paid her nothing.
I asked Breitbart again what he was: journalist or activist. Breitbart said depends on the day. He doesn't like the term activist. He prefers provocateur.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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