In the wake of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, the typical take-out from commentators in the media has been to say: well, it's regrettable that Andrew Breitbart's calculated deception led to this woman being treated unfairly, but let's not forget that this is something that happens on both sides of the partisan divide.
Credit Brian Stelter for parting company with the conventional wisdom in a piece that resists indicting any innocent parties and strictly concerns itself with the damage this episode does to the credibility of right-leaning partisan media:
But it is an open question whether conservative media outlets risk damage to their credibility when obscure or misleading stories are blown out of proportion and when what amounts to political opposition research is presented as news.
Jane Hall, a communication professor at American University and a former contributor to Fox News, said partisan media outlets "look for something that will get an audience and that will whip up people in some kind of frenzy, warranted or not."
Ms. Hall said what Ms. Sherrod had endured was "classic propaganda."
Stelter has David Frum, making the sort of good sense that shouldn't have made him an apostate on the right:
David Frum, a former fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who now edits FrumForum.com, said some conservatives argue that the ends justify the means in cases of faulty journalism.
"Many conservatives have worked themselves into such fear that Barack Obama is not only wasting our money but actually trying to overthrow the Constitution that those fears can justify almost anything," he said in an interview on Friday.
Greg Sargent, who's been arguing against the assertion of equivalent culpability on both sides of the ideological spectrum, says that Stelter's article isn't the boldest elocution of his point but he'll "take it," all the same:
What's notable about this story is how few other outlets have done the same. And as a result, one of the most important aspects of the Sherrod mess is going almost entirely ignored: The vast difference it highlighted between media on both sides.
To make this point one more time, it's true that "both sides," to one degree or another, let their ideological and political preferences dictate some editorial decisions, such as what stories to pursue, how to approach them, who to interview, etc. But what's underappreciated is the degree to which the Breitbart-Fox axis goes far beyond this, openly employing techniques of political opposition researchers and operatives to drive the media narrative.
Sargent says, "This simply has no equivalent on the left." And this point has been underscored very deftly by MoveOn.org today, which has responded to the charges of equivalency with a satiric video that essentially says, when the "Left" indulges in these tactics, this is what it will look like:
So now you know what to look for. The more you know!