Breitbart is gone, but his style of shock-jock journalism lives on

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Right wing blogger Andrew Mattera ambushes comedian Chris Rock at the Sundance Film Festival to confront him over Rock’s past criticism of the tea party.

Two editors go on Fox News to tell Sean Hannity a video showing Barack Obama embracing a Harvard law professor is sinister, and a sign of Obama’s and the late professor Derrick Bell’s “radicalism.”

Now, the ghost of Andrew Breitbart, in the form of his still-open for business website,, is visiting MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton (MSNBC and theGrio are divisions of NBC News.) The website is promoting old videos of Sharpton to make the point that in their view, he is in no position to criticize Rush Limbaugh for smearing Sandra Fluke, a young woman Limbaugh called a “slut” and a “prostitute” for daring to testify before Congress that a friend of hers at Georgetown needed birth control to treat a health problem.

In all of these cases, the right wing gadflies are employing a form of journalism that Breitbart all-but trademarked when he bankrolled two young would-be journalists who went after Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in 2009, conducting a “sting” in which the two Breitbart proteges, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles secretly videotaped employees inside ACORN offices in Baltimore and Washington D.C., supposedly advising them on how to conceal income and manage teenage prostitutes, and then promoted their “investigative report” on Fox News and on Breitbart’s websites, dressed up like a caricature of a pimp.

The operation fed an existing conservative distaste for the organization, which helped low income people obtain economic assistance, but which also helped register tens of thousands of mainly minority voters, most of whom presumably voted Democratic. In the end, ACORN lost Congressional support, and the right won a battle in their war to get government to de-fund what they deem to be Democratic or liberal leaning organizations (including, more recently, unions and Planned Parenthood.)

O’Keefe’s next project, allegedly tampering with the phone lines of Louisiana’s Democratic Senator, Mary Landrieu, got him arrested. But the idea of conducting sting operations and video ambushes has survived prosecution, criticism, and the outright shunning of both the tactics and the stories by the mainstream media.

Why? Because it works.

Breitbart’s tactics — whether it’s trolling Twitter to take down New York Congressman Anthony Weiner after conservative activists noticed that he was “following” several young women on the social media site (he later resigned after admitting to tweeting a body part to a young woman), or ambushing Chris Rock under the guise of asking for an autograph, or similar tactics used by Fox News’ roving video maker Jesse Watters against conservatives’ foes — tend to generate online buzz, if not mainstream media attention. And they help fuel the conservative base’s sense of victimization: they have to conduct covert operations to get their version of the “truth” out, which they believe the mainstream media willfully ignores.

The goal of these operations is to marginalize the target, or to humiliate them and drive them off the public stage. It has often succeeded, and that’s why even after his death, Breitbart’s tactics live on.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport