Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
On a Breitbart article titled More Christian Refugees Arriving Under Trump Than Muslims, the top voted user comment, written by Darth Awesome, says this: “Only bring in Christians from Muslim savage lands. Those are the real refugees.”
Over the past several months, I’ve made a habit of visiting Breitbart.com, browsing through their headlines, reading some of the content, and—rather morbidly—scrolling through the user comments. The purpose of my visits has been to catch a glimpse of the “other side.” As most of the reputable (or rather, respectable) conservative news sources and commentators were fairly quick to criticize President Trump and his administration, and with Steve Bannon serving as the White House Chief Strategist, Breitbart seemed the best avenue towards understanding.
Breitbart is the kind of website that features cheap click-bait ads as prominently as its own featured articles (Man Turns $50,000 into $5.3 Million (Here’s How He Did It)). Were it not bolstered into infamy for being an important player in getting President Trump elected, its weak design and desperation for my money would have turned me off the site on its own. Any attempt to purposefully navigate the slew of headlines that haphazardly dribble down their home page is futile. It’s best to approach the matter as you would your Facebook wall: scroll, scroll, scroll until something tickles your fancy. And to that point, I’ll say this: Breitbart knows how to tickle. In casual strokes of brilliance, their headlines stoke the fires of righteous anger beneath both their supporters and their detractors. Like the president they support, they do little to cater to those who might disagree, and they take pride in that. See the below, and tell me there isn’t a part of you that wants to click:
Newsweek Dabbles in ‘President Hillary’ Fan Fiction
American Eagle Outfitters Selling Denim Hijab
‘Fraud News Wrong Again’: CNN Host Falsely Claims President Trump Would Have Approved Hillary-Backed Uranium One Deal…
Hillary Backer Kesha: I See Spaceships
A separate article would need to be written on all that’s going on here—the unswaying focus on Democrat shaming, the bald-faced assertion of bias, the sheer unimportance of the articles, and so on—but it needn’t happen here for our purposes. Suffice it to say that there is a child-like fascination among these writers to insert put-downs whenever possible, paired with a child-like wit. Click, if you have the stomach, but don’t expect the rhetoric to be any more civil.
Though, in truth, civility will be the least of your problems. Breitbart’s staff writes prose as elegant as President Trump’s tweets. And as they don’t bother to distinguish between op-ed and hard news, most of their articles find themselves in an awkward in-between that is ultimately neither. This, too, is in the fashion of Trump’s tweets, which don’t bother to distinguish between pedestrian ramblings and presidential declarations. This isn’t a new thought, per say. Nearly everyone knows Breitbart’s reputation, but like Transformers: The Last Knight, few people actually bother to view it because knowing how bad it is for yourself just doesn’t seem worth it. So I’ll make my point with a single article, as we’re already treading the waters of common knowledge: Delingpole: ‘Biggest Iceberg Evah’ Story Is Just More Climate #Fakenews. If that juicy title didn’t make it clear, please don’t expect a compelling argument to support it. The article begins by quoting snippets from some mainstream media (MSM) sources like CNN, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Each speaks of that giant iceberg that broke off Antarctica’s shelf, and in some form or another relates it to climate change, even if mildly. Regardless, any and all positive mention of climate change must be refuted, especially if CNN is involved. So in 144 words, passing mention of a three minute YouTube video, and not a single academic source, the reader is expected to believe the calving of the iceberg to be conclusively unrelated to climate change. With specs like that, a high school freshman English teacher wouldn’t give it a passing grade. This doesn’t stop Breitbart from ending on a triumphant note:
No one is disputing, then, that a big chunk of ice broke off Antarctica this week.
But it wasn’t unprecedentedly large and it wasn’t anything to do with climate change. Only the #fakenews media think otherwise.
Even if I were to dismiss the lazy prose (I won’t), and further, dismiss my belief in climate change, I don’t need the MSM to explain to me this article is garbage. A discerning reader of any political persuasion would know that climate science is too vast a study to dismiss so flippantly. But therein lies the depressing crux of the matter: Breitbart’s readers, of whom, I’m afraid, none are discerning.
My curiosity is often too strong to keep me from the comments for long. After clicking the headline, I’ll often jump to the comments before scrolling back up to see if the journalism is any better. I briefly toyed with the idea of creating a username so I could engage meaningfully with the likes Darth Awesome and his ilk. Under the guise of a questioning conservative, I’d ask questions to provoke some deeper thought, all while tactfully making clear I’m on their side. However, time and continued reading of Breitbart’s comments lead me to believe this effort would be in vain. These comment sections were not places for deeper thought. Scroll down just a bit from Darth Awesome’s popular blurb, and one will find the third top user rated comment from Dave Nesbitt says this: “I wish we could just ban Muslims completely and allow Christians in but you know Muslims will claim to be Christian because they are evil.” The fourth, from LuciusAnnaeusSeneca: “But the Christians will be able to answer doctrinal questions correctly. Muslims can’t as their answers will reveal their lack of understanding of the basics.” The irony of this last comment is painful, if not heartbreaking. The make-believe required to formulate this thought is common among Breitbarters. With comments like these, my “questioning conservative” persona would have made a negligible splash. And I’ll state why in a way that most won’t, because even in its truth it remains unhelpful: these people aren’t intelligent. Compassion and reason won’t change a thing.
I’ll come back to that.
Judging any news organization by their user comments isn’t fair, I’ll admit. The comments on NPR’s Facebook often make me squeamish. HuffPo’s Facebook is where liberals go to masturbate (authoritatively). That said, there is a marked abundance of cruelty among Breitbarters that separates them from their MSM siblings. Click any article and rest assured, no matter the article’s content, the top comment will contain a note of hate. Of the headlines mentioned above, American Eagle Outfitters Selling Denim Hijab seems to me the most nonpartisan at surface value. Yet, the top voted comment: “There’s not one d@m thing American about American Eagle outfitters.” That this mild article elicited such judgmental drivel is no surprise, as articles with actual substance tend to be far worse. For instance, Teens Face Charges After Allegedly Broadcasting Sexual Assault on Facebook Live comes with this pontification from FreeMarky: “If Obama had a son and Bill had a biological daughter…” The insinuation here being that Obama’s son would have sexually assaulted Bill Clinton’s daughter. Like Breitbart’s own writers, their commenters are quick to the easy insult, regardless of merit. It’s a sadistic game, trying to find a good-natured comment within their vast collection of articles. Don’t play expecting to win.
To an extent, one must believe that Breitbart News Network revels in their comments simply by virtue of allowing them on site. Most news organizations (including their arch-nemesis, CNN) have wisely eliminated website comments, undoubtedly knowledgeable of the dangers of gang mentality. In comparison, the presence of Breitbart’s comments seems like a badge—welcomed and showcased, no matter how hostile. They aren’t snowflakes. They don’t care if they offend anyone. And they certainly don’t care if the likes of me finds them cruel. With concepts of good and evil eerily similar to that of a toddler’s first notion of it in Sunday school, I’m not encouraged to believe these folk have the self-awareness necessary to understand their own cruelty in the first place.
Which brings me back to stupidity. If the evidence provided here isn’t ample enough, visit the site yourself. Declaring any mass of people “stupid” is a strange and uncomfortable thing to say, and few are willing to say it broadly outside of their own social circles. But if no one admits that a good swath of our voting countrymen can’t think worth a damn, then we’re all going to continue operating under the pretense that presenting a good line of reasoning will do something. It won’t. Consider Breitbart and its patrons as you might a human condition: inevitable, unavoidable. Sharing that well-researched and articulated NPR article on your Facebook wall is as effective as putting a band-aid on death.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
– Richard Niebuhr
Will Montei (’13) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in philosophy. He currently lives in Seattle, taking full advantage of the abundant local coffee and surrounding mountain hikes. He is an avid daydreamer, an old soul, and a creative potty mouth.