Breitbart.com has come up with a justification for its ill-advised, standards-defying story on the vacation plans of the president's daughters: The trip cost more than zero dollars. The feeble rationalization shouldn't surprise anyone. It's by Matthew Boyle, the Murrow-wannabe at the center of nearly every recent embarrassment in the conservative media.
Earlier this week, Breitbart ran a story — an "exclusive" — that the president's daughters are on vacation in the Bahamas. There's a reason why it's so easy to get an exclusive on the Obama daughters: every other media organization has agreed to the request by the Obama White House — like the Bush and Clinton White Houses before it — to not report on the locations and activities of the President's children. There are two general exceptions: if the children are with their parents, or if there is something newsworthy about what they're doing. There's no formal agreement to which media outlets acquiesce but it is a spoken arrangement. And it's a rational, customary effort both to protect the safety and privacy of children.
It's hard to believe Breitbart was too worried about drawing the ire of this White House for breaking the policy. Still, just to cover his flank, Boyle whipped up a highly strained news hook in keeping with the newsworthy exception: The White House, you see, disappointed DC tourists by canceling tours because of the sequester, yet the president's daughters go on some fancy trip? Are you not outraged?
While Boyle's initial post gave that idea short shrift, focusing instead on social media from the resort and details about its amenities, today's follow-up gets back to the ostensible newsworthiness. He notes that a conservative group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to figure out how much the trip to the "ritzy" resort cost taxpayers. There's your breaking news update: Conservative group reads stupid story, piles on. Oh, also: a former Secret Service agent says that the White House tours could have continued and that Obama is "not telling the truth."
The whole thing is this weird melange of insinuation, bizarre appeals to class resentment, and guilt by association. But that's what the world should expect from Matt Boyle, a journalist of the "see what sticks" school. The Daily Caller's debunked story about Sen. Bob Menendez and hookers? That was Matt Boyle's fine work, too. The guy who decided that being ignored by a member of Congress meant she opposed Attorney General Eric Holder? Boyle. And now we add: The best way to discuss fiscal policy is to delve into the lives of teenagers.
There's something almost admirable about the way in which Boyle refuses let scruples affect his work. There's a purity to it, a tenacity, like a boxer that keeps swinging after his opponent has already dropped to his knees.
Granted, it's unavoidable that some news about the girls' vacation should seep out. Last year, the White House made an exception to its usual silence to confirm that Malia Obama was spending her spring break in Mexico to confirm that she was uninjured after a strong earthquake struck. The Washington Post noted at the time that in a world choked with portable cameras meant protecting that privacy was nearly impossible. It's a theme that was repeated at The Times' Bits blog yesterday. Mobile, internet-connected cameras are putting paparazzi out of business.
There is, however, a difference between the vacationing Twitter users who took pictures of Sasha and Malia and a website that styles itself as a news outlet reporting on their behavior. Mike Dell'anno's tweet, quoted by Boyle, was meant to share with friends that he was having dinner at the same restaurant as the girls. Boyle's story was meant to disparage their father and sell ads for Breitbart.com. Motive — and audience size — matter.