When Steve Bannon ran Breitbart News, he used it as his primary vehicle to fulfill his desire to burn everything down. Bannon was pushed out last winter after it emerged that he’d made some unflattering remarks about Donald Trump in Michael Wolff’s explosive book, “Fire and Fury.” But Breitbart retains Bannon’s desire to leave the system a smoldering rubble.
But all too often, Breitbart has indicated that its desire to burn everything down means burning down basic standards of decency. The most egregious example of this came in the aftermath of Roy Moore losing a special Senate election to Doug Jones after his campaign came unraveled amid allegations that he molested women and pursued girls young enough to be his daughters.
Executive editor Alex Marlow subsequently told CNN that he went all-in for Moore even though he believed one of Moore’s original accusers, Leigh Corfman, sounded credible. However, he felt compelled to smear and attack them because he believed the accusations were politically motivated.
In other words, Marlow tacitly admitted that Breitbart engaged in victim-blaming and victim-shaming of the worst type. He also admitted that it did so in a way that, by any reasonable standard, amounted to reckless disregard for the truth.
So it came as no surprise when Breitbart editor-at-large John Nolte saw fit to call out NBC News for turning the hot lights on an outfit whose desire to expose child predators is so great that it has no qualms about crossing lines that should never be crossed.
Last week, NBC News profiled POPSquad, a group that seeks to bust people who troll for hookups with minors. However, an October sting went awry. Alain Malcolm drove to a house in Bristol, Connecticut for what he thought was a meetup with a 15-year-old boy. But instead, he found POPSquad’s leader, Shane “Incognito” Erdmann” waiting for him. It turned out that Malcolm had been chatting with the “boy” for some time–but he was actually chatting with a POPSquad member.
Erdmann confronted Malcolm with transcripts of the chat exchanges and loudly berated him for several minutes. The video and the transcripts were, on paper, enough to send Malcolm to prison, or at the very least get him fired from his job as a buyer for a circuit board company and expelled from community college.
But Erdmann couldn’t leave well enough alone. As Malcolm went to his car, Erdmann filmed the license plate and loudly read the numbers. When Malcolm came back to his parents’ house in nearby Torrington, he hanged himself. POPSquad uploaded the video to Facebook soon afterward, but it was deleted soon afterwards.
Let’s be clear. In all likelihood, this wasn’t the first time Malcolm had trolled for an affair with a minor. But Erdmann and POPSquad crossed a bright line by reading the license plate and plastering it on social media. What if a viewer had seen it and seen fit to take matters into his own hands? Or what if–God forbid–that wasn’t really Malcolm’s car, and POPSquad only managed to burn an innocent third-party? Either scenario would have been, at minimum, a whopping civil suit waiting to happen.
But that was apparently lost on Nolte. Instead, he saw fit to burn NBC for peddling a “sob story” about an “alleged child predator”–just because he was black and gay. To Nolte’s mind, there was something amiss about a story that devoted “five paragraphs of hagiography” to a suspected pervert before even discussing his alleged crime.
Nolte thought that there was no difference between POPSquad and one of NBC’s former shows, “To Catch a Predator,” in which NBC producers worked with Perverted-Justice to conduct stings of suspected predators. He noted that one of the show’s targets committed suicide as well.
What Nolte doesn’t tell you is that suicide happened because “To Catch a Predator,” like POPSquad, crossed a line. When Louis Conradt, a prosecutor in Texas, didn’t show up at a sting location after being caught exchanging messages and pictures with a Perverted-Justice volunteer posing as a teenager, a SWAT team barreled to his house with an NBC camera crew in tow. Conradt shot himself as the police arrived.
Conradt’s sister subsequently sued NBC, claiming that the raid had taken place at NBC’s behest. Federal judge Denny Chin–later known as the man who sent Bernie Madoff to prison for life–allowed the suit to go forward. In so doing, he gave NBC and the police a severe tongue-lashing, finding that there was evidence NBC pressed the police into unreasonable and unnecessary tactics solely for entertainment value–to the point that police ignored both the lack of evidence he engaged in violence and their duty to prevent Conradt from killing himself.
Chin found NBC’s behavior was “so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it.” Under the circumstances, NBC was all but forced to reach an out-of-court settlement with the Conradt family in the summer of 2008.
Looper noted that “To Catch a Predator” engaged in several other questionable practices. Watch here.
This is what Nolte wants to emulate?
There is something fundamentally wrong if having zero tolerance for those who prey on kids means forgetting that “no one is above the law” also means “no one is below the law.” Contrary to what Nolte would have you believe, it is possible to want child predators named and shamed and still uphold basic standards of decency that should never be set aside. Clearly, POPSquad has no regard for those standards. Nor, apparently, do Nolte and Breitbart.
We already knew that Breitbart has no qualms about smearing victims of sexual assault who dare to speak up against its chosen candidates. And now we know that it wants to burn down one of the most sacrosanct principles of our democracy–that even the lowest of the low have rights that must be respected.
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