It's a pity that the 19th-century Austrian novelist Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach was not still around this week to witness a spectacular vindication of her most famous aphorism: Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
That old adage applies to Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing-media hit man previously best known for manufacturing a charge of racism that forced the heroic Shirley Sherrod to resign from the Department of Agriculture and for publicizing a highly edited sting videotape supposedly showing employees at the now defunct community organization ACORN advising a prostitute on how to avoid paying taxes. His track record establishes that Breitbart's grasp of the facts is no firmer than Sarah Palin's command of American history.
But in, er, exposing the eponymously named Rep. Anthony Weiner, Breitbart finally managed to hit his target. It will be a relief when Weiner finally realizes that he should resign from Congress and devote himself to his pregnant wife. He is an embarrassment.
But does bagging Weiner mean that Breitbart has restored his credibility, or that his numerous liberal and journalistic critics owe him an apology for writing him off as a purveyor of sleaze, as some conservative bloggers have maintained? I don't think so.
I'm all for giving the devil his due, but such forbearance has definite limits. If you will pardon yet another old cliché, one sparrow does not make a spring. And being right in this instance does not negate Breitbart's outrageous behavior toward Sherrod, who is suing him for defamation, or balance out the fact that despite his sensational claims, investigators have found no proof that anyone at ACORN actually committed a crime.
Weiner is hardly the first liberal politician to be caught with his pants down by a dubious news source. He's not even the only prominent Democrat whose case is currently making headlines. Former U.S. senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards has been indicted for allegedly using campaign funds to cover up the love child he fathered with his campaign videographer. The story that led to his troubles was broken several years ago by the National Enquirer.
And Edwards is just the latest example of this strange phenomenon. It was also the Enquirer that revealed, more than a decade ago, that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had done the same with one of his aides. Before that, another supermarket tabloid, the Star, paid Arkansas hairdresser Gennifer Flowers for details about her affair with Bill Clinton. And before that, the Enquirer published photos of former Sen. Gary Hart with model Donna Rice on his lap.
And, for whatever it's worth, the tabloid breathlessly reported in 2008 that Sarah Palin had an extramarital affair while she was mayor of the town of Wasilla, Alaska.
Despite that string of scoops, it would be downright foolhardy for the rest of the media or anyone else to accept any claim by the Enquirer and its ilk as the truth without strong independent verification. For one thing, such publications pay snitches for information, and if you pay enough, you can always get what you pay for. It may or may not be true.
But questionable as the supermarket tabloids' journalistic practices may be, they look transparent and aboveboard compared with the little we know about Breitbart's techniques. Plus, what the tabloids report often checks out.
Not so with Breitbart. In both the Sherrod and ACORN cases, independent analysts have concluded that he or his colleagues deliberately distorted the facts to reach sensational conclusions. In short, his reports were propaganda masquerading as journalism. He's still not to be trusted, even though, like Ebner-Eschenbach's stopped clock, this time he was right.
Jack White is a frequent contributor to The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.