Beto O'Rourke, Joel Pollak, and tribalism

Joel Pollak is a writer for Breitbart and one who has written a long list of articles praising President Donald Trump for his work in the White House. He’s been with Breitbart for years having served as the website’s in-house counsel following a failed run against Chicago Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky in 2010. He was once editor-in-chief of the website but is now a senior editor-at-large. Pollak is currently spending plenty of time in South Carolina following Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden’s treks through the state.

Pollak’s work on the O’Rourke beat got under the skin of at least two campaign staff members enough to have a Benedict College police officer boot him from an event this week. He wrote about it, of course, generating plenty of defense from other journalists including Matthew Rosenberg and Elizabeth Williamson from The New York Times. Josh Dawsey from The Washington Post tweeted out Pollak’s story and The Poynter Institute decried O’Rourke’s move by calling it a major mistake.It also received coverage from CNN, POLITICO, the Associated Press, and other news outlets. Breitbart fans, such as Donald Trump Jr., have filled social media with Pollak’s recollection of the events. One Trump fan quipped “there would [be] none left” if Trump removed Democrat reporters from his events.

Yet, it didn’t take long for a multitude of other writers and bloggers to defend the Texas Democrat’s action. One declared factual reporting was being devalued by allowing a “propaganda outlet” to blend in with news organizations. Another criticized Breitbart as a “glorified blog” () and it was the site’s “greatest trick” to be considered a news site. A third cried Breitbart had been eroding American democracy for years by “posing as legitimate news” while a fourth accused journalists of “grotesque” behavior for accepting Pollak and Breitbart in the Beltway. There was hope from a fifth that other candidates will follow O’Rourke’s lead.

The O’Rourke campaign promised to return access to Pollak although the future will probably not contain an apology. A spokesperson declared Breitbart is on a tightrope between “being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.” The organization did promise it believed in the right to free press but desired a safe space for HBCU students to talk about sensitive issues.

A friend of mine recently mentioned he believed tribalism was killing America. Another lamented the current American political scene was “all about the damn jersey.” Michigan Congressman Justin Amash raised the same concerns when discussing leaving the Republican Party while heaping a heavy dose of scorn on Democrats. All these observations come to mind when I consider any situation involving a news entity and “not real journalism” claims.

The question worth considering is whether this push from certain parties and politicians to somehow de-legitimize and deny news outlets access because of their reporting flies in the face of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the Constitution. The next question is what the proverbial ‘next step’ might be if those who believe in ostracizing and de-legitimizing news organizations, regardless of slant, take over both parties.