Monday’s most controversial Miley Cyrus image didn’t come from her weekend shows in Brooklyn. It wasn’t even really of her, exactly.
For a new web campaign, the conservative news website Breitbart superimposed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s head on a photo of Cyrus’s latex bikini-clad body from last year’s infamous MTV Video Music Awards twerk extravaganza. Pelosi’s tongue hangs out at an angle that screams “money shot.” It’s the ultimate proof that Breitbart doesn’t deserve to be considered a legitimate political news site, regardless of its political leanings.
The ad is part of a larger campaign to launch the site’s new vertical devoted to California politics, Breitbart California. Among the other images are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s head superimposed on the body of a topless woman and California Gov. Jerry Brown’s head superimposed on a shirtless Arnold Schwarzenegger, his predecessor. But the Pelosi image has gotten the most headlines, and for good reason.
Like an immature teenager who gets an “edgy” tattoo to attract the ire and attention of his parents, Breitbart is clearly baiting Democrats and feminists with the Pelosi ad. And it’s working.
Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan called the image and an accompanying shot of Mark Zuckerberg’s head superimposed on a topless woman a “sexist pile of garbage.” Ana Marie Cox tweeted: “I am speechless with rage. This is unacceptable.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, slammed the ads and Republicans for not being equally publicly offended. “The Breitbart News ad is foul, offensive, and disrespectful to all women. It is a disgusting new low,” she said in statement. “If GOP leaders are serious about their rebrand, then both their elected and Party leadership should condemn this outrageous behavior, call on Breitbart News to immediately remove the ad, and not continue to use this website as a forum for their views.”
This isn’t the first time Cyrus and her tongue have been used to skewer politicians. As some conservatives have pointed out, the singer herself spoofed Republican Michele Bachmann on Saturday Night Live in September, touching herself and writhing on the floor with her bra on display during a “We Can’t Stop” parody of the government shutdown. Bachmann’s response to that sketch: “I’ve probably been lampooned six or seven times on Saturday Night Live and that’s all done in good fun.”
Compared to Bachmann’s “taking it all in stride” view, Schultz and other Democrats might seem to be overreacting to what is clearly an unfunny, unclever, and yes, sexist ad.
But Breitbart is a news site, one that millions of Americans turn to every day. Saturday Night Live is a comedy show, and it can get away with sophomoric, salacious, and controversial content because it presents that content as satire. Breitbart purports to be a serious, trusted news source, one that works closely with politicians. On Friday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote a piece praising Breitbart California, the new vertical the Pelosi-Cyrus image was commissioned to promote.
Even more damaging to Breitbart’s attempts at respectability is the artist behind the image.
The man behind the Breitbart California images goes by the name of Sabo. A quick glance through his recent Facebook posts, which are public, provides ample evidence of the artist’s vitriol. In a post from April 5 featuring an article from CNS.com on female unemployment, he wrote:
“OBAMA AND THE DEMOCRAT’S WAR ON WOMEN! HOW SAD MOST WOMEN ARE TOO FUCKEN THICK IN THE HEAD TO BLAME THEM. BUT NOW IF BUSH OR SOME OTHER REPUBLICAN IN OFFICE ... NOW THAT’S DIFFERENT!!! DUMB BROADS!
On April 1, he wrote: “FEMINISTS! NO ONE WANTS TO SEE YOU NAKED. TRUST US ... THAT’S PROBABLY WHY YOU’RE FEMINISTS.”
Sabo is as incoherent and hateful as any run-of-the-mill troll. It took The Daily Beast less than 10 minutes of research to discover that. And yet Breitbart decided to commission him, of all available artists, to create the face of its California vertical. A political website has a responsibility to consider the political views of an artist it hires, especially when that artist does politically branded images for the site. If Breitbart wants to be respected, it should steer clear of someone who proudly posts comments about how no one wants to see feminists naked. Such comments reflect a level of ignorance and boorishness that should be a red flag about the person’s politically driven artwork. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with hiring a political troll to bake a cake or paint a landscape, but when the art is meant to reflect a political message, the site is making a clear statement by hiring them and, therefore, validating their political views.
If Breitbart wants to be considered a respected news site, even an admittedly partisan one, it can’t rely on such images or artists to represent its brand. National Review and The Weekly Standard would never have run the Pelosi image, nor would they have formed a professional relationship with a man who spews such inarticulate, blunt sexism. If Breitbart wants to be taken seriously, it’s time to grow up.