MORE THAN ‘A ROGUISH PROVOCATEUR’…. The Atlantic‘s Joshua Green, a Monthly alum, notes this morning the political media pattern that was common for most of the ’90s.

Awhile back, particularly during the Clinton administration, the media would flagellate itself every so often for rushing, lemming-like, to cover some story or other that was being touted on the Drudge Report, and then, after a period of reflection, deciding that it shouldn’t be. There was usually a Howard Kurtz column to demarcate such an episode. But the recidivism rate was high. Invariably, the media would chase the next Drudge rumor, and the whole cycle would repeat.

It happened with surprising frequency, and every time, we’d see media pieces acknowledging that reporters really should know better the next time. They never did.

Now, as the Shirley Sherrod story helps demonstrate, it’s Andrew Breitbart pulling the strings, and the same pattern emerges.

[W]hat’s galling to me — gut-wrenching, really, like watching old news footage of blacks being beaten and clubbed at lunch counters — is that Breitbart obviously understood the powerful effect his tape would have, posted it anyway, and then assumed the role of ringmaster, expertly conducting the media circus, fanning the flames. It’s hardly the first time. But the moral ugliness of what’s just happened is glaring, and it’s hard for me to see how the media can justify continuing to treat Breitbart as simply a roguish provocateur. He’s something much darker.

But it doesn’t seem to matter. CNN had Breitbart on last night, and he went after the Spooners — the family Sherrod helped rescue. This morning, he was given another platform on “Good Morning America.” The “moral ugliness” doesn’t seem to be interfering with Breitbart’s media schedule.

There’s no shortage of institutional mistakes when it comes to the Sherrod story. The Agriculture Department was wrong to overreact; the NAACP was wrong to agree; and obviously Breitbart was wrong to launch a dishonest smear campaign against an innocent woman who’d done nothing wrong. But if the cable networks could take a moment to recognize their own culpability, it’d be a step in the right direction.

Of course, if history is any guide, it’d be a step the outlets immediately took back the next time Big Government pushes a phony story.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.