I understand that Ross Douthat was probably just trying to find a way to write about both men in a coherent and interesting way. I think, as usual, he succeeded with the interesting part, but I’m not so sure he completely nailed it on the coherent front.
I agree entirely with his view that the media is returning to normal after the great parenthesis that began in the late 1930s and ran through the 1980s (I’ve been making a similar argument for years). But I think his comparison of Breitbart and Wilson is pretty strained. Yes Ross makes it clear that Breitbart and Wilson “were completely different animals, who embodied different eras in public discourse and different models of political engagement.”
But he still forces the comparison. The problem, I think, is that Ross treats Wilson as if he was a media figure of some kind. But he wasn’t. Nor was Breitbart a scholar of any kind — a point Andrew would happily concede. Breitbart didn’t “replace” or supplant Wilson any more than Davy Jones did. They were always on completely different tracks. There are still sober scholars today, quietly advancing deeply learned arguments, and there were Breitbartian figures in the old media days as well (though most were on the left). Are those scholars as influential as Wilson was? For the most part no. But that’s a sign of Wilson’s greatness, not an indication that the new media has cut short the Wilson approach to politics. Wilson’s style of political engagement is not dead nor is the “Andrew Breitbart world” really at war with it. And, let it be noted, that James Q. Wilson was never a household name in the era of the old media either. If anything, that’s an indictment of the old media, not the new media.