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The Audacity of Breitbart

Andrew Breitbart, the conservative web entrepreneur who died today, was perceived by many as a jester. He also revolutionized the media landscape.

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Breitbart speaks at the conservative Americans for Prosperity ‘Defending the American Dream Summit’ in Washington on November 5, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images )

The last time I saw Andrew Breitbart, who died this morning at the age of 43, he showed me a photograph of Anthony Weiner’s genitals.

That was the day after Breitbart, fresh off a plane from his home in Los Angeles, hijacked Weiner’s press conference at the New York Sheraton. The soon-to-be former Democratic congressman was to take the stage and deliver a confession that he had, in fact, sent naked images of himself to women via Twitter—an accusation he had emphatically denied since Breitbart had published a series of shirtless self-portraits of the congressman on his website. Hoping that Weiner would announce his resignation, Breitbart, the Andy Kaufman of American media, had come to New York to claim his scalp. When the congressman was late for the press conference, the Internet entrepreneur commandeered the microphone and ripped into the various journalists who doubted the authenticity of his claims. In fact, Breitbart claimed he had much worse.

The next evening, I met Breitbart at Langhan’s, an Irish pub and the regular watering hole for employees of Fox News. A group of Indian businessmen sitting behind us instantly made the connection between the floppy-haired man talking endlessly on the bar’s television and the guy sitting right across from them. Breitbart loved the attention. Within minutes, he whipped out his smart phone, and there was Anthony Weiner, as naked as the day he was born.

***

Andrew Breitbart, for better and worse, was shameless. Sometimes this got him into trouble, like when he posted excerpts of a speech by a low-ranking Obama Administration official, Shirley Sherrod, which deceptively made it seem as if she was making racist statements. It sparked controversy that ultimately led to her resignation. (When the full video was eventually released, Breitbart told Newsweek, “If I could do it all over again, I should have waited for the full video to get to me.”)

But Breitbart’s audacity also revolutionized the media landscape and American politics. It came as a revelation to many that Breitbart had once worked as a research assistant for Arianna Huffington, in his younger—and her right-wing—days. As the behind-the-scenes partner behind the Drudge Report, Breitbart quietly became one of the most powerful men in media. Though the site has always borne the personal stamp of its founder, Matt Drudge, Breitbart was, for many years, the second in command, every day sifting through thousands of stories to shape the media narrative.

Once, on a junket to Azerbaijan, I remember looking over his shoulder as he manned the site for his editing shift. I was amazed at how this goofy guy in a baseball cap would sit down in front of his laptop and suddenly transform into the maestro of American media, fielding emails from some of the country’s highest-profile journalists begging him for a link.

Breitbart eventually left Drudge and started his own media mini-empire, a series of blogs marked with the “Big” Brand: Big Journalism, a conservative media monitor; Big Government, a libertarian blog; and Big Peace, a hawkish—occasionally freakishly so—foreign-policy site. Through his sites, he played a major role in promoting the Tea Party, speaking at events in far-flung cities across the country. He had plans, half-serious, I think, to start Big Black, a site for African-American conservatives, and at one point he said that he wanted me to edit Big Gay.

Which leads me to a point of more than just personal interest: In addition to being a new-media pioneer, Breitbart was a significant force in making the GOP, and the conservative movement more broadly, friendlier to gays. Not long after I met Breitbart, we began to engage in a series of debates about gay marriage, which sometimes found their way onto various radio talk shows that Breitbart would occasionally guest host.

Though he opposed gay marriage, it wasn’t the issue that got him out of bed every morning, and he argued not from a position of religious conviction, but tradition: The ideal family situation for children, he said, was with a mother and father. (Despite his image of a wild man, he was a devoted father and loving husband; he once told me, in dead seriousness, that the only reason he wasn’t a massive failure in life was because of his wife.) Breitbart himself was raised Jewish by adoptive parents, and while he was in no sense a religious man, he had a respect for religion and religious people.

Breitbart was the rare sort of conservative who was as comfortable among Christian evangelicals as he was among gay people; some of his favorite music was 1980s British New Wave, and it doesn’t get much gayer than that. Perhaps this is what led some of his left-wing detractors to insinuate that he was gay himself, an accusation that didn’t seem to bother him at all.

In 2010, Breitbart joined the board of GOProud, a conservative gay organization. The following year, when the Conservative Political Action Conference announced that it would ban GOProud from its conference in deference to complaints from social conservative groups like the Family Research Council, Breitbart pulled out of the conference and declared that he would host a party for the “homocons” instead. His attitude on gays, like on most things, was shaped by the socially liberal milieux in which he was formed: southern California and New Orleans, where he attended Tulane University.

Breitbart was loathed as much as he was loved, which is just the way he wanted it. I didn’t always approve of his tactics, and I can’t say how history will judge his contributions to the worlds of media and politics. But today the American media lost one of its most perceptive innovators—a man who was so much smarter than the court jester his haters thought him to be.

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Howard says:

” But today the American media lost one of its most perceptive innovators—a man who was so much smarter than the court jester his haters thought him to be.”

Seriously? I don’t think anyone ever underestimated his smarts. He was clever enough, but what matters is the master you serve and the ends you seek. He should have lived longer, so that he would have the years he needed to repent of all the evil he had already done by 43.

Joseph Singer says:

I wish I could say that it’s too bad for his passing, but the man was a reprehensible human being. I feel sorry that his kids no longer have a father, but other than that I feel nothing but contempt for this man who feeds on others’ misery.

History will forget him rather quickly. Not because of his politics, but because he really did nothing. Ask a 15 year old who Walter Winchell is and he might saw “Prime Minister?”

George says:

A brave crusader against the stupidity of the Left. It was due to his efforts alone that the endemic corruption and criminality of ACORN was brought before the public. A story which the mainstream Liberal media refused to cover until long after Breitbart exposed the details.

sterling says:

Breitbart was a gentile kid who was allegedly “raised Jewish” but was never formally converted. That makes him a faux Jew; and even less Jewish than another famous adoptee, demented serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. Bringing up the rear of this trinity of infamy is Christophile (and Mel Gibson supporter!) David Klinghoffer, a writer who serves as a shill for the (creationist) Discovery Institute. The rabbi who converted Klinghoffer to “Orthodox” Judaism, Barry Freundel (named in K’s book), no longer will have anything to do with him.

JCarpenter says:

43 is too young for anyone to die; one needs at least as many years more to learn gentleness, humility, charity, and basically to get over one’s self.

craig says:

have to agree with the bulk of these comments. you give this man far more credit than he deserves. being smart does not negate his beligerance, contempt and destructive inclinations toward those he disagreed with. he was a product of the 24/7 news generation – a man who joyously toyed with people’s careers with total disregard. you said it yourself, he loved to be recognized. journalism is not about self serving one’s own ego, it’s about truth, justice and facts. he didn’t change news through perception or smarts, he was a product of how news is now sensationalized. 20 years ago, before news devolved into the circus it is today, breitbart would have been committed. sadly, in this day and age, we put him on tv.

dj spellchecka says:

sorry, no sale…there was nothing funny about his “jests.” they were almost always in the service of destroying people with less power than his beloved conservatives had.

his “contributions” made the world a meaner, uglier place. some legacy.

nancy says:

remember acorn

Yehuda says:

BSD

Breitbart was an arrogant individual whose profession was lashon ha-ra and motzi shem ra (misrepresentation, slander and worse).
As such, as a Mechallel ha-Shem (desecrator of the Sacred), he was not a true Jew but an anti-Semite’s caricature of one, i.e., a full-blown Judas.
I will be sponsoring a Kiddish in my shul
to celebrate the demise of this faith-traitor.
After all, on the Right, ‘Hollywood’ is a synonym for ‘Jews’. His website, BIG Hollywood, was an anti-Semite’s mecca.
If you believe in the kabbalistic notion of Gilgul (reincarnation), in a previous life, Breitbart was probably the snitch who betrayed the Frank family to the Nazis.

Phil N says:

I am sure Andrew Breibart would be amused that even his death will not stop the Liberals from launching their invective against him. While he would rather debate Liberals, all too often they would rather shout, proving the bankruptcy of their philosophy. Not disimilar to the actions of the anti Zionist leftists which plague our campuses. What these fools who speak so badly of the dead have done is give license to those wish to defame the dead. Next time a Ted Kennedy type dies, expect the same treatment.

Paul says:

The coincidence of his death coming the day before his release of tapes which purported to show Obama doing his Far Left radical thing while at Harvard is more than a little intriguing.

Rob C says:

@Phil–

“Next time a Ted Kennedy type dies, expect the same treatment.” That’s already happened… http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2009/08/26/57997/breitbart-kennedy-twitter/..

By Mr. Brietbart himself…

JCarpenter says:

Novel idea, Paul; maybe Glenn Beck will write it. What would be more cynical, to actual do such a thing (you can fill in the blank), or with innuendo suggest such a thing, as is already being done on blogs. Sounds as if he truly had heart trouble, physical and otherwise.

Karen v.H. says:

We didn’t think he was a jester. We thought he was a thoroughly amoral person who thought it was great sport to destroy careers and trash lives using vicious lies, massive distortions, and dishonest editing tricks. To dismiss the complaints about Breitbart with the term “jester,” implying that people complained that he was a buffoon, is disingenuous at best. Breitbart proudly stood for lying, cheating, and sleazy tactics, which to him were apparently more desirable values than honesty and integrity. I don’t see what’s admirable about that.

enubus says:

Very well said Mr. Kirchick, it was a very sad day when Andy died. I had immense respect for his genius! May he rest in peace!!

LEUCIPPE says:

BRETIBART was an ugly, defaming, unscrupulous scum. The fact that this article chose to show ‘another side’ and to massage that man’s insatiable ego (even if untimely departed) is proof how low journalism has sunk.

Joel says:

One of thelasting memoriesof Andy was when the Weiner story broke and he stood before the media, most of whose members work for the Liberal Lamestream media, and challenged them to name one instance when he had lied. Nobody said anything. Now if we really want to talk about a real lying scumbag, David Brock and his Far Left Media Matters is the most prominent and glaring example of a person and an outfit who are simply despicable.

Hershl says:

Look at the Huffington Post and other liberal media and you will find “nice people” pushing each other aside to say what a nice guy Breitbart was.

This author does the same.

Breitbart was a worthless piece of garbage who picked the wrong side of history to fight for.

He was no good when alive and I have no reason to believe that death changed him for the better.

yitz says:

Compared to Andrew Breitbart, Richard Nixon- lying weasel though he was- was a pillar of integrity.

Greg says:

The devil took his own. This vicious, opportunist man lied and twisted the truth and destroyed many. His death will ensure this comes to an end. In 5 years or less he will barely be remembered.

The invective here is quite amazing. Although I think it would not have surprised Andrew but rather would have amused him.

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The Audacity of Breitbart

Andrew Breitbart, the conservative web entrepreneur who died today, was perceived by many as a jester. He also revolutionized the media landscape.

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