Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart dead at 43

No apologies: A visit from right-wing flame-thrower Andrew Breitbart
by Mitch Perry Sept. 9 2010



"I've had an interesting month," conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart said at the beginning of his 45-minute address in Tampa late last month, before slightly correcting himself. "I've had an interesting year."


For once, the media provocateur was being a bit understated.


He began the year the subject of bemused admiration, profiled by the likes of Time, The New Yorker and Wired after masterminding the 2009 ruse that brought down the community activist organization ACORN. "Breitbart is, in short, expert in making the journalism industry his bitch," said Wired. A few months later, though, he made headlines for a major misstep: He posted a deceptively edited snippet of videotape on his site that ended up on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor and unjustly led to Shirley Sherrod losing her job at the Department of Agriculture.


When it was made clear after her resignation that Breitbart had presented the excerpt wildly out of context, the White House and the NAACP apologized to Sherrod for calling for her to step down.


But Breitbart never apologized. He'd accomplished his mission: embarrassing the White House and the NAACP. Besides, his supporters believe he always speaks truth, even when he doesn't.


Introducing Breitbart at the "Florida Transparency Summit" sponsored by the conservative James Madison Institute at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel in downtown Tampa on August 28, Institute CEO J. Robert McClure made reference to the Sherrod controversy, then added, "But we know that truth is on our side and not on the side of the Left."


As the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans is waged daily in our media, Breitbart, 41, has become a key cultural warrior for the conservative cause.


A former Matt Drudge assistant, he now hosts five different websites; his latest, the pro-military bigpeace.com, went live on the 4th of July. Based in Los Angeles, he peppered his Tampa speech with various references to living in "the worst place ever," but with four kids, added that he's not moving anywhere.


Breitbart barely mentioned the Sherrod incident during the speech, dismissing it at one point as a "non-story." It was, in fact, one of 2010's hottest media scandals.


The tape he provided to O'Reilly Factor seemed to show Sherrod, in a speech to the NAACP, boasting about having given short shrift to a white farmer once. By the time the video aired, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had already asked for Sherrod's resignation. But a day later, that same white farmer told CNN that Sherrod had actually gone out of her way to help him keep his farm. Other segments of her speech surfaced, in which she explains that if she had ignored him, she would have been giving in to the racism that she and her family had encountered much of her life.


In the Q&A session after his Tampa speech, Breitbart returned to the mantra that his intention in distributing the video was to hit back at the NAACP for accusing the Tea Party of being racist. Perhaps the fact that Sherrod has said she will sue Breitbart deterred him from commenting further.


Breitbart talked much more extensively about videos screened on his Big Government website that led to what is now known as "the ACORN scandal." That is, the series of videos starring two young conservative activists named James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who went into ACORN offices and videotaped discussions that showed staffers encouraging prostitution and tax evasion.


Although liberals cried foul (and O'Keefe, in an unrelated incident, later pled guilty to entering federal property under false pretenses), the Census Bureau ended up dropping the group as an unpaid "partner" for the 2010 census, and Congress voted to strip the community activist group of millions of dollars in funding, leading many of its funders and allies to withdraw their support.


Jack Shafer, the media critic for Slate.com, praised Breitbart when the Acorn story broke: "...as a work of undercover journalism, the stunt is a mess, but an interesting one — like something William Randolph Hearst might have conjured up for his sensationalistic New York Journal in the 1890s."


But after Sherrod, Shafer told CL in an e-mail that "the Sherrod business seriously dinged [Breitbart's] reputation." He added that "one of the marks of a good journalist is acknowledging error."


Karl Frisch, a Breitbart critic with the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, says the only difference between the ACORN incident and the Sherrod affair was that "he was proven a fraud in a few hours vs. several months," referring to the fact that initial reports about the ACORN story (such as the fact that the undercover "reporters" were dressed as a pimp and a prostitute) were later found to be untrue. After a four-month investigation, a Brooklyn D.A.'s investigation found no illegal activity by the organization.


"He's like everyone in conservative journalism," Frisch says. "Which is to come up with a story and go get one side of the evidence to prove that story."


The Sherrod incident enraged the left, but Breitbart appears to relish the atttention. In Tampa he said that ex-liberals like himself who go conservative are "really, really obnoxious. I'm David Horowitz on Ritalin. I'm really, really, really pissed off." In fact, Breitbart's disdain for all things liberal is epitomized by his opinion of ACORN, who he calls "an immoral, amoral group that is not out there trying to help people... it's trying to keep the poor people on the plantation that is liberalism."


Breitbart views his work as an extension of the rise of conservative media, beginning with Rush Limbaugh's dominance in the late 1980s on AM radio, followed by Drudge on the Internet, Fox News and Glenn Beck.


But Media Matters' Frisch says Breitbart is merely a master of self-promotion. Groups like the Media Research Center have been doing the same work over the past 25 years.


But what Breitbart has done is flood the blogosphere. He says that the invention of blog software has allowed all sorts of access to the media that simply wasn't possible even when the Drudge Report began some 15 years ago, and he says it was liberals who are now paving the way for conservatives like himself to prosper.


By "understanding basic HTML and how to use File Transfer Protocol," he said in Tampa, "these software gurus on the left opened the floodgates, and the left ultimately sowed the seeds of their own demise, because every person could start a blog from their cell phone if you could go to WordPress."


Breitbart helped Arianna Huffington create the Huffington Post back in 2005 (Huffington was a noted conservative before changing her political course — that's when Breitbart originally met her). He says that HuffPo's decidedly liberal bent is actually "expediting the demise of the New York Times," saying that it's a false premise among the "academic elite" that what they're doing is objective journalism.


Breitbart admits he's biased on the right, and says everybody else, including the New York Times and other bastions of "old media," should admit their biases too.


Kathleen Hall Jamison is a professor of communications and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of the book, Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. Upon reading a text of Breitbart's Tampa speech, she called it a "very standard critique from the right of the mainstream media," and says much of it can be heard daily on Rush Limbaugh.


One of the 50 or so people cheering Breitbart on in Tampa was Tim Condon, a South Tampa self-described conservative/libertarian who used to edit the Alligator, the student newspaper at the University of Florida.


"The mainstream media has always said they're objective, therefore anybody who used to challenge that was called a nutcase," Condon told CL a few days after Breitbart's speech. "But what Breitbart says is that they were lying, they were never objective and the Internet has empowered the truth coming out."


Another fan is Hillsborough County Republican David Hurley, who said afterward that the speech Breitbart gave shows that "he is aware of the dangers of crossing people in high places but goes ahead and takes the plunge. No matter how one feels about his perspective, you have to admire his courage."


But does he have a future after the Sherrod embarrassment? When asked if he considers Andrew Breitbart dangerous, Karl Frisch says simply, "He's as dangerous as the media allows him to be."

Love him or loathe him, Andrew Breitbart made a big impact over the past few years.

News broke early Thursday morning that the conservative blogger, a disciple of Matt Drudge, had passed away overnight from "natural causes," at his Hollywood home. He was 43.

With so little news about how or why he died, the political/media industry will ruminate on his legacy today. We're not sure what we can add to that, but CL wrote a profile of Breitbart after we attended a speech he gave for the James Madison Institute at a Tampa hotel back in August of 2010.

Read below to read that piece.

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