Like Andrew Brainfart, this blogger just loves to judge! Judgmentalism rules in this blog. If this is (fair & balanced) social savagery, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
By Rebecca Mead
Tag Cloud of the following article
On Sunday, March 21st, the day that the House voted to pass health-care reform, Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Internet entrepreneur, was thousands of miles away, at home in Westwood, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Breitbart, who in the past year has become a fixture on Fox News and a regular at Tea Party events, spends a lot of time on the road. In the preceding weeks, he had addressed the California Republican Spring Convention, in Santa Clara—“It’s warfare to save the soul of the United States of America,” he told the audience—and had introduced Sarah Palin at the National Tea Party Convention, in Nashville. But, the weekend of the historic vote, Breitbart, who has four young children, was fulfilling paternal obligations: taking the kids to watch the Los Angeles Marathon; having a ragtag group of little friends over to play.
These pleasant diversions did not, however, prevent Breitbart, who is forty-one, from posting frequently to his Twitter account, which he did in a manner that suggested he was in the midst of a hostile attack, or undergoing a psychotic break. “OhmyGod, the Dems are screaming the N word outside of my house. I swear. No, really. Trust me. It’s true,” he wrote just after 11 A.M.; four minutes later, he added, “Why are elected Democratic leaders in front of my house in LA standing lock-armed screaming racial epithets & homophobic slurs?” Four minutes later, he posted again: “Why is Steny Hoyer in Los Angeles sitting on Anthony Weiner’s shoulders screaming the N word into my home? Weird.”
These digital outbursts were prompted by Politico, which was reporting that several members of the Congressional Black Caucus—among them John Lewis, a hero of the civil-rights movement—had been subjected to racial slurs while walking through a crowd of Tea Party protesters in Washington; at the same event, Representative Barney Frank had allegedly been called “a gay epithet.” On Twitter, Breitbart linked to the story, adding a condensed interpretation: “Dem strategy: Coordinated bloc walks in front of ‘tea partiers’ hoping to get youtube provocation to turn tables.” Not long afterward, he posted again: “How’s the Dems transparent, concerted attempt to provoke Tea Partiers going in this YouTube/FlipPhone environment? They got nada.” The accusation of racist slurs, he suggested to his Twitter followers, who now number eighteen thousand, was no more plausible than was his own fictional harassment by Hoyer, the Majority Leader of the House, and Weiner, the Democratic congressman.
Breitbart is the founder of Breitbart.com, which, since 2005, has aggregated news from the Associated Press, Reuters, and other wire services. He is also the proprietor of several newer Web sites—Big Hollywood, Big Government, and Big Journalism—that provide right-leaning commentary and original reporting. Their content is largely supplied by unpaid bloggers, who are given a more prominent platform than they might otherwise attain. The Big sites are dedicated to countering what Breitbart believes is the leftist bias of American cultural and media institutions.
Breitbart’s biggest scoop thus far has been a series of videos made by a twenty-five-year-old activist named James O’Keefe, which was posted on Big Government last September. O’Keefe, along with Hannah Giles, then a student at Florida International University, travelled across the nation and entered several offices of Acorn, the community-organizing association, with a hidden camera; they posed as a pimp and a prostitute who were seeking housing and business help. O’Keefe’s approach did not adhere to traditional standards of journalism, bearing a closer resemblance to the methods pioneered by Sacha Baron Cohen. In a visit to an Acorn office in Baltimore, O’Keefe and Giles politely introduced themselves as having “kind of a unique life situation.” As Acorn employees solicitously offered them routine small-business advice (file a 1099 tax form, look for deductions), O’Keefe and Giles slowly revealed what their unique life situation entailed, then presented an unorthodox business plan: to smuggle a number of underage Salvadoran girls into the country, with the goal of sexually enslaving them. The Acorn employees were, alarmingly, unalarmed by the proposal. “My job is not to judge people,” one of them told O’Keefe and Giles.
The hidden-camera footage, which Breitbart has called “the Abu Ghraib of the Great Society,” did not expose endemic corruption at Acorn: though O’Keefe and Giles induced employees to coöperate with an appalling scenario, they did not dig up evidence of any actual wrongdoing by those employees. Yet the repeated airing of the footage on Fox News has been devastating, and Acorn now describes its financial situation as “precarious.”
The Acorn prank did not originate with Breitbart, but it was in keeping with his aesthetic, which privileges outrage over nuance, and comedy over comprehension. “I’ve never met Sarah Palin before,” he told the National Tea Party Convention. “I always imagined I’d eventually meet her. A man can have his fantasies.” He readily adopts the cultivated oafishness that is pop culture’s dominant idiom: one day, as we were driving through Westwood, he pointed out the restaurant where he had first met his wife, Susie, twenty-two years earlier. “I remember peeing next to Rob Lowe that night,” he said. “We didn’t crisscross, or anything intimate like that.”
Breitbart, who is Jewish, grew up in Brentwood, an affluent part of Los Angeles. He seems a familiar bicoastal type until he starts explaining his conviction that President Barack Obama’s election was the culmination of a plot, set in place in the nineteen-thirties by émigré members of the Frankfurt School, to take over Hollywood, the media, the academy, and the government, with the aim of imposing socialism. “He’s a Marxist,” Breitbart says of Obama. “His life work, his life experience, his life writings, and now his legislative legacy speak to his ideological point of view.”
Breitbart is tall and burly, with eyes the color of Windex, silver hair that he sometimes forgets is no longer blond, and jowls that he wobbles for emphasis when he wishes to express outrage. He is fond of saying that he has two modes of discourse: righteous indignation and puerile jocularity. “I like to call someone a raving cunt every now and then, when it’s appropriate, for effect,” he informed me. “ ‘You cocksucker.’ I love that kind of language.” Constitutionally adversarial, he enjoys imagining himself paired with an equally combative leftist opponent, such as Sean Penn. “Sort of like ‘Barfly,’ with Mickey Rourke—that’s how I envision it being with me and him,” he says. “I’d hate him, I’d fight him. He’d fight me, he’d get in some punches, I’d get in some punches. We’d drink some more. At the end of the day, we’d agree to disagree. And then I’d punch him again.”
No battle is too petty for Breitbart, no target too small or pathetic. He once showed me a series of messages that he had received from an apparently unhinged visitor to his Web sites. One missive concluded with a postscript: “You drank human urine three times—how did it taste?” Breitbart recalled, “That is when I said, O.K., I am not going to ignore him anymore—I want to create a level of pain for him that makes him realize this is not worth this.” He published the messages, as well as the sender’s name and photograph, on Big Journalism, along with a scathing editorial saying that the sender’s “stylings deserve a far greater public platform.” Breitbart told me, “I am sure if you talk to shrinks, or prosecutors, who are experts in these types of people, it is best to avoid them. But that’s not how my brain works.” Conflict also has the useful function of driving traffic to his sites. Breitbart.com is currently looked at by an average of 2.4 million people a month, according to Quantcast.com.
Breitbart considers himself an accidental cultural warrior. “I am not as partisan as people think I am,” he told me, calling himself eighty-five per cent conservative and fifteen per cent libertarian. His conservatism fails him on issues such as the legalization of prostitution, and he sometimes tilts toward favoring gay marriage. “But, when the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that,” he said.
He does not pretend to be an expert in policy, or to be particularly interested in it. “Just because I am paying attention to politics and culture doesn’t mean that I should be talking about the health-care bill, talking about the minutiae,” he told me. Instead, Breitbart is obsessed with wresting control of the political narrative from the established media organizations. If the wire services that Breitbart aggregates, and the bloggers he recruits, serve as his content providers, then Breitbart might be called a malcontent provider—giving seething, sneering voice to what he characterizes as a silenced majority.
“This pisses me off—this really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really pisses me off,” Breitbart said, as he sat at his desk the morning after the health-care vote. Until recently, Breitbart.com had been run out of his basement. (Breitbart’s light-filled, modernist house, which he bought for six hundred thousand dollars ten years ago, is audibly proximate to a freeway and adjacent to a military cemetery; “I like the neighbors,” he says.) But in February he moved into office space in Santa Monica that is being provided gratis by a friend of his, Stephen K. Bannon, who is a conservative filmmaker and a former Goldman Sachs banker. Also moving in were Breitbart.com’s three Los Angeles staff members: Larry Solov, a childhood friend and a former attorney, who is Breitbart’s business partner; Darren Rush, the chief technical officer; and Alex Marlow, a young factotum who recently graduated from Berkeley. Marlow told me, “What Andrew and I have in common is that we have always lived behind enemy lines.”
Breitbart’s office had barely been furnished. On the wall was a whiteboard outlining his schedule, with which he is unfailingly unfamiliar. Breitbart uses only a cell phone, and he hands out the number freely, as he does with his e-mail address. “I want people to find me,” he says. In a corner was a brown box that Breitbart had just received in gratitude for having appeared in a documentary, “I Want Your Money,” which attacks big-government thinking. The box, he discovered, contained bobble-head figures of President Obama, and he placed one of them on an otherwise empty bookshelf. “Oh, good—personality,” he said.
He checked Twitter to see what his detractors were saying about him. “How does @andrewbreitbart sleep at night knowing 32M more Americans will have health care????” Eric Boehlert, of Media Matters for America, a watchdog Web site, had written. With the left-leaning Boehlert, Breitbart engages in what he gleefully calls “daily trench Twitter warfare.” Of Breitbart, Boehlert told me, “It’s hard to believe anyone can believe that many lies in one year.”
Breitbart then turned to his sites’ treatment of the passage of health-care reform. On Big Journalism, a contributor named Kyle-Anne Shiver—who otherwise writes a blog called Common Sense Regained—had posted a column with the headline “ABOUT THOSE ‘RACIAL SLURS’: REAL NEWS OR MEDIA PROPAGANDA?” The story linked to an amateur video of the Washington protests, which showed Representatives Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver II, and André Carson walking through a crowd of hollering protesters. Chants of “Kill the bill!” could be heard, but no racist slurs were audible.
The racism controversy is what had really, really pissed off Breitbart. “You’ve got thirty thousand people protesting there this weekend, and you get the Congressional Black Caucus to walk right through the middle of the crowd, as an attempt to inspire Selma, or some great civil-rights march, and when they are done with it a couple of them state that they were called the N-word,” he said. Several prominent conservatives, including Michael Steele, the head of the Republican National Committee, had already denounced the protesters, and Breitbart felt that the response was credulous: “My first instinct was to think, Huh? Crowds of thirty thousand people, these guys are marching through, and there isn’t a single person in there that doesn’t have a recording device of some kind? If someone had said the N-word, at the least you would hear people gasping, you would see heads turn. You see none of that!”
Breitbart was certain that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, in their desperation to pass health-care reform and to discredit the opposition, had conspired to provoke from the crowd a racist response and, when that had not happened, made one up. “All they needed to do was accuse that crowd to trigger a media affirmation of it, and an immediate attempt by conservatives to say ‘That’s not us,’ ” Breitbart told me. “And so it affirmed the moment without evidence that it even existed. And so the more you look at it you realize it didn’t exist.” Even if video evidence was presented, Breitbart said, he would be skeptical. “To me, that would be a lefty plant—a dirty trick trying to cast aspersions on the whole.”
Breitbart frequently decries racism, and likes to point out that he was adopted, as was his younger sister, who is of Mexican descent. “I hold in great disregard the idea that somehow her blood and my blood separate us,” he told me. “I grew up resenting people who would look at us at the table and would go, ‘Why are those people together?’ ” He likes to say that he is “pro-miscegenation.” As a result, Breitbart says, he is outraged when charges of racism are cynically made. Last year, he appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and sounded this theme: “There’s nothing in this country that is a worse accusation—in America, if you accuse somebody of racism, that person has to disprove that.” He was defending Rush Limbaugh, whom Maher had criticized for having played a satirical song, “Barack the Magic Negro,” on his radio show. Michael Eric Dyson, a fellow-guest, said of Limbaugh, “He seems to have a problem with black guys who run things.” Breitbart and Limbaugh have a warm virtual, if not personal, relationship. He counts Limbaugh, he told me, as one of “probably ten people in the world that I would probably take a bullet for. Not to my heart, or liver, or any important organ, but to, like, my right shoulder, if it would miss an important artery.”
A few days later, Breitbart once again went after the Congressional Black Caucus. In a Big Journalism editorial headlined “2010: A RACE ODYSSEY—DISPROVING A NEGATIVE FOR CASH PRIZES, OR, HOW THE CIVIL-RIGHTS MOVEMENT JUMPED THE SHARK,” he wrote, “It’s time for the allegedly pristine character of Representative John Lewis to put up or shut up. If you provide verifiable video evidence showing that a single racist epithet was hurled as you walked among the Tea Partiers, or you pass a simple lie detector test, I will provide a $10K check to the United Negro College Fund.” Breitbart also described the congressmen’s walk through the crowd, “in and of itself,” as an “act of racism meant to create a contrast between the Tea Party crowd and themselves.”
The editorial was a typical Breitbart gesture: a brazen, blustering provocation disorientingly couched as a reasoned response to a brazen, blustering provocation. If his logic was weak (the absence of documentary evidence of an incident does not prove that the incident did not occur), his rhetoric was effective, repositioning the congressmen not as victims of racism but as perpetrators of it. After a few days, Breitbart raised the video bounty to twenty thousand dollars, and then to a hundred thousand. “I’ll mortgage my house if I have to—but I’m never going to have to pay it,” he told me.
Such taunting struck many journalists as out of line. “Andrew Breitbart isn’t fit to spit-shine the shoes of civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis,” Joan Walsh, the editor of Salon, wrote, adding that Breitbart did not have “the moral or political standing to call Lewis a liar.” But Breitbart’s campaign eventually developed traction. Three weeks after the rally, Andrew Alexander, the ombudsman of the Washington Post, felt obliged to address the issue after receiving letters from readers echoing Breitbart’s conviction. The controversy, Alexander wrote, “merits more reporting.” Two days later, an A.P. story revealed that the much viewed video of the congressmen passing through the crowd had, in fact, been shot at least an hour after the slurs were allegedly uttered. The congressmen stood by their story, and Breitbart stood by his. (“It didn’t happen,” Breitbart told the A.P. “This is 2010. Even a racist is media-savvy enough not to yell the N-word.”) On April 15th, Breitbart, speaking at a Tax Day Tea Party rally in Washington, urged his listeners to hold their cameras and cell phones aloft, in a demonstration of their new-media resources. “Look at that, mainstream media, you bullshit artists, you hateful bastards,” Breitbart said, hatefully. “How dare you impugn these people’s reputation?”
In his speech, Breitbart glancingly acknowledged that someone at the health-care rally might have uttered the offensive term. But he insisted that the mainstream media had cast a far greater slur, through its slanted coverage: “Even if there was one person, the ease with which you used it to ruin the whole—it’s despicable,” he said. Breitbart had accomplished his goal: his alternative narrative had been established, and his Twittered dissent had evoked a response at the highest levels of the media establishment. The truth of what had really happened between the crowd and the congressmen had become almost immaterial, lost in Breitbart’s fog of words.
“I just feel like I am one of these Idaho guys saying, ‘You’re not taking my land’—with a gun, on my porch,” Breitbart told me one evening. He was sitting in the bar of the Bowery Hotel, in Manhattan, drinking white wine from a glass that was being refilled by a slim waitress in a black wrap dress. His companions were similarly urbane. One of them was Kurt Loder, the former MTV News anchor, with whom Breitbart found intellectual kinship after discovering that Loder had participated in an event hosted by Reason, the libertarian magazine; later that night, they were going to dinner at Balthazar, the SoHo brasserie. Joining them at the bar was Greg Gutfeld, a former editor of the U.K. edition of Maxim and the host of “Red Eye,” the late-night Fox News show on which Breitbart is a frequent guest. Recently on that program, Breitbart had threatened that, within three weeks, he wanted “to be in the history books saying I took down the institutional left,” triggering a flurry of satirical references on Twitter to the impending “Breitbartocalypse.” (The threat, Breitbart says, was a joke.)
Breitbart’s image of himself as a Western survivalist, he was explaining, referred to the sense of siege he felt in Los Angeles, which, he contends, has become egregiously radical since September 11, 2001. “There are people there that are aggressors,” he said. As the evening progressed, it emerged that the closest Breitbart had ever come to the real Idaho was on the Internet. He’d been looking online at properties in Coeur d’Alene, a resort town, while fantasizing about life elsewhere. “I saw the golf course there, and it had a really cool island,” Breitbart said.
“You do not want to live there,” Loder said.
“I know I don’t,” Breitbart replied.
“I’ve been there,” Loder said.
“I did it in Connecticut, too,” Breitbart said. “Litchfield County. I have dreams that I will reach balance in my life, and, at forty-one, I have none. It’s always this constant level of activity.”
Breitbart had arrived that afternoon from Los Angeles to have meetings related to a projected new Big site, Big Jerusalem. With heavy irony, he said, “It’s going to be pro-Palestinian nationalism—kind of Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade-esque, but with hints of pop culture and snarkiness.”
Big Jerusalem is one of several sites that Breitbart plans to launch over the next year. Others include Big Environment (he is a global-warming skeptic) and Big Tolerance (“I am going to hire all my gay, black, and Jewish friends to take on all of these supposedly sacrosanct liars, like John Lewis”). Links to the Big sites are included on the feverishly cluttered home page of Breitbart.com. “Right now, the home page comes across, perhaps accurately so, as A.D.D.,” Breitbart says. (He was given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in his early twenties. “It was sort of like finding out that I am straight,” he says. “It was far from a revelation.” He tried Ritalin for about a month before giving it up.)
He also plans to relaunch Breitbart.com as a more heavily curated site. “My hope is that it will be a lot more like ABC News or CNN’s front page than like the Huffington Post, or Drudge,” he says. “I want people to go, ‘Holy crap.’ Out of nowhere, people will realize that it is a mainstream site that has more content in it than any of my competitors that have bureaus around the world and large skyscrapers in midtown.”
The next day, Breitbart was in one of those midtown skyscrapers, at the headquarters of News Corp; he appears on “America’s Nightly Scoreboard,” on the Fox Business Network, on Mondays. Waiting in the greenroom, he bemoaned the slowness of his laptop’s wireless Internet connection. “In my office, I have a twenty-four-inch screen with ten instant-message conversations and all of my e-mails coming in, and I can be monitoring three or four Web sites at a time, and my A.D.D. works as a net benefit,” he said. “Here, I feel like I am slow on the uptake.”
He checked the latest news, through Breitbart.com. “One of the first revelations I had where I was, like, ‘I think I’ve figured it all out,’ was realizing that the Associated Press was driving the news cycle—whether you are watching Fox News or CNN or MSNBC,” he said. “I had been watching the news wires like Rain Man, like a savant. The first five years I did it, it was embarrassing. It was like a private problem that I wouldn’t really want to share. But then when ‘news aggregation’ and ‘new media’ started to become buzzwords, and people who knew something about it started to seem important, some of the shame went away.” He clicked on another link. “There is just something about knowing information when it happens,” he said. “There is something about telling somebody, ‘Did you know that Michael Jackson just died?’ It’s just weirdly powerful. It’s fun.”
Eric Bolling, that evening’s guest host, stopped by to talk about the topic for discussion—the resignation of Eric Massa, the Democratic congressman, who had just described Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, as the “son of the Devil’s spawn.” Bolling said to Breitbart, “I’ll frame it as ‘When the Dems start eating their own, is that the sign of the end?’ But you can just go off on it. Whatever, up to you.”
“There won’t be an awkward pause—I can tell you that,” Breitbart replied. En route to the hair-and-makeup room, Breitbart ran into another guest, the acidic pundit Ann Coulter. Breitbart calls Coulter “by far the person I rely on the most. Her loyalty and her friendship transcend what I am used to in the movement. She is the person that you want to be in a trench with. I don’t mean that in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sort of way.”
“I’ve been meaning to e-mail you,” Coulter said, warmly. “I am coming out to L.A. in a couple of weeks. I am doing a Las Vegas Tea Party.”
“I’m going to Searchlight, Nevada,” Breitbart said. “I’m introducing Sarah Palin again.”
“We’re all going,” Coulter said.
“We’ll drive there together!” Breitbart said.
Breitbart was the show’s first guest, and when it was time for him to go into the studio he walked off with his shirttail untucked and his laptop still under his arm. On the air, he castigated Emanuel as a practitioner of “the politics of personal destruction,” before switching the subject to an area in which he clearly felt a greater command—the still simmering Acorn scandal. When he emerged, he was chagrined with his performance. “You’d like to think there is somebody with a greater expertise,” he said. After engaging in punditry, he said, he sometimes felt dirty. “But not ‘slept with the football team’ dirty.”
Breitbart’s parents were quietly conservative. His father was a restaurateur and, later, a lobbyist for the food-service industry; his mother was a bank executive. But their son, who attended the prestigious Brentwood School, was reflexively liberal. “It was like the water I was in,” he told me. Gary Hewson, a classmate, who is now a real-estate developer, recalls Breitbart as “a bit of a class clown, a rabble-rouser.” Breitbart says, “That was my only discernible skill.” But he was fascinated by current affairs, and in 1987 he attended summer school at American University, in Washington, DC, so that he could witness the Iran-Contra hearings. “In hindsight, I cared more about the theatre of it all than I cared about the substance of it all,” he says. (Not long ago, Breitbart asked Oliver North to write for Big Government. North promptly called him back from Afghanistan, where he was reporting for Fox News. He has since contributed to Breitbart’s site.)
For college, Breitbart went to Tulane University, in New Orleans, a period that he now regards with a mixture of shame and nostalgia. “It was four hideous years of debauchery of a level that was incomprehensible to me,” he told me. “I remember rationalizing my misbehavior. I remember giving my dad a book on the chemical structure of MDMA”—Ecstasy—“and I was, like, ‘Dad, what do you think of this?’ ” At one point during his college years, Breitbart received from a great-aunt a bequest of twenty-three thousand five hundred dollars. “My dad said, ‘I am very worried, because legally I have to give you this money, and I don’t trust that you are going to put it into a CD,’ ” Breitbart recalled. “I took a semester off, and I moved to New York, to Hell’s Kitchen, and every single night I would go to Citibank and I would take out two hundred dollars.” Within months, the money had been spent.
Breitbart returned to L.A. after graduating, and decided to stop going out until dawn five or six nights a week. “It’s not like I became a teetotaller, but I liked the period, in hindsight, of going back and reorienting myself to basic Judeo-Christian values,” he says. He started listening to conservative talk radio. “I thought, I think I want to follow the rules,” he told me. “I thought, I just want to wake up every morning and not lament why society isn’t perfect.” He delivered scripts for a production company, then worked for a while at the E! cable network. “I was so excruciatingly bored after college—it was like going home to Pittsburgh to get into the steel industry, then realizing that you hate steel,” he says. “I hated Hollywood. I hated being at parties and hearing people say, ‘I work at “Mad About You,” I work in the clothing room.’ ”
Breitbart also began to reconsider the education that he had received in Tulane’s American Studies department, where, in his off-hours from partying, he had been exposed to critical theory. “I wanted to read Mark Twain and Emerson and Thoreau,” he says. “And I remember moments in class where I thought my head was going to explode, going, What the fuck are these people talking about? I don’t understand what this deconstructive semiotic bullshit is. Who the fuck is Michel Foucault?” He came across the work of Camille Paglia, and was captivated by her analysis of the takeover of academia by the left.
“A lot of these guys I was reading about in my American Studies class were German and Italian social scientists from the University of Frankfurt,” he says. “Once you see what their plan was, you realize that it was implemented. It was taking over the cultural institutions. The left is smart enough to understand that the way to change a political system is through its cultural systems. So you look at the conservative movement—working the levers of power, creating think tanks, and trying to get people elected in different places—while the left is taking over Hollywood, the music industry, the churches. They did it through academia; they did it with K-12. You look back at the last forty years, and people didn’t put up a fight.” In 1992, Breitbart voted for Ross Perot. Thereafter, he has voted Republican.
Breitbart was growing frustrated with the aimlessness of his life. “I am not a particularly religious person—anyone who knows me knows I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating the cosmos—but I remember saying, ‘Please, God, give me something to be passionate about,’ ” he says. In the early nineties, a friend, Seth Jacobson, who was studying astrophysics at Harvard, paid Breitbart a visit. “He came to my house, and he said, ‘Andrew, we need to go take a walk,’ and we took a walk,” Breitbart told me. “He says, ‘Your brain works differently from most people’s. And there is this thing called the Internet that is your brain.’ ”
Breitbart, who was an early user of Prodigy and CompuServe, recalls, “I said to him, ‘Yeah, I’m on the Internet.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s not the Internet. You can create your own path. You can create your own environment.’ It was almost like a dare.” Soon afterward, Breitbart went out and bought a six-pack of Pilsner and a rotisserie chicken. “I said to myself, ‘O.K., you are going on a date tonight, and you are not going to bed until you have gone all the way.’ And I remember hooking up to the World Wide Web that night, and it was a revelation. It was just like shooting yourself into outer space, and trying to latch onto anyone else who was out there. I remember finding weather sites and earthquake sites, and being able to monitor earthquakes in real time, and that was weirdly invigorating.”
One of the first people Breitbart latched onto was Matt Drudge, whose Drudge Report was, at the time, an online newsletter. “He mixed up writing on Clinton and Janet Reno and what was going on with the Clinton Administration with weather extremism like hurricanes, and geological extremism like major earthquakes, and then mixed it up with insider Hollywood stuff, like reporting the Friday-night box-office data before anyone else,” Breitbart remembers. “This mixture of news and information was immediately, overwhelmingly sexy.” In 1995, Breitbart started working on Drudge’s site, eventually manning it during the hours when Drudge, who lived in Miami, was offline. They were colleagues for a decade. (In what may be his only conversational inhibition, Breitbart does not discuss his time with Drudge, citing Drudge’s preference for privacy.)
Mike Silver, a businessman who is Breitbart’s neighbor, remembers being at Breitbart’s house for the 2004 Super Bowl, when Janet Jackson had what her co-performer, Justin Timberlake, characterized as a “wardrobe malfunction.” Silver recalls, “He immediately grabs his laptop—he has all these disciples who send him things—and the phone starts ringing off the hook. He wrote the story, calling what Jackson was wearing a ‘solar nipple medallion,’ and then for the next couple of hours you could see that phrase popping up on all the broadcasts. I couldn’t believe how quickly they could influence the Zeitgeist of the world.”
After several years, Breitbart began longing for his own notoriety. In 2004, he and a co-author, Mark Ebner, published a book, Hollywood, Interrupted, a catalogue of movie-star dysfunction. It rose to No. 15 on the Times best-seller list. “Any chapter that is overflowing with moral outrage and reads as sort of a jeremiad about Hollywood hating America, or the flip side of family values—those would be Andrew’s chapters,” Ebner told me. “The chapters that had an investigative footprint on them were mine.” On the book tour, Ebner says, Breitbart was obsessed with nailing his talking points: “Andrew will not deny that he always wanted to be a pundit.” (Actually, Breitbart does deny that he ever wanted to be a pundit. “It’s hideous,” he told me. “It’s such a degraded non-art form.”)
Through Drudge, Breitbart had met Arianna Huffington, then a conservative commentator. In 2005, Huffington, now a liberal, was preparing the launch of the Huffington Post, and Breitbart joined the enterprise. He worked for several months on the start-up, but lasted less than a month after it went live. “She was the closest thing I ever had to a collaborator who was working on the same energy levels and with the same kind of skill set,” Breitbart says. “It is very frustrating to me now that we find ourselves pitted against each other on an ideological front.” Huffington was, in some sense, a model for Breitbart. “I knew that I wanted to get into what I had helped create for Arianna, but I wanted to do it from a different perspective,” he says. “It was, like, Wow, if she can do that, why can’t I? Well, because I am not world famous, and I don’t have a salon at my house. So I was, like, Well, why don’t I create one?”
Breitbart’s virtual salon is less glossy than Huffington’s, though he has some marquee personalities, including the actor Jon Voight (“With this Obama health care, we will now face extreme hardships in every way and Obama is now more dangerous than ever”), Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (“Let me put it bluntly: America is headed in the wrong direction”), and Joe (the Plumber) Wurzelbacher (“We’re being treated as if our only value as citizens is how much more money we can be made to give up from our paychecks”). The site is also host, in its comments sections, to a person who goes by skippy777a (“trying to punish every black man for every crime he has committed is like trying to pick up each grain of sand in the sahara desert”) and to someone with the moniker SharpShtik, who wrote, “Black Democrats commit 2/3 of all violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) in America. Rape is a very popular pastime in Africa too.”
When I asked about such comments, Breitbart said, “I am not going to say that every single embarrassing thing is born of a person that is performing an act of agitprop on behalf of the left—being a troll, to say racist things—but that is a huge factor.” One day in L.A., I had lunch with Breitbart and two contributors: Adam Baldwin, an actor who appeared in “Full Metal Jacket,” and Kurt Schlichter, a trial lawyer and a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard who served in Desert Storm and in Kosovo. When the subject of commenters came up, they chuckled. “It’s a release for a lot of nuts hiding out in the basement,” Baldwin said, genially. “So long as they are not on the roof with a rifle,” Schlichter added.
Breitbart’s hope is to relinquish constant oversight of his sites. “The goal is to get ten or fifteen editors to cover every possible thing that I could possibly care about, including sports, and for me to basically get to the point where I can just pick and choose what I want to do,” he told me. “Then I can watch it all happen from forty thousand feet in the air. I think I am doing all this in perhaps the false hope that I will reach a state of information Nirvana.” He is currently at work on his second book, Thinking Big, a manifesto for which he was given an advance of more than half a million dollars. He dictates, and an assistant transcribes. He’s booked to be the speaker on a European cruise this summer, and plans to edit his pages when he is, for once, out of Internet range.
Breitbart won’t find it easy: he says that he is “blissful” when he is on the Internet. “When I see orchestra conductors caught up in the ecstasy and the fury of the moment—in which they have the trombone guy over there, and the oboe guy over there, and somehow it’s all working out—to me it feels that way, a lot of the time,” he told me. “I believe that my brain chemistry has changed as a result of this, mostly for the better. I am sated. I am complete in this environment. This is the environment I needed in order to become what I needed to become. With the Internet, I have communication with large amounts of people, in perpetuity. Always having a new war, a new battle.”
On April 9th, Breitbart was a speaker at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, which was held at the Hilton Riverside hotel, in New Orleans. The crowd was overwhelmingly white and middle-aged; during a book signing by Sean Hannity, the Fox News pundit, the line snaked around the room. On the conference’s first full day, the speakers included Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, who urged Republicans to be the party of “Hell, no,” and Sarah Palin, who told an ecstatic audience, “Don’t retreat, reload,” before insisting that she was not calling for violence.
When Breitbart took the stage that afternoon, he introduced himself as a Tulane grad, 1991. “This is the first time I have been in New Orleans sober,” he said. Breitbart’s speech was effective as comic demagoguery. He asked the audience, “Why is it that the left is allowed to throw around the dangerous accusation of racism without any evidence as a means to malign half the country, yet if I want to use the word ‘socialist’ I have to go to the DNC and get a notary public to sign it for me?” At the same time, the speech was a careering, sometimes dissociative, rant. “I went to Harvard last night,” he said. “I was to speak to a group at the Harvard School of Government on propaganda in politics. You should have seen me—I was writhing on the desk in front of these people, like voodoo writhing pain, like, ‘Propaganda? I’ll show you propaganda.’ ”
The following afternoon, at a panel discussion about new media, Breitbart was in total control. “This is the revolution,” he told his audience, before explaining that the war against the mainstream media was not only political but also economic. Newspaper subscriptions are lapsing, he argued, because readers have tired of liberal bias. “I get phone calls from the Los Angeles Times saying, ‘We’ll clean your house on Thursdays if you take the paper for free,’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Am I the first person that has ever said to you, “I don’t want this paper on principle”?’ And they said, ‘No, no, we get a lot of that.’ ”
New media, he said, was finally seizing the narrative. “If you are not going to report the story, then we are going to report the story ourselves,” he said. “There aren’t just hundreds of reporters. There are now thousands of reporters, even hundreds of thousands of reporters, in an area. A person who doesn’t think that he or she is a reporter finds himself a reporter because he is in a melee, and starts filming it and uploads it to the Internet.”
An older man in the audience reported that he could no longer watch the three networks, so infuriating did he find them. “Other than not watch them, I want to do more,” the man said. “I want to do something that would hurt them, cripple them.”
“You almost got me into trouble, just being in the room!” Breitbart replied. Then, referring to Palin’s rhetoric, he beseeched the audience, “Don’t use the word ‘reload.’ Please, let’s be media savvy.”
After the talk, Breitbart wandered over to the hotel bar. Some expensively coiffed ladies, members of the local Metropolitan Republican Women’s Club, had claimed a table and, in a demonstration of Southern hospitality, were pouring glasses of champagne for all comers. They were greatly taken with Breitbart. “During the Watergate days, he would have been considered a hero for what he is doing,” one of them told me.
Breitbart settled into a chair, and chatted with the ladies about the distinctiveness of New Orleans. One of them insisted that there had never been a race problem in the city until there was a race problem in the rest of America; another talked about having neighbors of mixed race. “Eventually, we’ll all be beige,” she said, with equanimity.
“I told you I’m pro-miscegenation,” Breitbart said, beaming.
Another woman lamented that, after Hurricane Katrina, some residents who had been displaced from the city’s poorer districts had declined the opportunity to learn a trade that would support the rebuilding effort, opting instead to stay on welfare. Even so, she said, she had learned not to judge others. “Everybody has stuff in their life where they have made poor decisions,” she said. “I just want people to accept me the way I am, so I don’t judge other people.”
Breitbart was moved to disagree. “I love judgmentalism—it’s a sport,” he said, his tone exquisitely balanced between humor and menace. “I remember that mantra, ‘Don’t judge.’ I’m, like, why? I like judging. I like judging! Let me judge.” Ω
[Rebecca Mead joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 1997. She has written articles on a wide range of topics, including legalized prostitution, the infertility industry’s trade in human eggs, the spring-break business, and God-based diet programs. Mead was born in London and educated at Oxford and New York University. Prior to joining The New Yorker she was a contributing editor at New York magazine. Her first book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, was published in 2007.]
Copyright © 2011 The New Yorker/Condé Nast Digital
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves