Quotes from my January interview with conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart, who died today
Andrew Breitbart was in a car, driving to some destination with at least one of his children along.
But when I called on a Saturday morning about a month ago, ringing him up out of the blue to ask some questions for a book I am writing about race and media, he had no problem spending 45 minutes in a passionate defense of one of the worst missteps of his recent career.
Now that news is spreading of his death early this morning at age 43, what comes to mind when I think of Breitbart is that reckless passion -- a willingness to do whatever it took to make his point in media, even presenting misleading or selectively edited material in violation of all kinds of journalism ethics.
And his insistence on never, ever backing down.
Case in point: when our talk turned to the deceptively-edited video he released of Shirley Sherrod, which made the black USDA employee look as if she was advocating anti-white racism while speaking at an NAACP dinner, though the opposite was true, Breitbart insisted his overall point -- that the NAACP enables reverse racism -- was true.
“I stand by what I’ve done," said the blogger and pundit, who emphasized he did not edit the Sherrod video. "The NAACP in our time has absolutely changed its methodology and its mission and has become a military, militaristic, Saul Alinsky arm of the Democratic party. What they do and do not do to conservative black people in a shame on America and a pox on their organization….They’ve created an entire paradigm to invent racism on the right in order to intimidate people into silence.”
Even though I have only interviewed him twice, I could tell that was vintage Breitbart. Despite the fact that his videos of Sherrod were debunked and resulted in a lawsuit, for him, the point he was making endured.
“The point was, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones," he added. "If you’re going to hear dog whistles at tea party events when the average person can’t see racism, why don’t we analyze a video at an NAACP awards ceremony where a political appointee is talking about how she sent a white farmer to ‘one of his own kind.’…While she’s telling the story…I point out that the audience is murmuring as if it is accepting her racially charged language. My point was to say NAACP, I can sift through your events and find moments that are more racially charged than the invented issues that you are trying to manufacture in order to destroy the tea party on behalf of the democratic party on behalf of whom you are devoted.”
Breitbart died just after midnight today, at age 43, collapsing while walking near his home in Los Angeles' Brentwood neighborhood, according to a quote from his father-in-law circulated by the Associated Press.
I'll admit that, like many online, I wondered at first if the news might be real; somehow, it seems that fooling the world's media into falsely believing he was dead is exactly the sort of thing Breitbart might do, just to see if mainstream journalists betrayed any bias in writing his obituaries.
A tea party movement star who helped launch the Huffington Post website and worked on the Drudge Report site, Breitbart developed a network of his own websites featuring his own proteges and material, with names such as Big Government, Breitbart.com and Big Journalism.
His cause was exposing what he saw as liberal bias in media and modern life, insisting that claims from black lawmakers that tea party movement members spit on them during contentious protests over health care legislation were fiction. He helped another conservative activist James O'Keefe spread videos which made it seem that workers in the voting rights group ACORN agreed to help a pimp and prostitute avoid paying taxes (those videos were also heavily criticized, but not soon enough to save ACORN's federal funding).
Breitbart's biggest triumph may have come in releasing Twitter messages and pictures sent to young women online by former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who eventually resigned from Congress after the truth of his actions surfaced. Breitbart even spoke in front of the cameras just before Weiner's resignation press conference started; a victory lap for a media insurgent who had finally, fully crashed the party.
What struck me, as someone who followed Breitbart's Twitter feed, was how often he retweeted messages from his most intense critics, passing along long litanies of harsh comments as if the vitriol only made him stronger.
Perhaps that's why his tribute page on Big Government, which called him a "happy warrior," contained this quote from the revised conclusion to his book, Righteous Indignation: "I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and—famously—I enjoy making enemies."
That passion was certainly evident in our conversation, where he embodied our modern media argument culture -- and taste for high tech subversion -- than any other figure.