Andrew Breitbart dies: Conservative publisher remembered as a digital pioneer


Washington Times commentator and Breitbart.com webmaster Andrew Breitbart speaks during the final day of the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/GETTY IMAGES)
March 2, 2012

Conservative publisher and bloggerAndrew Breitbart collapsed and died during a walk near his home in Los Angeles on Thursday. He was rushed to a nearby hostpital but could not be revived, the AP reports:

Breitbart suffered heart problems a year earlier, but his father-in-law, actor Orson Bean, said he could not pinpoint what happened. Larry Dietz, watch commander at the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, said an autopsy was likely.

“It’s devastating,” Bean told the AP.

Breitbart leaves behind his showcase, a family of websites that waged daily war with what he considered liberal bias in the media, on college campuses and in the entertainment industry. Joel Pollak, an editor, said Breitbart was planning to launch a retooled version, and those plans would go forward.

“The core of what Andrew did was bring new citizen journalists into the new media,” Pollak said. It “was, and still is, what we do.”

It wasn’t immediately clear who would take over the company, which once ran out of Breitbart’s basement and now employs about a dozen people.

His anchor site, Breitbart.com, was visited by 1.7 million people in January, according to website tracker comScore Inc. Though other political sites are far larger — his mentor, Matt Drudge, attracted more than 4 million visits that month — his profile was elevated by public appearances and relentless speechmaking, particularly at tea party rallies, where he was a favorite.

Paul Farhi wrote Wednesday that Breitbart made a career of combining the tools of new media with old-fashioned pugnaciousness.

Mr. Breitbart’s Web sites — Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism — were launchpads for videos that sparked controversy around the heretofore little-known community services group ACORN and an Agriculture Department official named Shirley Sherrod. He also helped promote a “sting” video of fundraisers for NPR making critical comments about Republicans, and he broke the news last year of the salacious online activities of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) that led to Weiner’s resignation.

Mr. Breitbart inspired outrage from those who considered his headline-grabbing behavior ma­nipu­la­tive and deceitful.

He exploited a flaw of the contemporary news media: That in the rush to attract online traffic, news sources sometimes cast aside context and basic fact-checking. Many outlets reported Mr. Breitbart’s “revelations” only to discover that the story was not as it had initially seemed.

News organizations found, for example, that the ACORN videos — which purported to show a young Mr. Breitbart ally named James O’Keefe posing as a pimp seeking advice from the organization about how to establish a brothel and evade taxes — actually presented a heavily edited account of what had happened.

Chris Cillizza posted his take on the political legacy Breitbart leaves behind in the Fix:

His untimely passing raises a fascinating question about our modern world: What did Andrew Breitbart mean to politics?

That may be among the most loaded questions in the political world due to Breitbart’s divisive — and proud of it — personality. But to truly understand what Breitbart meant to politics, you need to understand where he came from.

Breitbart also understood before many others that the world of politics — and the way in which it was covered — was rapidly transforming itself into a form of entertainment for the public. The fusion of celebrity and politician — best epitomized by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin — was something that Breitbart (and Drudge) grasped longed before much of the mainstream media.

At the same time, Breitbart’s methods walked a fine line between envelope pushing and downright scurrilous at times. The Sherrod incident raised questions about whether Breitbart was a journalist with a conservative bent or simply someone willing to do whatever it took to bring down Democrats.

For those who preached the need to elevate the public dialogue about politics, Breitbart was enemy number one -- a symbol of the small and petty nature of the world in which politicians were forced to reside.

Andrew Breitbart was complicated. He clearly saw around the corner of where journalism was headed but the ways in which he used that insight rightfully raise questions about his ultimate motives.

His legacy in politics is similarly complicated. If you loved him, you really loved him. And if you hated him, well you really hated him. Having met Breitbart on a few occasions and corresponded with him infrequently over the years, I can’t imagine he would want it any other way.

More WashingtonPost.com coverage:
Erik Wemple: Remembering Andrew Breitbart
Shirley Sherrod reflects on her link to Andrew Breitbart
BlogPost : Andrew Breitbart dies at 43
ComPost : Before you write about Breitbart

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