Andrew Brietbart, writer and provocateur, dead at 43
Andrew Breitbart, the tireless blogger and bestselling author, died early Thursday morning. He was 43.
Breitbart, a controversial proponent of right wing ideas and tea party values, grew up in an environment of liberal privilege in Southern California. He was adopted by moderately conservative Jewish parents and attended two of L.A.'s most exclusive private schools — Carlthorp and Brentwood. "It was so awkward, the thoughts I was having," Breitbart told the L.A. Times, describing his political transformation.
Breitbart was editor of the Drudge Report for close to 10 years and helped launch the Huffington Post, until striking off on his own. "I always knew he was going to build something big," his political opposite Mickey Kaus told The Times in 2010. "He has that crazy Ted Turner look in his eye."
Breitbart had just published his second book, "Righteous Indignation," and been at the center of a recent controversy when he appeared at the 2011 Festival of Books, where he called himself a "reluctant culture warrior." Here is our report from Mary McVean:
Right, left or center, the audience who waited for provocateur and right-wing media guru Andrew Breitbart to race from LAX to USC ("I broke some laws to get here," he said) had a rollicking time as he talked with L.A. Times reporter Robin Abcarian at the Etc. Stage on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Breitbart's second book, "Righteous Indignation," came out this month, and it's part handbook, part memoir of his journey from wanna-be hipster to star of the "tea party" movement. As Abcarian wrote in a Times profile, Breitbart was transformed from a "liberal, West Side child of privilege into a Hollywood-hating, mainstream-media-loathing conservative."
Breitbart burst into the news last summer when he posted on his Big Government website an item with two videos that had a USDA official named Shirley Sherrod telling an NAACP chapter that she once didn't give enough help to a white farmer. In the ensuing hoopla, Sherrod was condemned and then absolved when a longer video of her talk was released. Abcarian asked Breitbart if he still believed, as he earlier told Newsweek, that if he had a do-over he would have waited to see the longer version.
It wasn't easy to get a yes or no answer.
Breitbart said the Sherrod incident led to a "three-week attack on me by the mainstream media," and he said there was a lot of talk about "selective editing" and racism and efforts to hang that charge on the tea party movement. Finally, he said he "mildly" still agreed with the statement. "I guess I should have looked at it," he said.
He called himself "a reluctant culture warrior" who is "very aware of the degree to which the humanities departments" in U.S. colleges have been taken over by the left. His own degree in American studies from Tulane in New Orleans was a mind-numbing "cultural Marxism" that was "a waste of my parents' money." He also acknowledged drinking a lot but said the only time he took acid was when he was "doused" at a Radiators concert. He "hated" the acid experience, he said.
Breitbart has said his "disgust at racism" motivates his work. And on Saturday, he said he is a "No. 1 advocate" for conservative gays, blacks and Latinos. He said he would love to see "an all-black ticket" in the next presidential race of Allen West, a tea party Republican and congressman from Florida, and businessman and columnist Herman Cain, former chairman of Godfather's Pizza.
Although Breitbart railed against the "Democratic media complex," he said Abcarian was "unbelievably fair" in her profile of him -- after he joked that she was the definition of his phrase -- which refers to "the natural alliance of the mainstream media, liberal interest groups and the Democratic Party," he said. As a result, he said, "the tea party is always guilty until it proves itself innocent."
Though he called the "birthers" questioning President Obama's birthplace a "sideshow" and a "distraction," Breitbart echoed a conversation he had on "Real Time With Bill Maher" broadcast Friday night in which he said he would like to see the president's college transcripts -- including the classes he took with his Columbia literature professor Edward Said, a Palestinian American.
"The Democratic media complex did not vet this president," he said.
And when Abcarian asked his opinion of Sarah Palin, Breitbart replied to laughs and applause: "I have a foolproof test. If the Democratic media complex is out to destroy this person, this person is pretty good." He agreed it would be fair for the public to have a look at her transcripts as well.
Breitbart helped launch the Huffington Post, eventually leaving over ideological differences ("It was an awkward experience being around all these lefties," he said, adding that they didn't like being around a conservative person.) He has worked for the Drudge Report and wrote a previous book, the bestseller "Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon -- the Case Against Celebrity." He launched Breitbart.com in 2005, later adding a series of "subsites" including Big Government to counter, as Abcarian wrote, media that "ignores stories at odds with prevailing liberal orthodoxy."
Breitbart, wearing jeans and a black Lacoste shirt with black Converse sneakers, jogged onto to the USC campus shortly after his afternoon appearance was scheduled to begin. He had just returned from a trip to Tucson, where he spoke to a tea party gathering of 2,000 people, he said. As he arrived at the stage, some people in the audience gave him the thumbs up sign. After the conversation, he signed books.
Breitbart is survived by his wife and family.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Andrew Breitbart in 2010. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times