LAS VEGAS - It is hard to imagine the Breitbart website without its namesake, Andrew Breitbart, whose pugnacious personality was unexpectedly extinguished when he died of heart failure March 1 at age 43.
Indeed, in the months since he collapsed on a sidewalk near his Westwood home, Breitbart’s closest colleagues have often found themselves wondering, “What would Andrew do?”
“We often don’t know what Andrew would have done,” said Breitbart News Editor in Chief Joel Pollak, a failed GOP congressional candidate who got into politics after a much-publicized 2009 tangle with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) when he was a law student at Harvard University over who was at fault for the financial meltdown. “Sometimes Andrew didn’t know what Andrew would do.”
Pollak spoke at a casual memorial for Breitbart during the Americans for Prosperity’s Right Online blogger gathering over the weekend at the Sands Expo. The convention center is attached to Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian hotel, the only non-unionized casino on the Strip.
As people close to Breitbart remnisced about the conservative Internet entrepreneur, his admirers stood in a banquet room eating and drinking, occasionally talking so loud they had to be reminded where they were.
“If you’re not here to honor a man, we got a hallway out there,” yelled tea party activist and CNN contributor Dana Loesch, editor in chief of Breitbart.com’s Big Journalism. “Everybody shut the hell up for a second … and let’s remember a great man.”
A recurring theme among those who spoke: Breitbart, by turns indignant, playful and strategic, showed them how to fight a battle that began long before many of them were paying attention.
“Breitbart did not start the fight,” said Larry O’Connor, editor in chief of BreitbartTV. “It’s been said a lot that Breitbart was a fighter. And it’s true, he was a fighter. But don’t forget something. Breitbart did not start the fight. Breitbart fought back. And this fight started decades ago. Ask Robert Bork.”
Breitbart showed his partisans that they could loathe the institutional left and the mainstream media with professional fervor, and still behave like overgrown kids.
“I don’t know anyone else who would wear Rollerblades to an Occupy parade,” said Ben Shapiro, who went to work for Breitbart.com two weeks before its founder died, leaving a wife and four young children.
“Andrew was the first middle-class media mogul,” said Breitbart News Managing Editor Alex Marlow, Breitbart’s first hire. Marlow’s experience as a College Republican at UC Berkeley was a plus for a contrarian like Breitbart, who grew up in affluent, liberal Brentwood and loathed what he often called “the Democrat media complex” controlled, in his view, by Hollywood and what he called the “institutional left.”
Marlow said he showed up for work his first day at Breitbart’s home in Westwood at 8:45 a.m. and discovered his new boss still sleeping. Turned out, Breitbart had gotten back into bed after an early-morning appearance on “Fox and Friends.” Marlow spent his first day on the job on a mission with Breitbart to buy an arcade game at Costco for Breitbart’s basement office and filling water guns for Breitbart’s kids.
Breitbart, who worked for Matt Drudge in the early years of the Drudge Report and helped launch the Huffington Post, toiling behind the scenes for Arianna Huffington, recruited his best childhood friend when he decided to develop his own website.
“This is no exaggeration to say we were brothers,” said Larry Solov, a lawyer who grew up next door to the Breitbart family in Brentwood. Several years ago, Breitbart took Solov to Solov’s first meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of conservative activists and elected officials in Washington. The pair found themselves at a cocktail party standing awkwardly with Sen.Orrin G. Hatch(R-Utah).
“In desperate need of an ice breaker,” Solov said, “Sen. Hatch turns to Andrew and says, ‘What do you do?’ And Andrew looks at him and says with a straight face, ‘I’m a husky male model.’ And Sen. Hatch just looks at him for about 10 seconds and says, ‘It’s a free country.’ ”
Breitbart was full of surprises.
Less than a month before he died, he attended a Chicago fundraising dinner cooked by former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Ayers played a minor role in the 2008 presidential campaign when Sarah Palin declared that then-candidate Barack Obama, who moved in similar Chicago political circles to Ayers, “pals around with terrorists.” The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson had made a winning bid on the charity dinner, and invited Breitbart along. Breitbart had such a good time he thought about pitching a road trip with Ayers – to be committed to film, of course.
But as goofy as Breitbart could be, Solov said, “What characterized his journalism most is that he was a fighter, a brawler, a bare-knuckled barroom brawler.”
And certainly that is what the conservative movement got with Breitbart, whose first major coup came in 2009, when he posted videos from a then-unknown conservative activist named James O’Keefe. The videos featured O’Keefe and a female companion asking staffers at the community organizing group ACORN how to hide income from underage Salvadoran prostitutes. The uproar led to ACORN’s demise.
In 2010, Breitbart was sued for defamation by a U.S. Department of Agricultureofficial named Shirley Sherrod, after posting a video of a speech she gave to the NAACP that was edited to make her sound racist, though the point of her story was how she, as an African American, had overcome racial bias to help a white farmer keep his land.
Last year, Breitbart posted suggestive photos tweeted by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who first denied sending them. Weiner resigned from Congress, though not before Breitbart stepped in front of microphones at Weiner’s own New York news conference to demand an apology from the congressman before he came out to take responsibility for sending the inappropriate photos.
Though Breitbart seemed to revel in the hostility he generated from political enemies, whose nasty Twitter messages he compulsively retweeted, Breitbart did not enjoy being the object of so much hatred, Solov said.
“He had so much venom and hate spewed on him, and false charges of racism, sexism, being crazy, being hateful, being homophobic - none of it true,” Solov said. “People started to think, hey, he must like being hated. No, Andrew did not like being hated. Nobody likes being hated. He liked protecting people. He loved absorbing the hate so that others didn’t have to.”
After the memorial, the bloggers were ushered into a ballroom to hear the evening’s keynote speaker, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. At the end of her speech, Palin introduced a screening of one of Breitbart’s final projects, a documentary called “Occupy Unmasked.” Made by Steve Bannon, who made the pro-Palin documentary “The Undefeated,” “Occupy Unmasked” is an unsavory depiction of the Occupy Movement.
As they settled into their seats, bloggers found on each chair a poster. On one side was a drawing of Breitbart and the slogan “Breitbart is here.” On the other, the same drawing of Breitbart.
Instead of a slogan, a hashtag: “#WAR.”