In memoriam: Andrew Breitbart, 1969–2012

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore, flickr

I wrote somewhere once that Andrew Breitbart was “bizarrely lovable.” Andrew called that same day to confirm my impression. “I am bizarrely lovable,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about me.”

It was, in part at least, his solar generosity of spirit, an energy that poured out of him in every direction at once, whether for feud or friendship, conversation or work. I think he sometimes experienced this ambient vitality as a lack of focus. But for his friends and admirers, it was a delight and inspiration. It was also the power source behind a truly noble act of revolutionary mischief: his lifelong battle against the conspiracy of silence and lies that is mainstream American journalism.

I got a glimpse of his kinetic nature the first time we met—which was on the air, appropriately enough. He was sitting in for a talk show host and interviewed me over the phone about politics and the arts. Though many of Andrew’s most glamorous successes were in the arena of political journalism, the culture was his first passion. And as we grew excited discovering our shared convictions, we began to sound—as we both remarked later—like two stoned college roommates talking philosophy at four in the morning: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, man, that is so, so true!” In the midst of this, Andrew began to fire instant messages at me over my computer, insisting that I join him at meetings with other Hollywood conservatives. For me, who can only focus on one thing at a time, exchanging IM’s while talking on air was like juggling axes while playing piano. For him, who had to focus on everything at once . . . well, I’ve sometimes wondered what else he was doing at the time.

Andrew often said that if there had been no Internet, he would have been unemployed. That might be. Only the universal hive mind was vast and varied enough to hold his attention. But because there actually is an Internet and because he was who he was, he was heaven-fashioned for the new age. Listening to him talk about the way information flowed, about the way the TV networks and the New York Times—the crumbling news monopoly he called the Democrat-media complex—buried stories and distorted facts, was as riveting as listening to a general talk about battle or a poet talk about language. Information-flow was what he knew better than anything and better than anyone. That knowledge made him more than a mere political pugilist: it made him a visionary.

Our meeting came after he had helped create both the right-leaning Drudge Report and the left wing Huffington Post but before he created the terrific “Big” sites—Big Hollywood, Big Government, etc.—that gave him powerful platforms of his own. The story that launched Big Government—and Andrew into a new category of fame—was the James O’Keefe/Hannah Giles videos exposing corruption at Acorn, the publicly funded Democrat vote-rigging operation. About a month before those videos went up, Andrew called me and talked for over an hour, describing in precise detail how the release would proceed. First he would post such-and-such a video and then the mainstream media would try to skew the story thusly, and then he would counter by posting another video which disproved their lies. Then they would try this, and he would do that, and so on. When Big Government’s launch took place, I watched awestruck as every stage in the process came off exactly as he’d said it would. Because he understood the nature of the media’s ideological corruption so well, he outplayed them like a chess master taking on a child.

Photo courtesy markn3tel, flickr

But his vision extended beyond any single duke-out with any one Goliath. He was going after the whole Philistine gang. I remember standing with him on a corner in Westwood for a good portion of one afternoon, listening to him describe his long-term plans. He outlined the unfolding of the Bigs, which had then just begun, and went on to discuss the ways new media could break the Left’s stranglehold on culture and information to give the American public access to something closer to the truth. He even had a plan for a cultural think tank—a Great Good Place in Hollywood—where conservative artists could come for support and protection from the blacklists and beat-downs of the artistic establishment. I would be the think tank’s first president, he told me, an idea I found sweetly amusing then but which only makes my heart hurt now.

Standing there that day, I understood that I was listening to a blueprint for an empire, and I believed without a doubt that Andrew would see it through. I teased him that one day his disheveled, frenetic, and countercultural image would have to be sanitized for the three-piece-suit portrait in oil that would hang in the foyer of the skyscraper named after him. I was laughing when I said it, but I meant it. There’s no question in my mind it would’ve happened that way.

A truly lovely woman has lost a husband. Four beautiful children have lost a father. Many of us have lost a good and generous friend. All of us have lost the future he would have made.

(Andrew Klavan is a contributing editor of City Journal. His latest thriller novel for young adults is The Final Hour. Originally posted on City Journal.)