Know Your Right Wingers
The Obama era has been kind to crazed conservative commentators—perhaps too kind for their own good. In a market saturated with loudmouth reactionary malcontents it can be tough for a would-be Internet provocateur/entrepreneur to really break away from the pack. To distinguish himself, ultra-right opinion-maker Andrew Breitbart’s favored tactics include picking fights with practically everyone, gaming the media with wily, web-based tactics, and snorting the odd line of red wine powder (“it’s very dry”).
Yet despite all his shenanigans, Breitbart is largely just another iteration of the old angry-white-guy-unashamed-of-it trope. Breitbart’s tired but persistent rants against progressive politicians are almost entirely banal—“We have now entered the first full-fledged Alinsky presidency”—even where they are viciously overblown: “The Democratic party has been exposed as trying to create a Kristallnacht to save the Obama presidency.” You can get almost the exact same shtick from Glenn Beck—but with a blackboard.
Breitbart’s medium, not his message, is the best way to distinguish him from the swarm of cranky, white, middle-aged pundits dominating the conservative movement these days. Although he appears regularly on Fox News, and periodically in print outlets like the Washington Times, the Internet is Breitbart’s primary base of operations.
The origins of Breitbart’s Web-related prowess lie in The Drudge Report, the conservative’s hallowed digital mainstay. In the mid-1990s, when Matt Drudge launched his aggregation website, Breitbart was aimlessly drifting after a lackluster stint at Tulane University. When he saw Drudge’s nascent project begin to take shape, he quickly signed up, eventually taking on about half the workload.
The hectic schedule and conspiratorial tilt of the website fit perfectly with Breitbart’s helter-skelter personality. "I have a very good memory. I'm also good at connecting things together,” he says in a recent profile. “That allowed me to make outrageous cockamamie narratives. To be able to apply that to the newsworld.”
Drudge and Breitbart stuck together for almost 10 years, during which time Drudge introduced his protégé to other influential figures, most notably the then-conservative Arianna Huffington. In 2004, after her leftward ideological shift, Huffington recruited Breitbart to help found the Huffington Post. Although the site clashed with his politics, the combined allure of ready money and Web-based innovation swayed him. Partisan and workplace differences quickly soured Breitbart’s affiliation with the Huffington Post, however, and he left just three weeks after the site’s founding.
Less than a year later, Breitbart launched his own website, where he stripped Drudge’s formula—linking to wire news hosted by big name papers—down to the bare bones, directly hosting all the wire services on Breitbart.com. Now when Drudge wants a wire story, he simply links to Breitbart’s page, creating a feedback loop that cuts out the hated “Mainstream Media” and boosts Breitbart’s readership into the millions. Since founding his original site, Breitbart has also started Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, and Breitbart.tv, a virtual spider web of sites dedicated to attacking every facet of the “Vast Liberal Conspiracy."
Besides his websites, Breitbart is probably best known for his role in the successful conservative war against the low-income advocacy group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Indeed, it was he who gave conservative hatchet man James O’Keefe a platform on which to air his supposedly damning—if substantively altered—videos of ACORN employees giving financial advice to a supposed prostitution ring. Without Breitbart’s assistance, the tapes might not have been as effectively used, and they certainly wouldn’t have been as masterfully promoted. (Breitbart staggered the release of each video to elongate the story’s impact and discredit oppositional responses; when ACORN claimed the innocence of several regional chapters, including their NYC branch, he released a video compromising the Brooklyn office.)
Breitbart’s mastery of web-based mudslinging has contributed to his growing fame, and recent profiles in Wired and Slate have highlighted his enterprising. But the enterprising is where the novelty ends. Outside of his digital empire, the most interesting thing about Andrew Breitbart seems to be how uninteresting he actually is.
Breitbart’s contributions to the political dialogue fit neatly with the rest of the contemporary conservative movement: Neither his persona nor his ideology allow for compromise, discussion, or rationality. His “analysis” is entirely emotional, and it’s almost completely unanchored from anything resembling reality (his inexcusable Kristallnacht comparison is an excellent example, and Media Matters has several pages devoted to his other lunacies.) Breitbart nurtures long running and often one-sided feuds with, well, damn near everybody to the left of Attila the Hun. Past and present targets include John Podesta, George Soros, Media Matters, Salon, the Nation’s Max Blumenthal, the American labor movement, and any reporter who strays into his line of fire (he recently called a New York Times staffer a “despicable human being”).
If this sounds familiar, that’s because every other influential conservative media figure operates along similar lines. Some commentators have claimed that Breitbart is significantly less crazed than his counterparts, with one New Republic writer describing him as “a firewall against some of the tea party movement’s more extreme, insular elements.” This argument seems to be supported by Breitbart’s recent showdown with the supremely paranoiac Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of the ultra-conservative WorldNetDaily, at the Nashville Tea Party convention. In a moment of clarity, Breitbart denounced birtherism, the contention that Obama is not an American citizen, as a “self-indulgent…narcissistic…losing issue.”
But the claim that he is more moderate than his companions is belied by the content of his websites, which include multiple articles expressing sympathy with the birther cause, as MediaMatters has amply demonstrated. He‘s also guest hosted Michael Savage’s radio show, a hotbed of birther sentiment. Any claim Breitbart might have to moderation can also be disproven by a sampling of his quotes (a lengthy list is provided below).
There is nothing original or interesting in Breitbart’s proudly poisonous spiel. What’s more, the predictable nonsense in which he trades isn’t even the principal impediment to progress. Braggarts of Breitbart’s ilk garner a lot of attention because they are loud, flamboyant, and easily quotable—good for rallying the troops and distracting from the actual content of contemporary political battles. The people progressives should be focusing on, though, are those like Ed Yingling (president of the American Bankers Association), people who are at work in Washington, D.C., to quietly undermine real reform. If financial regulatory reform goes nowhere, or is watered down to the point of meaninglessness, it will be at the hands of people like Yingling, not Breitbart, who is more sound and fury than anything else.
In His Own Words
“At that exact moment when the American country was hit on 9/11, that to me was the moment when the left, which had been sitting back and waiting for its moment to pounce…They thought to themselves, ‘wow, a war means an anti-war movement’. “
–While guest hosting for Michael Savage, of The Savage Nation, March 16, 2010
“I just want to say, I just want to remind John Podesta: It’s over. You waged war against the good American people, you progressives, you pit us against each other. We’re going to come after you so hard, you have no idea what you have awoken in this country.”
–From his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Feb. 20, 2010
“The easy media template of Bush being stupid and evil were propaganda staples of the period of 2000 to 2008, with a disturbingly short reprieve after 9/11, when the Democrats had to temporarily suspend hostilities to feign patriotism as they held hands and sang songs. We all know how long that lasted….And my perpetual defense of him was and is less a defense of his policies — many of which, including his wartime leadership, I completely supported — but as protective mechanism against the inordinately rigged political and media systems, the Democrat Media Complex, as I have long called it.”
—On George W. Bush in his “essay” on Big Journalism, waxing enthusiastic about the Bush Years, Jan. 20, 2010
“[You] say this guy [James von Brunn, the Holocaust museum murderer] is a right-wing extremist. It’s such a fucking slander on people like me This guy was after neocons like me who are conservative…conservatives believe in individual liberty, they don’t believe in group rights. This guy is a multi-culturalist just like the black studies and the lesbian studies majors on college campuses.”
-From a spittle drenched voicemail left for one of Gawker’s writers, June 11, 2009
“I’ll shut my mouth for Carter. That’s just politics. Kennedy was a special pile of human excrement.”
“This duplicitous bastard spit on GWB's face when he reached across party lines. Twas a grade school trick. Even til the end, he was a prick.”
-A couple of Breitbart’s more vicious Tweets from the day of Ted Kennedy’s death, Aug. 25, 2009
“Since 9/11 Barack Obama and the Moveon.org left have tried to do everything, in coordination with the Council on the Muslim American Islamic Relations…in terms of trying to keep America not safe from radical Islam, and radical jihad.”
-From Glenn Beck’s Fox News program, Dec. 20, 2009
“If Barack Obama is elected the next president of the United States on Tuesday, I hope the Republican Party and conservatives take the higher road. The republic cannot handle another four years of undeclared civil war while we have real enemies out there to fight.”
-From Breitbart’s deliciously hypocritical Election Day musings, Nov. 4, 2008
Jake Blumgart is a freelance reporter-researcher living in Philadelphia and a former Campus Progress staff writer. His work has been published by the American Prospect, Alternet, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Stranger, and the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter @jblumgart.