Andrew Breitbart, who became a hero to some on the political right for Internet-based muckraking that took on what he saw as too-big government and too-liberal mainstream media, has died. He was 43.
His death was announced today on his website, BigJournalism.com, which said he died shortly after midnight in Los Angeles of natural causes.
Breitbart’s father-in-law, actor Orson Bean, told the Associated Press that Breitbart was walking near his house in the Brentwood neighborhood around midnight when he collapsed, and paramedics couldn’t revive him. Breitbart suffered heart problems a year ago, Bean told AP. According to his Twitter feed, Breitbart was jousting with critics as recently as the hours before his death.
Breitbart was publisher of blogging websites including Breitbart.com, BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com. Targets of his brand of investigative journalism included U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who resigned in 2011 after acknowledging that, as Breitbart first alleged, he had sent lewd pictures of himself to women.
Another target was the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as Acorn. After activists in 2009 shot hidden-camera video appearing to show some of its counselors try to help a prostitute get around the law, Breitbart broke the story and hosted the recording on his website. Acorn ultimately went out of business.
He also released edited video clips of a speech by a black U.S. Agriculture Department employee, Shirley Sherrod, that seemed to show her admitting to not fully helping a white farmer she met with in 1986. The video led Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to fire Sherrod in July 2010.
Vilsack and President Barack Obama both apologized for the firing after learning that the full video showed that Sherrod discussed overcoming her own biases to help the man save his farm.
From his online base, Breitbart became a frequent guest on the Fox News cable-television channel and a favorite of Tea Party activists. When Sarah Palin spoke at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville in 2010, it was Breitbart who introduced her.
“I am not as partisan as people think I am,” Breitbart told the New Yorker magazine for a profile published in 2010. “But when the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that.”
Several Republicans seeking the presidential nomination this year reacted to Breitbart’s death on Twitter. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said that he is saddened by the loss of a “brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative, loving husband and father.’’
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “Andrew Breitbart was the most innovative pioneer in conservative activist social media in America. He had great courage and creativity.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said, “Andrew’s death is a shock and huge loss. His courage should be an example to us all.”
Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, said via Facebook: “Many of us will have lifelong memories of our work or encounters with Andrew. May we draw on those to help forward the cause of fighting for what is right.’’
Los Angeles Roots
Born in Los Angeles in 1969, Breitbart was adopted. His adoptive father was a lobbyist for the food-service industry, his mother a bank executive, according to the New Yorker profile.
He graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans and returned to Los Angeles, where he discovered the Internet as a cure for his intellectual aimlessness. In 1995 he began working for the Drudge Report, the online aggregator of news that had exploded onto the scene as an outlet for reports critical of President Bill Clinton.
He next worked with Arianna Huffington on the creation of her online site, the Huffington Post, though its political outlook clashed with his own. “I knew that I wanted to get into what I had helped create for Arianna,’’ he told the New Yorker, “but I wanted to do it from a different perspective.’’ Breitbart.com came online in 2005, mostly as an aggregator of news.
‘The Institutional Left’
The connections between Hollywood and Democratic politics -- pillars of what he called “the institutional left’’ -- was a particular point of fascination and irritation for Breitbart.
“The right has focused its energy and money on the political process, and it just kind of shrugged off culture,’’ he said in an interview with GQ magazine published in April. “But culture is everything in this country. Once you get down to the political level, you’ve already lost the battle. I sleep so well at night taking on these people who I’ve isolated as the problem. It’s not Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. It’s Katie Couric, Brian Williams. It’s Paramount and Sony and the people in Hollywood who hide their message in art.’’
Breitbart had four children with his wife, Susannah Bean Breitbart.
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