Andrew Breitbart, 1969-2012
From The Scrapbook
Mar 12, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 25 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Breitbart, though, was on his best behavior. “I’m here to learn,” Andrew said facetiously. It was part of the pleasure of keeping company with him. He wasn’t just a friend, he was a co-conspirator. Once we arrived at the apartment, much to Andrew’s and Ayers’s chagrin, they got along famously. Just two guys having dinner, finding commonality, even if Andrew regarded it his hidebound duty to passive-aggressively heckle Ayers as he served us plates of hoisin ribs and farmhouse cheeses. (“This is the bomb, Bill,” Breitbart said to the former explosives-rigger.)
When Ayers asked me what I was reading right now, I told him Moby-Dick, which actually lived up to its billing. Ayers agreed, though added, as any good academic would, “You’ve picked up the gay subtext?” Breitbart nearly choked on his tofu and quinoa. “You mean in Moby-Dick?” Andrew asked. “Or at this dinner?”
Though the dinner took place on Super Bowl Sunday, Ayers and Co. abruptly dismissed us before halftime, leaving our plan of attack only half realized, as we were attempting to ease into the evening like gentlemen and polite dinner guests. When we adjourned to the Drake Hotel bar to catch the end of the game and commiserate about how we got rolled, or “community organized” as Breitbart put it, I still had a list of Ayers questions that needed answering. So as I ticked through my list, I asked Breitbart to help fill in the blanks, in character, as Ayers. He eagerly obliged.
Me: “Who taught you how to make bombs? And could you still rig one up if pressed?”
Breit-bart, as Ayers: “That’s interesting. I’d like for you to try this Chilean sea bass that’s been encrusted with a special phyllo dough.”
The next morning, we rode together to the airport. As usual, I didn’t have to do much talking. Breit-bart was full of stories and ideas and asides. He sang along lustfully when our cabdriver blasted Teena Marie’s ’80s hit “Lovergirl.” He told me of his super-secret guerrilla PR campaign for an upcoming documentary on him, appropriately titled Hating Breitbart. He would start an anonymous website asking people to upload their hating Breitbart videos, in which they’d be encouraged to cap on him mercilessly. He would secretly commission—for high five figures—Obama propagandist Shepard Fairey to put up anti-Breitbart posters all over L.A. Then he’d call a press conference, announcing who the sponsor of all the anti-Breit-bart animus was—Andrew Breitbart himself. It would’ve been a fine caper.
As we took our seats on the plane out of Chicago, Andrew was a row behind me. This I counted a blessing, thinking I could get some much-needed work-related reading done. But no such luck. Andrew asked his row-mate, “Would you switch seats with him, so I can talk to him?” Andrew often seemed like he just wanted someone to talk to.
And so we did, for hours. We talked about his kids, whom he was crazy about. And we talked about one of his favorite films, Grandma’s Boy, about a slacker video-game tester forced to move in with his grandmother. We talked about his sterling academic credentials (he pulled a solid 2.0 at Tulane, the New Orleans party school), and at his good fortune in finding his way in the world, even if finances were sometimes tight.
We talked about getting older, as two middle-aged guys who get into the Bloody Mary cart at 11 in the morning sometimes will. I told Andrew that his good friend, Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik, had a hit song called “100 Years”—about aging—that never ceases to freak me out. The protagonist sings about the different ages of his life—15, 33, 45, and so on—that tick by in a blink. It doesn’t help, I told Andrew, that I was 33 when the song seemingly came out yesterday, but that I am closer to 45 now, thus illustrating Ondrasik’s point.
In a very rare spell of silence, Breitbart stewed for several minutes. Then, he wistfully replied, “Don’t worry, man. It’s something that bothers me, too. But I have it all figured out. We all need to go to work together every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., whether we need to or not. In a classroom. We’ll even sit at those peninsula-shaped desks, with our pencil sharpeners and Elmer’s glue. And we’ll do it for nine months out of every year.”
“Why on earth?” I asked, puzzled.
“Because,” he said. “When we were in school—that was the last time we watched the clock, and wanted it to hurry up. The last time it took too long to get to the next thing.”
As we parted company at baggage claim, Andrew was still talking (as always) about how we needed to meet for drinks, about his next caper, about a proposed Grandma’s Boy viewing party. Neither of us knew that the time we were just speaking of was in shorter supply for him than for the rest of us. Makes me wish we were sitting at our peninsula-desks, stalling the clock.
Several years ago, when Breit-bart was in the middle of one skirmish or another—I don’t even remember which one—I told him that I didn’t know whether I should encourage him, but that he made me laugh, as always. I asked him if when someone finally shot him, “Can I read a poem at your memorial service?”
“I think I should stop,” he admitted of his latest caper. “But it’s so fun and the hate mail is something to behold. . . . And of course you can read my favorite poem, William Carlos Williams’s ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ at my wake.” Well, my friend, you mercifully didn’t get shot. But here you go anyway:
I’ve never had any idea what the hell that poem means. And I suspect that neither Breitbart nor William Carlos Williams had a clue either. But it doesn’t matter. As Andrew held, sometimes absurdity is worth it for its own sake. And as he once wrote to me, “I hope people see that I’m dead serious about what I’m dead serious about, and besides that, it’s all about a good laugh.”
* * *
I suspect many of Andrew Breitbart’s friends thinking about how they’ll remember Andrew will picture him charging through the lobby of a hotel followed by opponents hoping to trip him up, supporters cheering on the confrontation, or journalists taking it all in. Some will recall seeing him give a speech to hundreds of conservative activists as he did in Michigan the last Saturday in February. Many will remember having drinks or dinner or coffee with Andrew and a large group of people crowded around a tiny bar table or spilling out awkwardly into the aisles of a restaurant.
This is who he was and what he did. His influence on journalism is indisputable. He was the silent partner in the Drudge Report for a decade. He helped start the Huffington Post. He created Big Government and the associated “Big” websites. He advised the founders of the Daily Caller. He was a pioneer of the kind of “combat journalism” practiced by the new Washington Free Beacon.
Andrew didn’t always get it right. None of us does. We had differences about a number of things, including the wisdom and utility of engaging political opponents willing to just make stuff up. Andrew thrived on confrontations and sought them out. He believed that someone had to fight the distortions and misrepresentations of the left, and that it was important to do it without the conventional politeness of those who use words like “distortions” and “misrepresentations” instead of “lies.” He went after his opponents aggressively and made enemies. But he made just as many friends, including quite a few who disagreed with him vehemently.
He brought together people who would have never met were it not for his insistence that they would get along or learn from each other. He was almost always right. And following the confirmation of his death last Thursday—after many minutes believing, hoping, and praying that it was a big hoax—I thought of the many people I had met because of him.
John Wordin called early. He runs Ride 2 Recovery, a charity that helps soldiers recover from battle wounds, physical and mental. Andrew introduced us by email because of our common interest in those who fight our wars. Three weeks later I was on a 350-mile bike ride across Texas with several dozen soldiers and Marines and, for one hilarious day at the end, Andrew himself.
Andrew wasn’t exactly a natural cyclist. To the extent that he exercised at all, it was usually some kind of activity that didn’t require a ton of exertion. He knew—we all knew—that he was unlikely to finish the ride of some 70 miles, but he didn’t much care. That night, we had one of those only-in-Breitbart-world dinners, spilling out of a booth at a Dallas steakhouse. Actress Kristy Swanson was there. So was Chad Fleming, a decorated special-ops soldier. Andrew had brought Jon David Kahn, a former Stanford tennis player and songwriter who worked at the time under a pseudonym because of his conservative politics. There was a lawyer from Dallas and a friend. As usual, Andrew did most of the talking, flitting from subject to subject as a fruit fly jumps from banana to banana. There were snatches of conversation about reality television, nighttime raids in Iraq, the left-leaning bias of the mainstream media, our families.
The last subject was inescapable. Andrew had brought to Texas, and to dinner, Samson, the oldest of his four children, who was perhaps 10 years old. So we talked to Samson a bit about surfing and school and girls. He answered politely, but I got the sense the adults were more interested in talking about those subjects than he was. He was content to sit and listen. He was just excited to be along with his dad.
Andrew and I talked about Samson, his siblings, and their mother at some length when I saw him at a Tea Party conference in Troy, Michigan, the Saturday afternoon before he died. He’d just finished giving a highly entertaining and, as always, provocative speech to an appreciative crowd. (The ovations for Andrew were far louder than the ones for either of the two presidential candidates who would speak to the crowd that day.) We talked about his recent confrontation with an Occupy Wall Street crowd at CPAC and the fact that he’d decided to shave his beard because he thought he looked more slovenly with it than the protesters he was mocking.
On Saturday, Andrew was more contemplative than usual. He was concerned about being away from his family as much as his hectic schedule seemed to require. The blessing of a career like the one Andrew had is that he could make his own schedule. He traveled more than a father and husband with a typical 9-to-5 job, but when he was not on the road he often worked from home and got more family time than a normal job would provide. He told me again, as he had dozens of times earlier, what a saint his wife Susie was to put up with all of the complications that went along with being his spouse. The balance is difficult for anyone in our profession and Andrew wanted to be sure he was finding the right one. We had barely started that conversation when our pressing schedules made us end it, for good as it turns out.
Andrew brought Samson when he picked me up at LAX several years ago. I stayed at his house, as I did nearly every time I was in Los Angeles, and we woke early the next morning so that Andrew could host Dennis Miller’s radio show. The show was disjointed, hilarious, scattered, irreverent, and fun—all Andrew.
Afterwards, we picked up a 30-pack of Miller Lite and a boxful of L.A.’s legendary Zankou Chicken before returning to his house. The group there included, at various times, Dennis Miller’s producer, Christian Bladt; Andrew’s good friend and business partner, Larry Solov; a good friend from his high school, the liberal lawyer who lives across the street; and Micheal Flaherty, the head of Walden Media, a film production company. Andrew gave us newcomers a tour of his house—the new sport court in the back for the kids, the multimedia set-up in virtually every room, the custom-made Starbucks bar he’d set up.
We stood around the island in his kitchen that afternoon for hours, talking about big questions—the American Revolution, classical liberal political philosophy, homosexuality and conservatism, preemptive war, and the meaning of life. Andrew led the conversation and asked most of the questions, using those of us who shared many of his views to take the arguments to those who did not.
But it was the end of the conversation that was the first thing I thought of when I finally understood that he had died. It was the first thing that Flaherty, a friend of Andrew’s who became one of mine that day, remembered too:
“Fittingly, the last question was about heaven and the afterlife. On this one Andrew just sat back with a smile and listened to a lot of us talk about it from our different faith perspectives, particularly Buddhists and Christians, thrilled to hear different points of view. Little did we know when we wrapped up our conversation on heaven that day that Andrew would be the first of us to get there and hear those words we all long to hear—‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ ”
Stephen F. Hayes
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