I woke up this morning to about ten emails from journalist friends asking if our mutual friend, Andrew Breitbart, was really dead. “Really” was the operative word. Some meant it in the traditional sense: Is it possible for the human inferno that Breitbart resembled to have actually been extinguished at age 43, leaving his elegant wife Susie and his four beloved children behind? Several, however, meant it as in: Is Andrew really dead? Many of us didn’t know if we could trust the announcement, thinking this could be another Breitbart caper, as he always had two or three in his back pocket.
By way of greeting, I used to ask Breitbart what kind of evil he was up to.
“Most kinds,” he’d say, gamely.
So one could easily have envisioned this being the latest Breitbart media stunt: Fake your own demise, go missing for 24 hours, thus encouraging all your ideological adversaries to bleat and fume and make asses of themselves just to prove what kind of sonsofbitches you were up against. Let the record show that tasteful blogger Matt Yglesias came through like clockwork, nearly getting ahead of the Los Angeles coroner’s announcement by crowing: “Conventions around dead people are ridiculous. The world outlook is slightly improved with @AndrewBreitbart dead.” (Well done, Matt! Perhaps you could pass your thoughtful sentiments on to his fatherless children, since they likely don’t follow you on Twitter. Prick.)
But sadly, it was not Andrew’s last, greatest caper. Breitbart himself, of course, would’ve not only expected such aggression, but would’ve laughed at it, and even egged it along. One of his favorite pastimes was retweeting his own hate mail, which was voluminous. As a partisan warrior and a guerrilla theater aficionado – half right wing Yippie, half Andy Kaufman (his Twitter picture at the time of his death was a Jesus-sighting style imprint of his face on a piece of toast) – he made it his vocation to make people crazy. Whatever detractors say, or more likely, whatever they spray, Breitbart clearly excelled at his job.
His intensity could alternately be amusing and taxing. When he’d call you in the white-hot fever of one of the headline-garnering skirmishes that he’d inserted himself into – ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, Anthony Weiner’s schwantz pictorials – you knew that you could set the phone down, run some errands, and do some light yard work, then return without him ever realizing that you’d been gone. One of the many benefits of being friends with Andrew was that when he was on fire, which was often, there was no need to carry your share of the conversational load.
But at heart, he was in it for more than scoring points for “The Movement” as he unironically called it. As anyone who has seen his recent CPAC speech knows, Breitbart had the brains, the talent, and the animal charisma to get people to set cars on fire for him, or to run off with him to the desert where he might start his own anti-Obama doomsday cult. But while he believed in what he espoused, perhaps a little too much, he was also in it for other reasons – for action, and for amusement. He didn’t just hit scandal head-on. He enjoyed coming at it slyly. He gloried in the art of presentation. A few years back, when getting drinks with Andrew, his wife, and Fox News host Greg Gutfeld at a Washington, D.C. hotel, Breitbart showed me his Twitter mug shot.
Since he knew that I despise Twitter on principle, I thought he was deliberately sticking me in the eye. But he wasn’t. “Seriously,” he said. “Take a look. Do you notice anything different about me?” In the photo, he had newly grown facial hair. He was looking off into the middle distance in a way that did not quite resemble himself.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Did you lose weight? Get a haircut?”
“NO!!!!” he exclaimed, with some disappointment. “It’s exactly like Eric Boehlert’s Twitter picture! I’m mirroring him!” he said of his bête noire from the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, which regularly tormented Breitbart, and which in turn, was tormented by him.
There’s not a chance I could pick Eric Boehlert out of a police lineup. But there’s no way Breitbart would’ve known that. He was a man who both loved and hated with his whole heart, often getting wrapped around the axle of his own narrative. When I looked at his long-suffering wife, asking her what she made of this, she affectionately shrugged her shoulders. The universal loving-wife symbol for, “What can you do?”