I suspect many of Andrew Breitbart's friends thinking today 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 last Saturday. 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 many 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 this morning—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 500-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 exercise 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, 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 like 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, on Saturday afternoon. 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 that fact that he decided to shave his beard because he thought he looked more slovenly with it than the protestors 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 literally 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 box full 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 Michael 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 Michael Flaherty, a friend 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.'"