Online pioneer journalist Breitbart dies at 43
Known as a political provocateur for style of conservative punditry
Andrew Breitbart, the conservative journalist, Internet pioneer and provocateur who helped reshape the media landscape with tenacious and original political style, died early Thursday after collapsing on the street near his Los Angeles home. He was 43.
His passing was announced through a posting on his extensive online news empire at bigjournalism.com, mourning him as a “patriot and a happy warrior.” In the past decade, Mr. Breitbart bore witness to media bias, partisan spectacle and celebrity foibles, and relished publicizing damning details to expose erring public officials.
In recent years, Mr. Breitbart lent a forum to sting videos uncovering irregularities at the community organization ACORN and was the first to publish a lurid photograph of former New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner that led to his resignation. The accuser was always candid about his motivations.
“I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it,” he wrote in “Righteous Indignation,” his most recent book. “I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and famously, I enjoy making enemies.”
The news spawned a deluge of online tributes and reactions, and word was spread by tweets and blog posts from friends and foes alike. Both House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, and pundit Michelle Malkin said they were “stunned” by his death; Mrs. Malkin also noted that Mr. Breitbart — “bane of the left” — had been a mentor to an entire rising generation of activists and citizen journalists.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum called his passing a “huge loss” for the nation, while campaign rival Mitt Romney deemed him a “brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative, loving husband and father.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Mr. Breitbart was a man of “great courage and creativity,” while Sarah Palin assured her Facebook followers, “We will continue the fight.”
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh told his audience Thursday, “Sometime during the 1990s, Breitbart had an awakening. He was constantly questioning what was all around him, which was really extreme liberalism, and he became . . . a bulldog.”
He was also at the center of a number of controversies about his writings and news-gathering methods. At the time of his death, he was defending a defamation suit filed by former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod about what Ms. Sherrod said were deceptively edited clips of her posted on Mr. Breitbart’s website.
Mr. Breitbart was born in Los Angeles, the adopted son of liberal Jewish parents. He ultimately emerged as a self-proclaimed “Reagan conservative” with a canny sensibility about American culture and political ironies. He was particularly irked by hypocrisy and corruption among public officials.
Like Matt Drudge, he was ahead of his time in recognizing the power of the Internet, joining forces with Mr. Drudge to search out and post the signature mix of online news and commentary as early as 1996 for the widely influential Drudge Report, at the very dawn of Web-based journalism.
“In the first decade of the Drudge Report, Andrew Breitbart was a constant source of energy, passion and commitment. We shared a love of headlines, a love of the news, an excitement about what’s happening,” Mr. Drudge wrote in a remembrance posted across the top of his website Thursday.
Mr. Breitbart also developed considerable prowess as a public speaker and editorialist, including penning a regular weekly op-ed at The Washington Times and making multiple appearances at such major events as the annual CPAC gathering of conservatives in Washington.
After collaborating with Mr. Drudge and with Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, he founded six popular websites five years ago, offering a kaleidoscope of videos, news and commentary on politics, the media and popular culture.
Though Mr. Breitbart reportedly died of a suspected heart attack. the Los Angeles County coroner’s office will review his death and conduct an autopsy.
Mr. Breitbart is survived by his wife, Susannah; four children; his sister, Tracy; his parents, Jerry and Arlene Breitbart; and his in-laws, actor Orson Bean and Alison Bean.