My long obit of Andrew Breitbart went up last night. Referring to a famous person as a “friend” carries a stench of the name-drop. Pardon me this once: Andrew was a friend. We were introduced by a mutual pal in 2007, when Breitbart.com was an interesting Internet curio, but no one was hassling Breitbart for a TV hit or a second book deal. (His first book, Hollywood Interrupted, sold well, but I’m guessing you forgot it existed.) After 2009, when he became an icon who was mobbed by trackers when he showed up at the wrong places, he remained a friend, calling to talk about new music, calling to pick my brain about a story he was trying to break.
It hit me, after I filed this piece, why Breitbart was so good at understanding the pulse of the reader. He didn’t differentiate between the powerful and the ordinary. If you spotted Breitbart at one of the conventions he was asked to speak at after 2009, he was rarely hobnobbing with reporters or other speakers. He was sitting out in public. He would talk to anyone who had a story for him. Plenty of times, he ushered me or another reporter over to meet someone who just told him about something newsy, like a clash with Occupy protesters.
This is rarer than you’d think. If you cover enough political events, you see a lot of speakers, and reporters, clustering amongst themselves, maybe talking to fans, then retreating to talk to each other. Breitbart would drink with friends but bring new people into the mix. This was exactly how his content worked – there was a flat landscape of news where other media might have put up gates.
Breitbart kept that up in his last public “statement.” He tweeted back and forth with Lamar Smith, a guy who never met him, to settle an argument. If you scan Breitbart’s Twitter feed, you notice that he did a lot of this.
“I understand the reason I am being asked to comment is because his last tweet was an earnest apology to me,” said Smith via email. “Although I disagreed with him profoundly on politics and policy, I will always respect and admire his tenacious wit and his willingness to engage others in provocative conversation. That’s what free speech is about, and whether one agreed with him or not, it’s impossible to deny his commitment to the First Amendment and the open and free exchange of ideas. I send my condolences to all of his family and friends.”