Andrew Breitbart multi-tasking while giving a speech.
Those of us who knew Andrew Breitbart fairly well are still in a state of shock that he's gone. I first learned about his passing the way I've learned of many things over the years, by logging onto The Drudge Report early one morning. At first it was just a shocking headline saying "Dead at 43" but then came the flurry of reports that explained his untimely death, my favorite being by someone who knew him, Paul Bond of The Hollywood Reporter.
At the end of Bond's article he listed the survivors, which worried me the most: "Along with his parents and sister, he is survived by his wife Susannah Bean Breitbart and their four children; sons 4, 6 and 12 and a daughter, 10." I worried about their financial future, but fairly quickly a fund was set up and from what I could tell, donations were pouring in. As time passed, I saw that the "reboot" of Breitbart's media mini-empire was in able hands, and that maybe things would be as okay as they could be, given the circumstances.
At a party at the Breitbart house once, what pleased me most was Andrew's obvious joy about his home, wife, and children. His oldest son, Samson, impressed me with his intelligence and friendliness, and it was obvious how much Andrew loved being a dad.
The first time I heard Samson's name I was sitting with Andrew in a Starbucks on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. I laughed at the boldness of naming a son Samson and applauded him for it. From that point forward, Andrew Breitbart was a great man in my book.
That day, as we discussed a project he had in mind, Andrew was constantly on his laptop, updating The Drudge Report. He'd met Matt while waiting tables in Venice, he said, and one thing led to another. By the time Andrew and I met, he was making a nice six-figure living with the site, even if it seemed to occupy his every other moment. He told me the story of the night in mid-January, 1998 when he and Drudge placed a phone call to Jonathan Alter of Newsweek at home and verified the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair. The magazine, which has now deteriorated into web-only, had turned down the obvious cover story. I still wonder what would have happened if the "little blue dress" with Clinton's DNA on it had not been revealed to the nation via Drudge.
I first met Andrew when I attended a signing of Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon - The Case Against Celebrity, the book he co-wrote with Mark Ebner. I knew Ebner from our mutual interest in exposing the evils of Scientology. The book had a chapter about the so-called religion, and I was buoyed by Ebner and Breitbart's lack of fear of the notorious attack dog tactics of Scientology.
The longer I knew Andrew, the more I admired his media expertise, and the wildness of his experience. I wasn't surprised when he told me of being propositioned by Arianna Huffington as he built The Huffington Post site for her in the attic of her house. I'd run into Huffington and her then husband Michael at a party given by the Louisville Courier-Journal prior to a Kentucky Derby. I'd recoiled at what I thought was a completely evil vibe coming from her. When I heard about her hitting on Andrew, a young father of several kids, my instinct about her was validated. How sadly typical of too many in the Westside L.A. crowd, I thought.
When Andrew was starting "Big Hollywood" and other derivative sites of Breitbart.com, I was at a party at his house. He introduced me to John Nolte, the editor. In short order, I wrote two dozen articles for the site, which seemed popular with readers, given the extensive commentary. It seemed like a big happy family. When I learned Nolte's wife was a huge fan of Patti Page, I got her a copy of Patti's memoir, which I'd ghost-written. Mrs. Nolte received the only copy on earth autographed by both Patti and myself.
Andrew also invited me to become a member of the secret Hollywood Republican group "Friends of Abe" (FOA) started by Gary Sinise, shortly after he learned about it. I began going to FOA events, and getting others involved.
Then Andrew and I had a falling out over intellectual property. I wrote a non-political article about what I thought was missing in America — some Christian principles that had guided it in the beginning — and John Nolte rejected the piece. I was surprised; he'd always published the others with little comment, if any. I ran it by Andrew and he thought it was okay to publish, but in the interim I happened to read a "click-on" agreement I had encountered when first signing up on the site. It stated that the site owned in perpetuity everything I wrote for it — even though I was writing for free! I asked Andrew about that via email, and got no reply. Same with Nolte. When I realized I was getting nowhere, I finally emailed them both to say, sorry, you don't own what I created for you to use for free, take my articles down.
And they did. After that, I would see Andrew at FOA events but there was a noticeable emotional distance between us. I didn't bring up my exit from his site, and neither did he. The last time I saw him was when he did a signing of his last book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World, at the Barney's Beanery in Westwood where the group met every month. The time before that was at an FOA lunch in the San Fernando Valley, which he was moderating. When it came time for discussion, I announced I was writing a book for Broadside Books, the conservative imprint of HarperCollins that publishes authors like Dinesh D'Souza and that I wanted to talk to anyone interested in being interviewed for the book. Andrew's mouth literally dropped open in surprise — I guess because it was a somewhat major project with regard to Hollywood conservatives, and he didn't already know about it.
Probably because Gary Sinise stopped talking to me when I told him about the book, every Hollywood conservative who eagerly wanted to contribute suddenly got cold feet, except for one. (Word tends to get around in small groups.) I wrote the book anyway, but ended up in disagreement with editor Adam Bellow, just as David Mamet had over another book, and the project was canned. And through all this I learned a big lesson — don't expect anyone on any side of the political aisle to be trustworthy until they prove they are. As Ronald Reagan said: Trust, but verify.
All these experiences and more ran through my mind as I watched the thoroughly entertaining new documentary, Hating Breitbart. The audience in Burbank was mostly people who knew Andrew, and even though we were all still sad from his passing, we laughed continuously during the movie, as he took on ACORN with James O'Keefe, busting criminal practices that defrauded government resources, then through the whole "N word" accusation that never was in March of 2010 in Washington, D.C.
I was glad to see the full story of the Shirley Sherrod resignation in the movie, and glad that the Anthony Weiner resignation following his sexting scandal that Andrew exposed was tagged onto the end of the movie, almost as a footnote.
In the lobby afterward, I ran into Andrew's business partner, lawyer Larry Solov, who was also his longest best friend. Funny, I thought, Larry was probably the one who wrote the rights agreement for Breitbart.com. But I didn't say anything about that; who cared any more? Larry said it was good to see me, and I said the same about him. We both were kind of amazed at how short a time it had been since Andrew passed. The main thing was the memory of Andrew Breitbart, and how he was a "bare-knuckled brawler" in journalism (Larry's words). Andrew didn't like bullies, and he considered the institutional media a bunch of bullies who had rarely been challenged until people like him came along.
I felt the same way, only Andrew did something about it. In the words of John Lennon, another fallen hero (though perhaps not to many conservatives), all Andrew wanted was for the truth to reach the public. "All I want is the truth," Lennon said. "Just give me some truth."
Whatever your feelings about or impressions of Andrew Breitbart, you should see Hating Breitbart. You'll get the truth about him, whether you agree with him or not.
Maybe one day, the media will be a bit more balanced. Andrew was here to even the scales a little, and I love people like that. Like him, I hate bullies and liars, and I'll never stop fighting them, whatever their creed, political stance, or lack of same.
In Act V, scene 5 of Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote (a bit cynically): "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Andrew Breitbart's life was relatively brief, but he was not a poor player. He was full of sound and fury, but he signified quite a lot — he was filled with the indomitable American spirit, and the significance of his life and work will carry on far beyond this movie. Larry Solov told me that the traffic on the Breitbart sites had doubled from this time last year. That made me feel much better about the family Andrew left behind.
Perhaps there will be a definitive Breitbart biography someday, and a movie or miniseries that shows how this latter-day Puck (the character from A Misdummer Night's Dream) made the greatest use of the new Internet media to not just show "what fools these mortals be" but how much better we could all become.
That kind of truth is the kind that lasts. See the movie.