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The Two Sides of Breitbart

The conservative bomb thrower died suddenly today at the age of 43. Lloyd Grove on the self-deprecating, zany man behind the adversarial public image—and why he’ll be missed.

In public, Andrew Breitbart was a roiling cauldron of righteous rage—against what he saw as the hypocrisy of Hollywood liberals (and liberal Democrats in general), the intolerant tyranny of political correctness, the undeclared bias of the mainstream media, and the expanding intrusion of the federal government. His victims, from Brooklyn congressman Anthony Weiner to Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, felt his merciless lash. In Sherrod's case, as Breitbart later conceded, it was also unjustified.

Has the reaction on Twitter to Brietbart's death gone too far? Newsweek and The Daily Beast's John Avlon reacts.

He was often over the top—and occasionally over the line. He tastelessly gloated over the death of Ted Kennedy, calling the late Lion of the Senate “a special pile of human excrement” and once telling me without apology, “I f---ing hated that f---kface.”

In private, Breitbart—the ideologically driven Internet entrepreneur who died suddenly this morning at the untimely age of 43—was, well, certainly not an old softie (except when it came to his wife and four kids). But he was self-aware and even self-deprecating at times. He was, after all, a denizen of the liberal enclave of West Los Angeles, a stranger in a strange land who had migrated ideologically from self-described "secular Jew" to impassioned moralist and libertarian.

USDA Racism Resignation

Breitbart spoke with the Associated Press in February at his home in Los Angeles. (Reed Saxon / AP Photo)

He had a zany sense of humor, and he could laugh at his own personality tics, especially a mania for self-promotion. He was the P.T. Barnum of the cyber-circus, perpetually barking and beckoning his customers into the freak show. But he lived according to a code of honor and even chivalry: one could imagine Sir Andrew, in earlier times, jumping on his steed and riding to the defense of a distressed damsel (just ask Sarah Palin).

A bearlike man with a big voice, he could be intimidating to his enemies (“adversaries” seems too neutral a word). But he could also be warm and generous, as my colleague Eli Lake tweeted this morning. 

I liked the guy. And I wasn’t alone. The expressions of grief and tribute are multiplying exponentially on his Facebook page, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether folks agreed with his politics or not. Both Arianna Huffington, the left-leaning impresario of AOL Media and the Huffington Post, and Matt Drudge, of the right-leaning Drudge Report, are in mourning today. Breitbart helped both of them launch their websites.

Latest Updates

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Who Killed Michael Cormier?

A right-wing media star drops dead… a coroner’s technician dies weeks later… right-wing blogs erupt! Seven months later, we know the technician died from arsenic poisoning. But who did it? And why? Christine Pelisek reports.

In the early afternoon of April 18, 2012, Michael Cormier, an autopsy technician at the Los Angeles coroner’s office, drove himself to Kaiser Permanente Hospital complaining of heart and stomach pain and diarrhea. The doctors suspected a heart issue or an ulcer and recommended he follow up with his regular physician. Two days later, Cormier asked his wife to call 911. An ambulance took him Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he died several hours later from massive organ failure.

Andrew Breitbart

Right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart in February of 2011. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

While he was at Providence St. Joseph, an unidentified family member called and recommended that the hospital check Cormier for poison. A screen test found a significant amount of arsenic in Cormier’s system, and the hospital contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. In the early stages of the investigation into Cormier’s death, the police wouldn’t rule out an accident, suicide, or something more nefarious, and the coroner deferred the cause of death pending further toxicology results.

In all, it was not a remarkable set of circumstances, but Cormier’s death made national news when numerous right-wing blogs linked it to the death of Andrew Breitbart, the conservative media juggernaut and Tea Party hero who had died on March 1 at the age of 43.

“According to early reports, Michael Cormier was ‘seemingly healthy,’ yet ‘suddenly stricken’ with a fatal condition—just like Andrew Breitbart,” read a post on Infowars.com.

The blogs were already speculating that Breitbart—who had announced shortly before his death that he had acquired deeply damaging video footage of President Obama—had been assassinated by the president or his supporters. When Cormier died on the day the coroner’s office announced Breitbart’s cause of death as a heart attack, the right-wing conspiracy theories became more heated. Infowars asked, “Was Cormier targeted because he knew something” about Breitbart’s death which contradicted the official findings?

Those theories were quickly debunked by both the L.A. police and Deputy Chief Coroner Ed Winter, who told The Daily Beast at the time that Cormier had nothing to do with Breitbart’s autopsy.

In life, the scruffy, bespectacled lab tech was dedicated and hardworking, according to former co-workers at the coroner’s office, where Cormier worked for nearly two decades as a photographer and coroner's assistant. He also took classes in criminology and starred in a DVD extra for the 2005 horror flick Chaos, as well as in a short film, “Inside the Coroner’s Office: A Tour of the L.A. Coroner’s Crypt.”

FIZZLE?

Breitbart’s Final Bomb May Be a Bust

Breitbart’s Final Bomb May Be a Bust

According to Buzzfeed.

After gleeful conservative grenade-chucker Andrew Breitbart passed away at age 43, rumors abounded that his untimely death may have had something to do with an announcement he made weeks earlier at CPAC to the effect that he had politically compromising videos from President Obama’s days as an Ivy Leaguer. Now, BuzzFeed reports that they may have dug up the video, posting a clip that shows Obama as the president of the Harvard Law Review speaking in support of a professor’s diversity protest at the school. The Breitbart.com post said that the full video will be aired on Fox’s The Sean Hannity Show Wednesday night. Compounding the sense that the video may turn out to be a dud, however, is the fact that portions of the clip as posted by BuzzFeed appeared in a PBS Frontline documentary titled ‘Dreams of Obama’ that first aired in January, 2009.

Read it at BuzzFeed

TRIBUTE

Santorum: Breitbart ‘a Huge Loss’

Santorum: Breitbart ‘a Huge Loss’ Jonathan Alcorn / Zuma Press

Romney, others react as well.

Conservative politicians and pundits are mourning the death of publisher and blogger Andrew Breitbart, who died Thursday morning at the age of 43. Rick Santorum said it was "a huge loss," and that "what separated Andrew from most was his courage to stand up to the liberal elite while living in the lion's den itself." Mitt Romney said on Twitter: "Ann and I are deeply saddened by the passing of @AndrewBreitbart: brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative, loving husband and father." Matt Drudge, who mentored Breitbart while employing him through the 1990s until 2005, posted on the Drudge Report: "I still see him in my mind's eye in Venice Beach, the sunny day I met him." Arianna Huffington, who enlisted Breitbart to help her start the Huffington Post, wrote that she valued "his passion, his exuberance, his fearlessness."

Read it at Associated Press

ADVERSARY

Shirley Sherrod Offers Condolences

Shirley Sherrod Offers Condolences Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo

Was at center of major Breitbart controversy.

Shirley Sherrod famously lost her job at the Department of Agriculture after Andrew Breitbart posted video of her that made it appear she had made racist remarks about white farmers. After the full video was released and her remarks appeared in context, Sherrod received apologies from the NAACP and President Obama, but the damage had been done. Sherrod, who filed an ongoing defamation suit against Breitbart, released a brief statement Thursday on Breitbart’s passing. “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning,” Sherrod said. “My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments.”

Read it at Talking Points Memo

Controversial

At the Storm's Center: Breitbart

Whatever else critics said, no one could ever accused Breitbart of biting his tongue.

Andrew Breitbart’s sudden death this morning shocked many in the political world. The right wing blogger and provocateur, who died of natural causes, was just 43 years old.He first gained renown helping to build up popular websites like the Drudge Report and The Huffington Post before starting his own conservative Internet fiefdom. In his turbulent career, Breitbart was sometimes right, being the first to report Anthony Weiner’s Twitter scandal, sometimes wrong, posting video of Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department official, which was wildly edited out of context. But he was always controversial. Here are a few of the most notable moments of Breitbart’s career, where he was frequently at the center of the political storm:

ACORN

Perhaps Breitbart’s greatest coup was taking down ACORN, the progressive collection of community development organizations that worked in the most economically deprived parts of America. The organization had become a GOP target because of its voter registration drives, which were rife with irregularities because of their practice of paying canvassers by the registration, which greatly increased the incentives for fraud by the temporary employees they hired. (Although ACORN did strive to weed out these fraudulent registrations).  Breitbart publicized the efforts of James O’Keefe, a young conservative who went to ACORN offices across the country pretending to be a pimp, by trickling out a stream of edited videos showing O’Keefe receiving advice about how to best report income from child prostitutes on his tax returns that sparked a controversy that brought the organization down.

Has the reaction on Twitter to Brietbart's death gone too far? Newsweek and The Daily Beast's John Avlon reacts.

ANTHONY WEINER

Anthony Weiner was a rising star in the Democratic Party until he inadvertently shared a picture of his crotch with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Breitbart managed to obtain the picture and put it up on one of his websites. While Weiner claimed his account was hacked, Breitbart stoked the flames of controversy and singlehandedly kept the story going as it emerged that Weiner had engaged in inappropriate relationships with a number of women he interacted with online. Breitbart even went so far as to crash a press conference that Weiner held, waving around a picture of the Congressman’s exposed genitalia on his cell phone. Weiner was eventually forced to resign and in the ensuing special election, Republicans took his Queens-based Congressional district.

Andrew Breitbart

Jonathan Alcorn / Zuma Press

SHIRLEY SHERROD

Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who died early Thursday morning, had several infamous confrontations under his belt. From his battles with Occupy Wall Street to his accusations against Shirley Sherrod, The Daily Beast takes a look back.

Breitbart Loses His Temper at Occupy Wall Street

Andrew Breitbart was not a fan of the Occupy movement. Shortly after the protests began in New York, he posted leaked emails from a mailing list of OWS organizers in an effort to discredit the movement as a “conspiracy to ‘destabilize’ global markets.” Breitbart also made an appearance at Washington D.C. to let the occupiers know what he thought of their little protest. “Behave yourself, behave yourself,” Breitbart is heard repeating over and over in a video recorded by someone there. He then shouted, “You’re freaks and animals!” at the protesters, who countered his attacks by yelling, in unison, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, right-wing bigots go away!” The conservative activist had to be pulled away from the protest by police as he yelled, “Stop raping people! You filthy freaks … you filthy, filthy, filthy, raping, murdering freaks!” At the end of the video, one protester laughed, “I’ve never raped anybody. I don’t know who he’s talking to.”

The Weiner Presser Takeover

The political sexting scandal known as Weinergate all started at Breitbart’s website BigGovernment.com. Breitbart was the first to post the inappropriate photos that were later discovered to have come from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account. The disgraced politician was scheduled to give a press conference in New York in June to address the photos and many more messages found on his social media pages, but Breitbart got there first. The conservative blogger commandeered the podium—insisting he was coincidentally in New York for a book event and happened to be staying nearby the location of the press conference—and took questions from the media about the photos he had yet to release. Breitbart also requested that Weiner apologize “for him being complicit in a blame-the-messenger strategy,” but the representative was presumably warned of Breitbart’s presence because he never showed up.

Breitbart Gives Opie and Anthony the Dirty Details

Opinionated

Breitbart’s Last Twitter Scuffle

In the hours before his sudden death, Andrew Breitbart was engaged in a typical argument with another blogger. Matt DeLuca traces the mini-feud.

After years of making his opinions known on any one of his many websites, Andrew Breitbart’s last Internet encounter was true to form. In a tweet posted at 11:25 p.m. Los Angeles time Wednesday night, Breitbart wrote, “I called you a putz cause I thought you were being intentionally disingenuous. If not I apologize.” The final missive was directed toward @CenLamar, the Twitter handle of blogger Lamar White Jr.

The two had begun exchanging messages earlier in the day, when White tweeted, “Andrew Breitbart’s speaking voice is like the love child of Owen Wilson and Dr. Evil.”

But their flurry of messages heated up in the hours leading to the final message as they discussed an article in The Atlantic that Breitbart felt unfairly portrayed video maker James O’Keefe. Breitbart’s BigJournalism.com had reported on Wednesday that O’Keefe had filed a defamation suit against CurrentTV as well as against Keith Olbermann for making references to O’Keefe as a “convicted felon,” according to the post.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Breitbart collapsed while walking near his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood. Paramedics sped the blogger to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The 43-year-old was pronounced dead there a little after midnight—not very long after this last message to White.

andrew-breitbart-twitter-scuffle-deluca

Nicholas Kamm, AFP / Getty Images

Breitbart’s last tweet was true to the way many will remember him: as a tireless ideological crusader who could also extend a hand in apology.

Not knowing that he’d receive no response, @CenLamar tweeted back minutes after Breitbart’s conciliatory message, saying, “You also called me ‘genius,’” referring to an earlier tweet from Breitbart. “So apology accepted.”

OBIT

Andrew Breitbart Dead at 43

Andrew Breitbart Dead at 43 Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

Reportedly of natural causes.

Andrew Breitbart, publisher, commentator, and new-media advocate who helped build the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post in addition to his own aggregation sites, has died. His site BigGovernment.com reported that Breitbart passed away from natural causes in Los Angeles early Thursday morning. The self-described “Reagan conservative” was born and raised in Los Angeles before going on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Tulane University. “I’m committed to the destruction of the old media guard,” Breitbart said in a 2010 interview. “And it’s a very good business model.” Few details are known about his death, though the L.A. coroner's office tells ABC News that is happened shortly after midnight.

Read it at BigGovernment.com

Breaking Updates & More

Andrew Breitbart, 1969-2012

Andrew Breitbart, 1969-2012

Breitbart Talks Weinergate

Andrew Breitbart, who died of natural causes at the age of 43, was the man most responsible for forcing Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign. Back in June of 2011, the conservative blogger wasn't about to miss another opportunity to talk about the scandal. On 'Piers Morgan Tonight,' he thanked CNN correspondents for taking the story seriously.

  1. Breitbart: Not My Fault Play

    Breitbart: Not My Fault

  2. Breitbart: Where's Your Reporting? Play

    Breitbart: Where's Your Reporting?

  3. Shuster vs. Breitbart! Play

    Shuster vs. Breitbart!

andrew-breitbart-grove

The Two Sides of Breitbart

Lloyd Grove remembers the self-deprecating, zany man behind the adversarial public image.