Andrew Breitbart at the Center of the Political Storm
Whatever else critics said, no one could ever accused Breitbart of biting his tongue, writes Ben Jacobs.
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 edited wildly 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:
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.
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.
While Breitbart’s posting of edited video proved successful when he took on ACORN, it landed him in hot water when he aired edited remarks of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American official at the Agriculture Department. Sherrod had delivered a 43-minute speech at an NAACP banquet where she talked about how aiding a struggling white farmer helped her learn to get past her own innate racial prejudices. Breitbart posted excerpts, however edited to imply that Sherrod didn’t help the man as much as she could have because he was white. Sherrod was instantly fired when the excerpted tapes came out. However, once the full tape emerged, both Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued public apologies and President Obama made a personal phone call to her. Sherrod later filed suit against Breitbart for defamation.
CALLING JOHN LEWIS A LIAR
Democratic Congressman John Lewis is a hero of the civil rights movement, who still bears the scars of police truncheons from blows sustained in Selma, Alabama. However, Breitbart accused Lewis of lying about being called a “n***r” by tea-party activists, saying: “This is 2010. Even a racist is media-savvy enough not to yell the N-word.” Even after other Democratic congressmen present confirmed with Lewis’s account. Breitbart demanded proof that Lewis was lying, leaving the controversy a “he-said, she-said” of sorts between eyewitnesses at the scene and a blogger who was not.
TED KENNEDY’S DEATH
After liberal lion Ted Kennedy passed away in 2009, Breitbart made his feelings known on Twitter. He used an escalating array of slurs from “villain,” to “duplicitous bastard” and “prick” on to “big ass [email protected]#$er” and finally culminating in calling the late Massachusetts Senator “a special pile of human excrement.” Whatever else critics said, no one could ever accused Breitbart of biting his tongue.