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.
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.
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.
“I was asked many times this morning for my thoughts on what Andrew meant to the political world,” Huffington emailed me, “but all I can think of at the moment is what Andrew meant to me as a friend, starting from when we worked together—his passion, his exuberance, his fearlessness. And above all, what I'm thinking of at the moment is his amazing wife Susie and their four beautiful young children. My love and thoughts are with them right now.”
Drudge posted this tribute at the top of his homepage: “DEAR READER: In the first decade of the DRUDGEREPORT 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. I don't think there was a single day during that time when we did not flash each other or laugh with each other, or challenge each other. I still see him in my mind's eye in Venice Beach, the sunny day I met him. He was in his mid 20's. It was all there. He had a wonderful, loving family and we all feel great sadness for them today...”
The last time Breitbart and I talked—11 days ago, when he called to obtain some contact information for a mutual acquaintance—he was in his usual hurry, eager to get on to his next project. He sounded excited and, as usual, excitable. We agreed to get together for a meal on his next visit to New York.
It goes without saying that the media landscape will be flatter.