Andrew Breitbart strips off his blazer, windmills it over his head and lets it fly to the stage with a matador’s flourish. He booms into a microphone, sneering, taunting. Breath sprints to keep up with words.
A Breitbart boil is under way, before a cheering throng of tea partiers on a moonlike strip of Nevada desert back in March.
A finger stabs overhead as the conservative online publisher declares Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a racist. An arm lances outward as he decries Republican leaders as apologists. Voice rising, Breitbart pledges $10,000, then $20,000, then $100,000 for the United Negro College Fund if proof is found to corroborate claims of racial name-calling during tea party protests on Capitol Hill.
“They decided to play lowball, hardball tactics,” Breitbart seethes. “Well, we’re going to have to play it right back at them.”
You could argue he has done just that.
Two weeks ago, Breitbart posted an edited video that left the impression that Shirley Sherrod, then a little-known black federal employee, was racist. Within days she was out of a job, the doctored tape (whose source Breitbart will not name) proved wildly misleading, and President Barack Obama was on the phone with her trying to make things right.
Sherrod says she plans to file a lawsuit against Breitbart, and he’s being blamed for committing the same online sins that he says are endemic in the U.S. media: political bias and lack of fairness. But despite calls, even from some conservatives, for Breitbart to apologize to Sherrod, he has done nothing of the sort.
“What would warrant an apology?” he told CNN. “I’m not the one that threw her under the bus.”
Love or hate him, you can’t avoid Breitbart on cable TV these days. But who is this 41-year-old father of four from Los Angeles, who has emerged as one of the most incendiary figures from the Beltway to Hollywood, a minor-league Limbaugh who mixes shock-jock calculation, conservative credo and answer-to-no-one swagger? Who is this icon of the smash-mouth politics that divide America?
Breitbart vaguely resembles a younger version of the actor Carroll O’Connor, with gray hair and pale blue eyes. He has the kind of build that suggests he’s not averse to polishing off his kids’ leftovers.
In the quiet of his Los Angeles living room, where the California sunshine floods through skylights and toys occupy corners, Breitbart is practiced and polite. Dressed in a blue blazer, jeans and button-down shirt, he’s nothing like the combative partisan seen hissy-fitting on YouTube clips.
Kids’ artwork is taped to the walls, and he chats amiably with his wife about dinner and a visit from his in-laws. There’s a large-screen TV and pool table, and a book on see-through houses rests nearby.
Breitbart talks about his views with the zeal of the convert that he is. A personality ago, he was a cookie-cutter Hollywood liberal. But his passion for his brand of conservative politics is shot through with the keen business sense of an up-and-coming media mogul: He knows that what he says sells.
As with the Sherrod video, he is skilled at finding issues that push conservative buttons while at the same time pulling Internet traffic to his websites, driving up advertising rates. He’s a man with an agenda, and it’s as much business as politics.
“I’m committed to the destruction of the old media guard,” Breitbart has said. “And it’s a very good business model.”