What’s actually striking in the media reaction to Andrew Breitbart’s death are the reactions of those who sparred with him in his life.
Media Matters, a watchdog often critical of Breitbart, issued a statement saying, “We’ve disagreed more than we’ve found common ground, but there was never any question of Andrew’s passion for and commitment to what he believed.”
Seth MacFarlane, the comedian/writer/animator, wrote, “All politics aside, @AndrewBreitbart was a fun guy to have a drink with. He shoulda stuck around longer.”
Even Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture employee who was the target of Breitbart’s questionable edits, expressed her condolences to his family.
The blogosphere may not be so gracious, but the reaction among at least some of his frequent foes at least is a reminder that there is still a place for class and a time for crass, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. He himself may not have always followed it — his comments shortly after Ted Kennedy’s death were harsh and biting — but that’s hardly reason to view his death as anything other than too soon and tragic for his young family.
I didn’t know Breitbart that well, but he always seemed to have a frantic energy, as if always at the ready to pounce, but it is always a paradox that polarizing figures also can be friendly and likable. Breitbart mastered the ability to stir it up on the Internet and translate that into attention across all platforms. With his bombast he sure didn’t elevate discourse, but his ability to launch and relaunch blogs was impressive, and for many a disaffected conservative in the entertainment business, BigHollywood was a rallying base from which they could air their grievances about an industry often seen as hopelessly liberal. On a Los Angeles Press Club panel, he wouldn’t give an inch on his contention of a liberal bias in show biz, ones that cost neophytes jobs and opportunity, and that the conservative bent of outlets like Fox News was a small slice of a big media pie controlled by the left.
Breitbart loved the idea that he was going upstream against the mainstream, and seemed to relish in the antics and game of it all, fully comfortable mingling with those he railed against. A couple of years back, at an MSNBC party tied to the White House Correspondents Dinner, I watched as he tried to startle guest bartender Rachel Maddow by ordering an “Acorn-Pimp-Hoax.” She merely gave him an awkward look. Perhaps the most humorous and bizarre moment was when Anthony Weiner was to give a mea culpa press conference, but on TV it was Breitbart, who exposed the congressman’s trolling on Twitter, taking questions from the podium. He happened to be staying at the same hotel.
Tonight, Lawrence O’Donnell devoted a segment of his MSNBC show to Breitbart, noting the difference between public caricature and private persona.