GOP Hitman Andrew Breitbart's Confessional Memoir: I Wouldn't Be a Foul, Raging Jerk If I Had Made It in Hollywood
While a student at Tulane University in the late 1980s, Andrew Breitbart was known for two things: rollerblading around campus in derby shorts, and making proud shows of his lack of intellectual curiosity. A scene in Righteous Indignation, Breitbart’s new memoir-manifesto, finds him rolling up to a group of sorority girls and asking them to choose his major for him as the deadline approaches.
Not much has changed over the decades. Andrew Breitbart is still rollerblading. He’s also still pretty forthright about his general lack of interest in most of what makes up the day’s news. This is true even of the subjects on which he has staked his name.
“In June 2009,” he writes in the opening sentence to Righteous Indignation, “I didn’t know much about the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.” Although soon to enter conservative lore as a slayer of ACORN, Breitbart cops to only ever knowing the Fox News propaganda line on the organization. This consists largely of the lie, repeated here by Breitbart, that ACORN was “linked with severe voter fraud.”
No footnote is attached to this assertion for good reason. Later in the book, Breitbart has this to say about media appearances by Bertha Lewis -- then ACORN’s CEO -- in defense of her organization: “We knew that we were drawing blood when ACORN abandoned white spokesperson Scott Levenson in favor of the dashiki-clad African-American Bertha Lewis. Clearly, political correctness, the race card, and Alinksy were going to be their playbook -- a tried-and-true defense.”
As Breitbart makes repetitively clear in Righteous Indignation (Grand Central Publishing), he doesn’t really care about ACORN, economics, or anything much else. What he cares about are his commando raids against the Hollywood and media establishments. Breitbart recalls that after James O’Keefe said he planned to use the ACORN tapes to take down ACORN, Breitbart replied, “No. We’re going to take down the media.”
“I didn't want to react to the news at all, writes Breitbart. “I wanted to drive the news cycle." In the six years since helping to launch Huffington Post—more about that in a minute—he has succeeded. Breitbart has emerged as the leader of the new breed of rightwing media activist. His chain of “Big” sites and his promotion of undercover videos have earned him iconic status on the right and endless epitaphs from the left. Breitbart does not argue with charges of peddling slime. “We don’t fight fair; we fight righteous,” he writes. Breitbart insists that President Obama was elected by the mainstream media “through platitudes and misdirection” and says that it therefore never crossed my mind whether I should play fair” in releasing the ACORN tapes. “Fair loses."
Maybe. But it also keeps you out of court. In February, Shirley Sherrod served Breitbart papers over the doctored video he released that got her fired from the Department of Agriculture. Fighting fair also helps maintain a minimum of credibility, his store of which Breitbart has depleted in record time.
As political and media analysis, Righteous Indignation is thin gruel even by Conservative Book Club standards. Its prose is constructed of granite-slab clichés, mortared with the thin bile and rabid drool of a man whose two authorial modes are sycophant (he calls Matt Drudge and Roger Ailes “visionaries” by page four) and spoiled, hyperactive child (he tells his lawyer after seeing the ACORN videos, “I want it. I want it I want it I want it I want it I want it”).
As a window into the mind and soul of an ascendant and uniquely shameless force on the right, however, Righteous Indignation fascinates, and demands at least a fraction of the attention demanded by its man-child author. What emerges in these pages is a self-portrait of the post-intellectual rightwing activist-provocateur as overgrown Hollywood brat, so debilitated by ADHD he must take to an airplane to escape the Internet and find the peace of mind to construct a single complete English sentence.
“This book,” writes Breitbart, “marks the first time since 2004 that I’ve felt compelled to communicate a set of ideas that couldn’t be related on Twitter or Facebook, on a blog, in a chat room, with AOL Instant Messenger, via Skype, or on Blog Talk Radio.”
Yes, we can tell.
It won’t surprise anyone who has followed Breitbart’s ascent to learn that he is driven by hatred of the Hollywood and media establishments. A very deep and personal hatred. What becomes clear in these pages is the way these hatreds have origins in self-loathing and narcissism of a geographically specific type. The key is Breitbart’s rearing and life in Tinsel Town, a community he desperately wanted to be a part of, but which, it appears, wanted nothing to do with him.
Breitbart’s story begins in Brentwood privilege, the adopted son of a successful restaurateur. He early absorbed the local obsession with fame, connections and status. He writes of the joy he experienced whenever he bumped up against the local royalty, as when he had the same tennis instructor as Farrah Fawcett and Arnold Schwarzenegger. When his family rented their Winnebago to John Ritter, the young Breitbart “bragged about it in school for weeks.” In fact, he never stopped. But despite his aspiring to the glamorous life, the first half of the book describes a confused, ignorant, manic-depressive loser seething with self-hatred.
After high school, Breitbart attended Tulane, where he joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and drank and gambled away his parents’ money. In the Big Easy, Breitbart concentrated on partying and avoided what he now disparages as Marxist academia. He now believes that his boorish immaturity was a blessing in that it prevented him from being co-opted by what he calls the “cultural fascisti.”
Breitbart complains that he was exposed to a raft of deeply anti-American ideas. As an American Studies major, he writes, he was subjected to the evil thoughts of émigré Critical Theorists like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, who he blames for destroying everything good in postwar America. It is impossible to overstate Breitbart’s hatred for these “boring and bleating philosophers” who escaped the Nazis and “exploit[ed]” America’s openness and liberty by deploying “ideological Anthrax.”
At one point, Breitbart fantasizes about choking the life out of these mid-century refugee philosophers. “If I could go back in a time machine, I would go back to strangle these malcontents,” he writes.
Not read them. Strangle them.
Or at least that’s what it says in a review copy of Breitbart's book provided to Media Matters. Someone apparently sanitized this line at the last moment, because in the final, published version, it now reads, “If I could go back in a time machine, I would go back to kick these malcontents in their shins.”
Strangulation aside, not everyone remembers Tulane as the Marxist nightmare that Breitbart describes. “The required courses in American Studies included two semesters each of American Literature and History,” says a former director of Tulane’s American Studies Department who taught and remembers Breitbart. “We used the Norton Anthology—very middle-of-the-road, canonical stuff.” Among the “cultural Marxists” the young Breitbart was supposed to study but didn’t were the Puritans, Franklin, Edwards, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Hawthorne, Melville, and Stowe. According to this professor, not even the more advanced interdisciplinary seminars at Tulane offered much critical theory.
So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Breitbart would not have graduated at all but for his pleading with a professor for mercy. “I need to graduate,” he remembers begging. “I have family and friends coming in from out of town tomorrow. We have reservations at Commander's Palace.”
Upon graduation, Breitbart returned to L.A., where his parents bought him a new Saab and continued to support him. He used the graduation gift to tool around doing a series of entry-level jobs on the margins of the film industry. With time, he says he began to chafe against the “default” nihilistic liberalism he had absorbed from the culture around him, “as if by osmosis.” Eventually a friend got him a runner position at a low-budget movie production company in Santa Monica. “For a year I delivered scripts around town, entering every single Hollywood office of note, including Michael Ovitz's, Jeffrey Katzenberg's, and Michael Eisner's. It wasn't long before I saw clearly what made Hollywood run.” By this he means liberal politics and schmoozing.
The only success Breitbart had in the film world was in wooing the daughter of a famous movie star. This led him to rejoice that “Not only was I working in Hollywood, I was dating the daughter of Orson Bean.” It was Orson who introduced Breitbart to the Rush Limbaugh radio program and set him on his current course. Other than that, his Movieville escapades were a bust.
Having found an outlet for his rage by listening to AM talk radio, Breitbart quickly turned on his former idols, developing an all-consuming bitterness. In seeking excuses for his stagnating career, he endeavored mightily to absolve himself by concluding that, “Leftists without credentials in Hollywood made it because they were leftists.” The entirety of his justification for having failed was that his (still inchoate) politics were unpopular, not him. As he describes it, the bitter conservative paranoia he felt during this time is redolent of John Carpenter’s sci-fi classic They Live. “The [Media-Democrat] Complex surrounded me 24/7 in the form of attractive people making millions of dollars whose moral relativism, historical revisionism, and collective cultural nihilism put them in the same boat as the martyrs of radical Islam.”
For Breitbart, these “attractive people” who make our films are really no different from those who would detonate a nuclear bomb in Santa Monica. The troubled Breitbart has turned political disagreements into deranged holy war. And he does mean war. His hatred for the left is matched only by his love of violent martial metaphors. Every other page of Righteous Indignation invites the reader to envision the author as a new media fighting general—a Patton or MacArthur ordering cyber-sieges on the turreted citadels of “attractive” liberal power. He speaks of being “morally obligated” by his “patriotic duty” to “take up those weapons at my disposal” because he is “well-trained and well-positioned for this battle.” It is amusingly easy to imagine the author playing on the carpet with Entertainment Tonight action-figures and making his own sound effects. Here he is attempting to put his work into some sort of world-historical context:
Make no mistake: America is in a media war. It is an extension of the Cold War that never ended but shifted to an electronic front. The war between freedom and statism ended geographically when the Berlin Wall fell. But the existential battle never ceased. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the battle simply took a different form.
Yes, Andrew, the Cold War simply took a different form. From tens of thousands of thermonuclear hair-triggers and divisions of heavy armor, to Real Time with Bill Maher and Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld. From half of Europe living under totalitarian rule, to Alec and Stephen Baldwin.
Breitbart is despondent that so few of his fellow conservatives share his monomania, or grasp why new media is the key to destroying the left—“the ruthless, relentless, shameless enemy we face.” The only reason liberals continue to win the culture war, he says, is because they intuitively grasp that media and entertainment are the ultimate high ground. He bemoans that the people who most “get it” include Oprah, Bono and Obama. Writes Breitbart: “Corey Feldman gets it.”
If an out-of-nowhere Corey Feldman reference seems odd, it shouldn’t. Breitbart’s worldview as articulated in Righteous Indignation is the adolescent media determinism of a not-too-bright, spurned L.A. striver who never left Brentwood. The book reads like something a younger Corey Feldman might have spilled onto the page after snorting a methamphetamine caterpillar off an old copy of The Gutenberg Galaxy. “The left is the media,” writes a spastic Breitbart. “Narrative is everything.”
In the mid-1990s, Breitbart came into contact and became infatuated with journalism of a certain kind. The key figure was Matt Drudge, with whom Breitbart had become “Internet friends." Drudge introduced Breitbart to the then-conservative Arianna Huffington, who hired him to help research corruption in the Clinton White House. When he helped Huffington get her first “scalp” (anyone remember Larry Lawrence?) Breitbart realized he “needed to find a way to do this for a living.”
Which brings us to Breitbart’s work in the early days of the Huffington Post. Breitbart portrays himself as being an ideological “double agent” who was secretly setting up the lefty media by building a trap wherein they would be wedded to their “crazy ideas.” In his telling, he designed HuffPo as a form of undercover sabotage. He thought:
“What,” I said, “if we can get the collective left that we have dinner with, cocktail parties with, the left that talks crazy in private but only expresses itself at the Daily Kos under pseudonyms—what if we can get them all to put their names next to their crazy ideas? What if we can make it a one-stop shop for exposing liberals for who they are, and forcing them to stand by their positions?
This makes no sense whatsoever. In 2005, there was no shortage of liberals (on the Internet, television, and radio) using their real names and taking strong positions on the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the economy, and more. Breitbart is asking us to believe that his participation at HuffPo was all part of a devious plot to crush liberal Hollywood. How would he do this? By constructing a web platform that would promote progressive issues, elevate liberal spokespersons, advance the Democratic agenda, and make millions for its proprietor. Of course! It’s hard not to think of Pee Wee Herman falling off his bicycle, jumping up, and defiantly claiming, “I meant to do that!”
Whether or not the opinions expressed on the Huffington Post hurt the left, it’s looking increasingly likely that those expressed on Breitbart’s “Big” sites will end up hurting the right. His contributors dabble in birtherism and other assorted Obama conspiracies. Nor is Breitbart himself immune to conspiracism. In Righteous Indignation, Breitbart writes that President Obama’s memoir was “probably” “ghostwritten” by Bill Ayers. In an interview with Media Matters, Breitbart expanded on his suspicions. “This guy is a progressive’s wet dream, and there are reasons for it, and I’d like to know what those reasons are,” he said. “There were people that were going to come forward to me, who were scared for their lives because they claim — they claim — and I have no confirmation of this -- that Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were regular babysitters of ... they’re incredibly close.”
There is only one takeaway from Righteous Indignation: Breitbart’s life is a revenge fantasy against Hollywood and the “attractive people making millions” he believes slighted him. Had they been nicer to him—and not made him “their manservant” as he describes his treatment at HuffPo—he wouldn’t have become such a foul, raging jerk. Let this be a lesson to us all in our dealings with even the most incompetent, disagreeable colleagues. Be nice to them lest they grow up to be media hacks with powerful microphones and Plymouth Rock on their shoulder, just itching to write their Hollywood Dearest memoirs.