Breitbart’s Big House
The conservative media firestarter opens up shop in Washington with a major story to sell.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
The house is a marvel, a short walk from the Supreme Court and formerly home to some senator who nobody remembers. Inside, there are 12-foot ceilings, soapstone hearths, hardwood pocket doors, paintings, chandeliers, and a trail of food and drink leading into a fully stocked kitchen. This is the house that Big Government built, and on Sunday, Mr. Big himself, Andrew Breitbart, was standing on the front stoop with a glass of wine. He was one of the hosts of a 60 Minutes watch party. The show was going to run a story based on a book by one of Breitbart’s editors.
That man is conservative scholar and sometime Palin speechwriter Peter Schweizer, who met reporters and fans inside the house. Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out is released on Tuesday, and the publicity campaign started right here.
“I’ve been teasing the left on Twitter,” said Breitbart. “I said, I’m calling for a prominent person in Congress to step down. They’re all thinking it’s going to be a Democrat—oh, of course. No, it’s going to be [House Finance Chairman] Spencer Bachus.” Breitbart described a scene in the 2008 financial meltdown in which Bachus stepped out of an apocalyptic meeting, picked up his phone, and put his money into funds that would rake in more if the markets tanked. He thus provides an answer to the question What happens when members of Congress don't have to worry about insider-trading laws? Stuff like this is what happens.
“It’s not illegal,” said Breitbart, “but that’s because they create the laws.”
“They have more inside information than the companies do,” said Steve Bannon, the director of the Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated and the main tenant of the Big house.
“What did Anthony Weiner do that was illegal?” asked Breitbart. “That wasn’t it. What he did was unethical. These people serve at our discretion.”
The Anthony Weiner saga was pivotal for the conservative media, and for Breitbart’s place in it. The former congressman botched a direct message on Twitter, accidentally broadcasting an image of straining underwear to all his followers. It was deleted. He lied and said he was hacked. Media gatekeepers, among them Howard Kurtz, might have left it there. Breitbart and his Big sites flooded the zone, gathered more errant pics of Weiner in full-on social network flirtation mode. Cut to November: Weiner’s a former congressman, and Breitbart’s got a pied-à-terre a few blocks from the Capitol.
Its first test: The Schweizer push. Schweizer is editor of Big Peace, one of the lesser-known members of the Brietbart blog family that focuses on national security. Throw Them All Out is about “honest graft,” the “government rich,” and “crony capitalism,” themes that have appeared in Sarah Palin’s speeches since Schweizer started helping her out. Schweizer and a team of researchers from the Hoover Institution have compared lists of Obama bundlers to lists of companies that got green-energy grants, the timing of the financial crisis around the days when members of Congress dumped stock, earmarks that ended up helping former members build their fortunes. The “Bigs” are trying something new with this story, adding to and reporting a scoop about congressional abuse of power, amplifying news that breaks on 60 Minutes and network news.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.