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.
Is this a break from the usual Big Government/Big Journalism method? That’s a question for Joel Pollak, a former Republican candidate for Congress, the editor of the Big blogs since September. (Breitbart is the sites’ publisher.) He made the rounds at the house party, passing on little hints of what the site will do next, why it’s all-in on the Schweizer stories.
“It’s bipartisan but conservative,” explained Pollak. “The argument is: If government controlled fewer things, this would happen less often. There’d be fewer opportunities for these people to profit at government’s expense. I think this book can start a debate on those terms. Look, it doesn’t shy away from attacking Republicans. If anything, it kind of taps into some of the fervor that should be motivating Occupy Wall Street. This is corruption at the highest level.”
Before 60 Minutes started, Breitbart gave a couple of reporters a tour of the house. The spacious guest room at the front has a massive, well-lit painting of the 16th president, so it’s naturally become the “Lincoln bedroom.” The walls in the living room are painted with a pretty Mediterranean scene; they blend nicely with a photo of a soldier deployed in Iraq, posing in one of Saddam Hussein’s vacant thrones. (It’s Steve Bannon’s daughter.) Past the kitchen is a carriage house that Breitbart plans to use.
“This is where I’m going to do my tweeting,” he said. When the show started, so did Breitbart’s MacBook Air. There’s footage of 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft grilling Nancy Pelosi at a press conference.
The Kroft story didn’t hit on everything Breitbart, Schweizer, and the rest of the Big editors plan to use. It did enough. “Damning, damning!” laughed Breitbart when footage of a frustrated Nancy Pelosi came onscreen. Kroft went into the Bachus story, detailing some of the options the congressman traded during the 2008 meltdown. In the carriage house, Breitbart moved his computer so that reporters could see his latest tweet.
Step down, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Al)! You are a disgrace. MORE DETAILS COMING AT @BIGGOVT
Breitbart kept the computer open, tweeting and retweeting, trying to build a critical mass of followers who agree with him. It has worked before. Back in the main house, Schweizer was politely accepting kudos, as low-key as Breitbart isn’t. 60 Minutes “did a good job,” he said. “I wish that they’d gone into more detail on the Bachus stuff, but they only had so much time.” He later left for New York, where he was on the Monday morning shows on CBS, ABC, and NBC.
The rest of Breitbart’s team stuck around the house, phones and MacBooks open, working the story.