A Slate profile of Andrew Breitbart.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
July 22 2010 4:18 PM

Breitbart's Back

The man behind the Shirley Sherrod shakeup.

(Continued from Page 3)

Breitbart's model currently combines aggregation with commentary and original reporting—a kind of right-wing Huffington Post but uglier and less comprehensive, albeit with far fewer costs.  The investigative portion, according to his plan, will snowball. Big Government has posted other stories in the James O'Keefe mold. In one, a young woman films herself seeking help at an Alabama Planned Parenthood clinic while claiming to be a 14-year-old impregnated by a 35-year-old man, to see if the organization would report a statutory rape to authorities. (It didn't, and after an investigation, the clinic was put on probation.) The aggregation, meanwhile, will get more sophisticated.

Frugality is key. Breitbart says all the "Big" sites are self-sustaining, thanks in part to low overhead. They pay salaries to eight people total: one editor per site; a chief technology officer; plus Breitbart; his associate editor, Alex; and his childhood friend and business partner Larry Solov. Hannah Giles is newly on staff. Bloggers don't get paid. (O'Keefe was paid a lump sum, as opposed to a regular salary, for telling his ACORN story on Big Government.) Solov said the sites get more than 10 million unique visitors and about 40 million page views every month. Breitbart.com is still the biggest traffic magnet, with about 5 million uniques and 15 million page views per month thanks largely to Drudge links, followed by Big Government, which rates about 1.75 million uniques and 8 million page views, according to Solov. (The independent traffic analysis site Quantcast estimates that Breitbart.com attracts 3.2 million unique visitors per month. Compete puts it at 1.3 million, with BigGovernment in the hundreds of thousands.) Each new site launches when the old ones become self-sustaining, Solov said. Just last week, they paid off a $25,000 loan from Breitbart's parents that helped launch Big Government.

Other sites are in the works. Next up is Big Peace, a site dedicated to national security news. Big Education and Big Tolerance—sites dealing with liberal bias in academia and homosexuality from a conservative angle, respectively—will probably come after.

Breitbart promises more prank videos in the near future. (The next stunt targets Housing and Urban Development offices in Detroit and Chicago, as well as the Detroit Free Press, as Wired has reported.) He enjoys creating suspense, but also finds it silly. When he suggested on Greg Gutfeld's show Red Eye that he would take down the institutional left "in the next three weeks," the Twitterverse mockingly dubbed it #breitbartocalypse. "I used to say something and no one would care," Breitbart said. "Now I say something and the left freaks out."

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As if he needed more platforms, Breitbart got more than $500,000 for his upcoming book, Thinking Big. Part memoir, part intellectual exposé of the "liberal matrix" from which a nation of Neos must free themselves, the book is essentially the Breitbart manifesto. "Books are so 2003," Breitbart said. "Books should only be written if you have something to say."

****

That doesn't seem to be a problem. A sampling from our conversations:

  • "One thing I'd really like to do is in Manhattan, I'd rent a store front and we'd have a big vat of urine and put in Obama and call it Piss Obama. ..."
  • "Mom: 'How's school?' 'Loving it.' 'How's that $30,000 a year going?' 'Oh man, I'm having a great time, thanks for sending me to college. It's really cheery stuff. I've read about raped black women in the South, there's women being used in [the] sex slave trade, men are really bad, and white men are even worse, and our Founding Fathers are a bunch of fucking fuckheads."
  • "I don't care if Andrew Sullivan dreams of me as a bear. He could torture me and I'd allow for it."
  • "You've gone to Hebrew school, you've gone to Auschwitz, you go, Never again, Never again. Then you go to Tulane and you go, Maybe never again. … Don't include that."

It all feels very freewheeling. And in many ways it is. The beauty of Andrew Breitbart is there's little standing between his overactive brain and his mouth. But over time, Breitbart's quips start to sound like talking points. I was delighted when he produced and read out loud a paragraph from the New York Times that supposedly captured the liberal world view he so despises. Then I heard him use it in a speech. It was hilarious when he punctuated his story about watching the Iran-Contra hearings with the line, "My takeaway was, 'Hey, isn't that Morgan Fairchild sitting in the front row?' " Then I saw he told the same joke to Lloyd Grove. I was interested to hear how he thought the Brentwood School administration was out to get him. Then I saw he told the same story to the Observer last year. If you created a drinking game around Andrew Breitbart and the phrases "noblesse oblige," "Democrat-media complex," "politics of personal destruction," "Frankfurt School," and "Fuck you, Eric Boehlert," you'd be wasted in minutes.

Breitbart says he didn't go into standup comedy because of the repetitiveness. "I don't think I can do it, because I don't think I can handle saying the same joke over and over," he told me. But being a pundit—even a relatively unfiltered, spontaneous, off-the-wall one—doesn't seem that different. It's a dilemma of which Breitbart is acutely aware. "I want to give you new stuff to write about," he told me more than once. But the quest for new material is itself exhausting. "Listening to myself answer questions about myself, I want to throw up," he said. "I'm like, enough already. I'm so fucking sick of me as a subject."

Occasionally, however, the performance stops. On Friday, the second day of CPAC, Breitbart got a phone call. Michael Walsh, the editor of Big Journalism, was in the hospital: a heart attack. The doctors had inserted a stent to keep the artery from clogging.

We were sitting at a small table in the hotel deli. "You wanna meet downer Andrew?" he said. He was picking at a fruit salad. Every few minutes, a piece of cantaloupe would slide down his fork and fall off. He would reskewer it until it fell off again. "It's a fundamental flaw in my psyche. I don't do well with death." Breitbart's father, now in failing health himself, once tried to explain death to him. It was 1979, Breitbart was 10, and the Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had just died. "I asked my dad what happened. He said he died. I didn't understand, but he didn't have a way to explain the finality." Later, he said, he remembers being crushed by the death of his dogs. When Breitbart was 24, his best friend was killed in a robbery. Breitbart never really dealt with it. "I think I've created a horrific buttress of protections because I was so devastated by the permanence of death as a child," he said later. "My ability to be emotive and cry … I think I'm so fearful of tapping that that I won't know how to turn it off."

"In D.C. I'm kind of Holly Golightly, not paying attention to the real world," he said. "This kind of sucked me back in."

CPAC had so far been a blur of handshakes, praise, promises of future collaboration. Breitbart said he found it flattering but also absurd. He still dreams, he said, of living in "a post-political world. I would love to have, like, a Thoreau sort of place. All I want is my mind to be removed of all this. It's nonstop. Just for two weeks at a time maybe." If there's anyone to blame, of course, it's Breitbart, who he helped create this hyperintense media world that he finds so exhausting.

Breitbart doesn't allow himself much time for reverie. Minutes later, he was back on his feet, signing programs and posing for photos. He had promised to introduce Giles at a youth event hosted by Stephen Baldwin. He used the spare moments before going onstage to sermonize into the camera of yet another liberal blogger. After the interview, the blogger turned his camera off and extended his hand to Breitbart. "What I will tell you is, I wish that I had your talent," he said. "Because somehow you rose from—what—nowhere, and you've got a very big voice right now. So to that extent, you're a kind of aspiration for me." Breitbart grinned, adding: "Emphasis on the ass!"

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Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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