Right-wing media mogul Andrew Breitbart wages a new kind of media war for the heart and soul of America
By Carl Kozlowski 04/22/2010
Just three days after Republicans suffered a devastating loss in Congress with the passage of President Obama’s health care plan, the Pasadena Republican Club found solace in conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart, the guest speaker at the group’s monthly meeting.
Taking the podium at the March 24 dinner, Breitbart — rated the 21st most influential US conservate by the British newspaper Daily Telegraph and the subject of an extensive Time magazine profile — addressed what he sees as the
over in America.
At the same time, his presence in the Crown City provided a perfect opportunity to analyze the man some believe could wind up the crown prince of conservative media when the reign of FOX News mogul Rupert Murdoch comes to an end.
“I always try to keep the subject away from the political end,” Breitbart said when asked about the health care vote in an exclusive interview with Pasadena Weekly. “I think the reason we lose votes like that is a perfect example of what happens in this country. We’re a center-right country, but the left can use media, [activist group] ACORN and [labor union] SEIU, and groups like the Congressional Black Caucus to get literally free expressions of the left-wing views into the mainstream.”
A 41-year-old lifelong Westside LA resident, Breitbart has risen to prominence largely because of his iconoclastic style and the fact he caught on early to the game-changing effects of the Internet on the political process. He spent over a decade as the right-hand man of Matt Drudge on the conservative-slanted, media aggregation site Drudge Report, personally selecting and arranging the dozens of stories from around the planet that the site spotlighted each day.
His career took an unusual twist when he went to work for political commentator Arianna Huffington as she was building her Huffington Post online empire. After spending more than two years with her, in order to establish her site’s online look, goals and philosophy, he decided to leave and set up his own right-leaning site after Huffington unexpectedly hopped from the conservative to the progressive side of the fence.
The results have been impressive by any standard, as his online presence at Breitbart.com includes a news aggregation site akin to Drudge’s, as well as extensive video reports in its Breitbart.tv component, and an array of blogs called Big Hollywood, Big Politics and Big Journalism, which have taken the online world by storm. In fact, the independent Web-rating service Technorati ranked Big Government as the 25th most-trafficked site on the Internet.
But his biggest coup yet came when Breitbart ran footage from two young undercover conservative activists, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, who interviewed workers at several offices of the liberal-activist organization ACORN while pretending to be a pimp and hooker. The resulting national media frenzy led to the stripping of millions in federal funds from ACORN and its subsequent shutdown nationwide.
“We on the right have forsaken our responsibility to oversee the culture. By culture, I mean academia, grades K through 12 and college,” says Breitbart. “By pop culture, I mean Hollywood, music and TV networks. We think we only have to have elected officials go to Washington, where they’ll pull the lever and restrain spending, and everything’s OK.
“The left, for 40 years, has concocted a strategy that is to control the mainstream media and our minds the second our kids enter kindergarten,” Breitbart continued. “I’m trying to create a vast Web architecture so that in the next 20 years we’re not caught down with our pants around our ankles again like when the institutional left took over the US in the latter part of the past decade. With the anti-war movement granted an opportunity by the far left to take over the Democratic Party, everything aligned for them. Pop culture aligned, and the news media aligned.”
One media expert who expresses admiration and support for Breitbart is Jonathan Wilcox, who was a speechwriter for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, as well as an adjunct professor at USC specializing in the intertwining of celebrity and society. Speaking by phone from his campus office, Wilson explained that he had known Breitbart for more than 20 years, extending back to the 1980s and their mutual beginnings in media.
Wilcox believes that the lessons learned by Breitbart during his time under the wing of Huffington have been overstated in the media. Rather, he feels that Breitbart’s expertise in establishing the site “architecture” needed to build a powerful site is the most powerful ability the new mogul has in his pocket.
“He is very much an information-age, real-time figure. That means whatever his politics animate, however you define his philosophy or hear his opinions, they are tied to his deep knowledge and appreciation for media technology and what it can accomplish,” says Wilcox. “I was enormously impressed with the fact he knew a lot about the Internet in the era of seven to 10 years ago. Breitbart is doing the one thing that conservatives have always wanted: a voice in the popular media.”
Wilcox agreed with what he saw as Breitbart’s main point in the Pasadena Republican Club speech: the idea that getting a movement’s favorite politicians elected isn’t enough if the movement opts out of involvement in pop culture, academia and media.
“He’s making a point that people on the right need to get very savvy in the culture or whatever gains they make will be blunted,”
says Wilcox. “Breitbart has a very strong idea about the modern conservative’s mindset and he’s pretty scornful of it. The thing he says that will most relate to ‘movement conservatives’ is that the other side can’t hurt him, scare him, or cause him pain. That will sustain his work going forward and it makes him a warrior the right can believe in.”
One man who’s not a fan of Breitbart is liberal blogger Marc Cooper, who formerly wrote the popular “Dissonance” column for the LA Weekly. He recalls Breitbart’s earlier run with Huffington, a time in which Breitbart had “a devilish sense of humor, cynical about politics, but not yet someone you could pigeonhole as a hardcore conservative.” Now, Cooper considers Breitbart’s “conservative activism to be somewhat baffling.”
“Andrew was not an activist type, and Arianna trusted him enough to make him one of her top two people at the Post,” says Cooper. “Then a couple years ago, he co-authored a book on Hollywood liberals, and that was the first time I saw Andrew come out of the woodwork politically. My assessment, without making moral judgment, is that he saw that book open in the market to sell to a right-wing audience, and he’s right.
“What I think now is that I have a lot of difficulty believing that Andrew believes a lot of the stuff he says,” says Cooper. “I don’t think that Andrew is very serious about being an authentic conservative political leader. My educated guess is he sees his political activism right now as a commercial opportunity to build his own audience. I could be wrong, but the Andrew I knew never showed any aspirations to be the leader of a movement. He wanted to be anonymous and didn’t want recognition. He was interested in building that Web empire.”
Ultimately, as with any prospective leader in these troubled times, it was the audience that was left to decide for itself. The Pasadena republican crowd was an easy one for Breitbart, a literal case of preaching to the choir even though his message was all about how the choir had to change its tune and its focus if it ever hoped to regain power.
“Of course I’m concerned about the media. I believe they’re leftists, and they use rhetoric, censorship, intimidation,” says Breitbart. “Walking through the Tea Party with hands held high, the Congressional Black Caucus was trying to create provocation, not getting it and then still going to the media saying that the ‘N’ word was yelled 10 times by conservative protesters.
“It’s implausible that this happened without independent witnesses or being documented by thousands of Handycams, Blackberrys, flip phones and mainstream media,” Breitbart continues. “The mainstream media latched onto that as a means to change the message of the day. I consider it an act of war against the Tea Party movement and the people of the United States of America.”
Carl Kozlowski is an unpaid film critic and blogger for Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site.
He does not interact with Breitbart in any direct fashion.