I woke up this morning to an e-mail from a friend that informed me of Andrew Breitbart’s untimely death. At first, I thought it was a joke. But when I learned that it wasn’t, I came to the solemn realization that a difficult-to-fill void had just been created in the American journalism landscape.
That Breitbart was only 43 makes this situation even more tragic, because I pictured Andrew being a ball-buster and rabble-rouser for another 50 years. Whenever I reached out to Andrew to give him updates about the 2010 Census, he always took my calls, which is rare in a day and age where people are generally too busy for in-depth communication with one another. Typically, we chatted while he was driving his four children around LA. But he even made time for me between television interviews as he was breaking Page 1 national news. Though he had no reason to, Andrew Breitbart gave me his ear, listening to whatever I had to say.
As a journalism entrepreneuer, Breitbart was like no other. From his days at the Drudge Report, he realized the direction that journalism was headed, and, ironically, helped Arianna Huffington start The Huffington Post. But he also had the foresight to realize that a liberal aggregator needed a conservative counterbalance. And poof, BigGovernment.com was born.
While I certainly do not agree with many of the tactics that Breitbart sometimes condoned (specifically, the shoddy editing techniques used by James O’Keefe in his “undercover sting” videos and the whole Shirley Sherrod affair), Breitbart created a strong outlet for investigative journalism at a time when such a practice was vanishing under financial constraints. He did his best to provide an alternative voice to what is dubbed the mainstream media. Breitbart was not afraid to take journalistic risks, and for that, he reaped many rewards in the form of powerful scoops, the value of which he was well aware of.
Yes, he was outspoken, but yes, he had many valid points. Andrew Breitbart did not always agree with the Conservative establishment, as demonstrated by the fact that he joined (and within a year resigned) from the board of GOProud group of homosexual Republicans.
Admittedly, I am yet to read his recent book, a critique of celebrity culture titled Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon — The Case Against Celebrity, but based on the title alone, it seems like something that I will enjoy (and I will now find it for my Kindle).
I personally appreciate Andrew Breitbart because he took a chance on me as a 24-year-old reporter covering a beat (the 2010 US Census) that the mainstream media failed to see as important. Even though few mainstream news organizations have reporters covering demographics issues on a regular basis these days, none of the mainstream media organizations that I reached out to wanted to take a chance by partnering with MyTwoCensus.com, even though it may have filled significant gaps in their reportage.
But Breitbart was different. He took me in board and permitted me to publish whenever I wanted. MyTwoCensus.com has certainly been critical of both Democrats and Republicans, but Breitbart never attempted to censor my critiques of the GOP in any way, shape, or form. (Some people misconstrued this syndication on BigGovernment.com as proof that I was “Conservative” even though I was simultaneously working at ultra-liberal Mother Jones magazine while publishing on BigGovernment.)
Andrew Breitbart, you will be missed. Your vision, strategy, and tactics led journalism into the 21st Century. Your feistiness, entrepreneurial spirit, and willingness to take risks will be difficult to replicate. And on a personal level, I will never forget that you you gave me an audience to publish for and a sounding board to speak with.