Tuesday night I sat in my bedroom with a friend, waiting on the primary results from Arizona and Michigan. I forget which channel it was, but suddenly Breitbart was there — one of four talking heads, each assigned its own little box. Breitbart was Breitbart, all untameable hair and bulging eyes. For a moment before the camera pulled back and revealed Breitbart and co. to be in the studio with the anchor — making the whole talking-heads affectation seem rather silly — he turned his intense but weirdly blank stare to the right, opened his mouth, and, I swear I saw this, stuck out his tongue.
“My god, the man’s wasted,” I said to my friend. “I can’t believe they let him on TV. One of these days, the dude’s gonna crack.”
Thousands of people across America said similar things about Andrew Breitbart, and I imagine we’re all skeptical of the official line now toed by the man’s media empire: that he died in the night of “natural” causes. (We are skeptical even though it’s almost certainly true. After all, whiskey is natural, at least in the Whole Foods sense of the word, as are many fine products derived from the cocoa plant.) Every time Breitbart appeared in public he looked and sounded twice as twisted, twice as angry, and approximately one quarter as coherent as Christopher Hitchens at his dingy, dirty drunkest. Breitbart was, or at least affected the appearance of, a plain alcoholic, rageaholic, and crazyperson. That the right never took notice of Breitbart’s distress is a sign of either naivete or cynicism. Either rightists can’t recognize a mean drunk when they see one or they can recognize him and are pleased to ignore signs of his physical and mental decline, so long as he promises to bloody a few liberal noses in his last, wrathful bender.
In a few days or weeks I expect to hear a lot of weird stories about Breitbart; about his tragic dissolution and the horrible excesses to which he exposed his fevered, ferocious brain. Eventually he’ll come to be regarded as a kind of conservative Elvis. “His passions burned too hot,” they’ll say. “He was a prisoner of his own genius.” Or else he’ll become a martyr — “The liberals drove him to punish his body with chemicals!”
But the circumstances surrounding Breitbart’s death are ultimately less interesting than the facts of his life, and will require less torturous twisting from those who wish to canonize him. Maybe it was booze, maybe it was coke, maybe it was pills, or maybe it was simply that a deluge of evil ran through the man’s ragged soul and poured out his mouth every waking hour of his miserable public life — but for whatever reason, Breitbart made a living telling lies and warping the worldviews of voting Americans. He would insist that it was fine, that his hyperbole was meant for sophisticates who knew the difference between fact and flourish, and if you told him that his eager public knew no such thing he would have called you elitist for doubting the intellectual discernments of rank’n'file conservatives. But even then he would have known he was lying. Just like he knew he was lying about Shirley Sherrod, ACORN, a hapless NPR executive — about the hundreds of lives he plunged into chaos just to make a point.
I was attacked once by a wing of Breitbart’s media empire, in the person of a rather dim columnist for Breitbart’sBigJournalism.com named Warner Todd Huston. As I recall, his attacks led to an enthusiastic exchange of outraged columns, which I quite enjoyed. (There’s a certain pleasure in gobbling fish straight from the barrel.) And precisely because I enjoyed sparring with one of Breitbart’s lesser minions, I am not the one who should write the fiend’s obituary. His obit should be written by the ACORN employees ejected from their jobs and cast into a rotten economy by Breitbart’s willful dishonesty.
That’s how it should go, and how it usually goes in the long run — liars’ legacies entrusted to the victims of their dissembling. But we’ll have to wait for the fact of Breitbart’s existence to find its proper context. For now, in even the most liberal outlands of the allegedly liberal media, those untouched by his malice are pretending his dishonesty was good sport. Arianna Huffington praises “his passion, his exuberance, his fearlessness”; MediaMatters praises his “passion and commitment to what he believed.” Well, of course — we’re all passionately committed to what we believe. What Breitbart believed, like many ugly men before him (you know their names), was that an allegedly beautiful end justifies corrupt and contemptible means. To ignore that is to bury the lede, and to demonstrate the remarkable fact that even those who hounded Andrew Breitbart in the media never hated the bastard quite enough.