New Orleans Andrew Breitbart was the face and force behind a number of high traffic websites during his career, ended suddenly with a fatal heart attack more than a year ago. He played a role in helping set up the liberal Huffington Post, but at his death was best known for his “big” sites, especially Big Government, a right wing love feast. To goose the traffic on these sites, Breitbart courted controversy including releasing cellphone photos that became the undoing of Anthony Weiner, now a former Congressman from New York City, and potential candidate for Mayor there, but perhaps his best known escapades were based on his partnership with the even more controversial conservative activist and videographer, James O’Keefe, especially his ACORN takedown.
Interestingly, I interviewed Andrew Marcus, the director of a documentary about Breitbart, called Hating Breitbart, yesterday on my weekly “Wade’s World” show on Friday morning’s at 9AM, since the movie was appearing at the Little Rock Film Festival. Marcus’ route to the movie had been circuitous. Coming out of film school in Chicago he became fascinated with filming protests because of the “human drama” that always emerged through the camera. He created a blog on protest films, and next thing he knew he was filming Cindy Sheehan, the Iraq war casualty’s mother, protesting at President George Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, and in the process the experience radicalized him as he witnessed what he saw as a double standard of lax reporting by the national media about the protests and the infrastructure that made them possible. From there it was a short leap to catching the Tea Party as it grew and to then bonding with Breitbart, who he met while filming him speaking at a tea party, and gathering the footage that becomes Hating Breitbart.
Marcus confirmed in our conversation that Breitbart was in many ways apolitical. He liked a good fight and wanted to build his business, so he was a happy warrior in some ways who became a conservative darling. Certainly Breitbart’s real passion, shared by the director, was poking the rest of the media in the eye. All of which seems natural to me, because he wanted to make his web-voice stand out in the herd. Marcus, and perhaps Breitbart and many on the right, see the media’s indifference not as incompetence, but conspiracy, not as laziness, but bias and design. Ironically, this view would find much common cause on the left as well, where victimization can also be a common complaint. Marcus’ “hating” theme comes from his perspective that the antipathy stirred by Breitbart discolored the true man, but Marcus is surely aware that the “hating” from the right as well and the demonization of politics, politicians, and organizations, like ACORN, is equally obscuring.
Marcus seemed defensive about questions concerning James O’Keefe and his relationship with Breitbart, wanting to define O’Keefe as a “freelancer” and ignore the factual history of Breitbart’s dissembling about his financial and professional relationship with O’Keefe for months before admitting to it, which is anything but something described in the common vernacular of publisher to freelance journalist. Marcus wanted to have questions about O’Keefe and his plummeting credibility around fake presentation of video on ACORN, legal settlements in San Diego for harm he inflicted on an ACORN worker, and the fiasco he was involved with in tampering with phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans field office, referred to O’Keefe directly. At one point he even offered to give me O’Keefe’s phone number on the air, which would have been a huge privacy breach that I declined. He was disturbed that people didn’t understand that the final settlement on the Landrieu case was for a misdemeanor and not a felony, which is hardly the point. I asked if O’Keefe had any questions now about how stupid a stunt it was, but the answer was again a phone number for O’Keefe. He also expressed amazement that people saw O’Keefe’s fake pimp video promo getup on his ACORN assault as “racist.” Wow!
All of which inevitably leads to the conclusion that he got so close to the subject that he lost perspective. What in some situations might have been an interesting and nuanced film about contradictions often missed by participants but shared by activists on both sides of the line, seemed increasingly to have been an attempt to hoist a banner on a battleground now abandoned by a warrior for another lost and forgotten cause.