A few years ago I got into an argument with Andrew Brietbart, the recently departed conservative media mogul. Sparring with him was not so unusual. In our case, the setting was — a Los Angeles gathering of 300 U.S. Marine Corps Public Information Officers and military journalists. During the panel, Breitbart made the case that media folks were morally reprehensible and not trustworthy in most situations, particularly combat ones. I refuted him with small examples, including the case of a Time Magazine reporter embedded with troops in Iraq who lost a hand (and saved the troops he was traveling with) when he threw a live grenade that had been tossed at them out of the way.
The room-full of Marines didn’t warm to Brietbart, since he was set on grinding home a political point that was didn’t jibe with the compelexities of war that these men and women had seen. In general, as I look at the legacy of the now departed Andrew Brietbart, it’s with a mix of admiration for his business skill, and regret that the truth was a casualty of some of his work.
Former USDA official Shirley Sherrod lost her job after Breitbart’s organization selectively edited her words to make her look like an active racist. She later filed a defamation suit which apparently is still pending. But after Breitbart’s death, Sherrod said: “My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”
Now, not everyone who felt Breitbart’s wrath or had problems with his operational policies responded so generously. Andrew Breitbart seemed to feed on negative energy, often re-Tweeting his critic’s words and doing everything to keep ideological pots boiling. That was part of his success in the highly partisan world of web content and aggregation. But did this zeal come at cost? In the end, Andrew Breitbart was a man who died angry and too young, leaving behind a family to mourn him. While I can’t embrace what I see is his inflexible drive to be right — no matter the truth — I can recognize him as just another human being trying to find meaning in this world. His work seemed to give him a sense of meaning; could the fury of his passions have shortened his life? In any case, I hope the best for his family and for the rest of us — I hope we can learn to argue ideology with less heat and more light.