Conservative Publisher Breitbart Dead At 43

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Conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart died Thursday in Los Angeles. For more on the Breitbart's life, Steve Inskeep talks with Dave Weigel of Slate.com.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's follow up now on the death of the conservative media publisher Andrew Breitbart. He has died at the age of 43. The statement on his website, bigjournalism.com, says he died of natural causes.

We're going to talk about this with Dave Weigel, a journalist for Slate who knew Mr. Breitbart. Mr. Breitbart - or Mr. Weigel, I'm sorry for your loss.

DAVE WEIGEL: Yeah. I'm having trouble talking to the people in Breitbart's network today. We're all - I count myself among them; I mean, people who literally, worked with him. They're, you know, confident that this - the media operation he built is going to move on. But they just – no one, no one knows what to do when somebody who is 43 dies of natural causes.

INSKEEP: Well, some people will know his name very well. He was very prominent. He was in the news; he was sometimes behind the news. But some people will never have heard his name before. Who was Andrew Breitbart?

WEIGEL: Well, Andrew Breitbart was a media entrepreneur, in a real sense. I mean, he invented things – he invented elements of media that did not exist before, of – I mean, of the press; of the ways – the tools we use for it. He kind of was a – he would probably disagree with this characterization, but kind of a protege of a Matt Drudge. He edited - he worked on the homepage of the Drudge Report for a while.

And I think through that kind of mind, melded with how – he already kind of had a sense of how the Internet works, but he's one of these people who really came into his own as people began getting their information in new ways; in things being curated, things being hyped. It was, you know, once kind of tabloid journalism was hyped up by the Internet. Then he founded the big sites in 2009...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

WEIGEL: ...video site first - I'm skipping how he co-founded the Huffington Post. But he found the big sites - is when he moved into real original stuff - I mean, he had a team of people who, you know, starting with somebody who made independent video for him - not a staffer, James O'Keefe, really starting with the big government – the launch of that ACORN video.

I mean, he kind of moved into this role as a – not just a publisher of conservative investigative journalism and muckraking, but as an icon in the conservative movement.

I think - today you're seeing, you know, Mitt Romney commenting on his death; you're seeing Darrell Issa, who runs the government – the oversight committee in Congress and, you know, followed up on some of the things Breitbart reported on.

INSKEEP: You've just alluded to the fact that he worked for the Drudge Report in the 1990s, which was a pioneering site, in its time, for breaking stories on the Web, and emphasizing stories on the Web; that he was involved in founding the Huffington Post; that he ended up founding his own websites, and spreading video, and backing people doing various projects.

His website - although I think it's notable - his website, in announcing his death, quotes him as saying, once: I enjoy making enemies.

This was a guy who was happy to be in a fight.

WEIGEL: He was. I mean, he was happy to be in a fight, and he was also happy to talk about it. I mean, I think I'm trying to wrestle with today is - I'm going back through my memory banks, just thinking of the many times he would just call me or call a journalist, and talk for 20 minutes about the fight he was currently engaged in, or about the importance of something, or how we were missing something.

He was, you know, fearless is a word – I think a word that he would have laughed if it was applied to him. But you know, there are – he really kind of – because he operated outside the strictures of the conservative movement and built his own little island outside of it, he just did not care about who he offended. I mean, his last big project was the, you know, cracking down on members of Congress who knew – were getting information about, you know, economic transactions, and then buying or selling stock based on that. And these were Republicans. And he was very gleeful about, you know, trying to embarrass Spencer Bachus, the banking committee chairman in the House, who is a Republican.

I mean, he was trying to go after Republicans, too. He also - I mean, he - there was a playfulness about him. I remember for a while, Eric Boehlert, the – he was one of the staffers at Media Matters, which was always engaged in war with Breitbart...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm. They're more to the left, of course.

WEIGEL: Yeah, they're to the left...

INSKEEP: Just got about 10 seconds here.

WEIGEL: Boehlert's avatar was, you know, him smiling with a beard, in front of a tree; and Breitbart changed his own avatar to him with a beard, in front of a tree - just to mock him. He loved to re-tweet people who attacked him. I mean, he was a true original who just was proud and brave about what he did.

INSKEEP: OK. Dave Weigel, thanks very much.

WEIGEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's telling us about the death of Andrew Breitbart, at 43.

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