Loved and hated, Breitbart dies in LA at 43

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Caustic commentator Andrew Breitbart was loved and hated.

The conservative media
publisher and activist who died Thursday was embraced by anti-tax,
conservative tea partiers and reviled by liberals for his Internet
investigations that brought down politicians and chastised mainstream
journalism.

Breitbart, 43, was behind
investigations that led to the resignations of former Rep. Anthony
Weiner of New York and former U.S. Agriculture Department official
Shirley Sherrod.

His loudmouth style was
lionized by his fans for exposing government corruption and media bias.
He was a colorful and often abrasive user of Twitter, including a final
message that called a follower a “putz.”

Breitbart was skilled at
finding issues that pushed conservative buttons while pulling Internet
traffic to his websites anchored to news aggregator Brietbart.com.

“I'm committed to the destruction of the old media guard,” he once said. “And it's a very good business model.”

It also was a radical departure from conservative voices of the past such as William F. Buckley Jr.

“I do what I do because the
mainstream media chooses not to do it,” Breitbart said. “The game of
the left controlling the narrative … is ending.”

Republican candidates for president were quick to offer praise and condolences after learning of his death.

Newt Gingrich tweeted:
“Andrew Breitbart was the most innovative pioneer in conservative
activist social media in America. He had great courage and creativity.”

Condolences also came from his liberal critics.

“We've disagreed more than
we've found common ground, but there was never any question of Andrew's
passion for and commitment to what he believed,” said Ari Rabin-Havt of
Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group.

Breitbart's website,
bigjournalism.com, said Thursday he died of natural causes. He was
walking near his house in the Brentwood neighborhood shortly after
midnight when he collapsed, said actor Orson Bean, his father-in-law.

He was rushed to the
emergency room at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Breitbart had
suffered heart problems a year earlier, but Bean said he could not
pinpoint what happened.

“It's devastating,” Bean told The Associated Press.

Larry Dietz, watch
commander at the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said a cause of
death was unknown and an autopsy was likely.

Breitbart's online profile called him a “mild-mannered family guy,” However, Rick Santorum said he was a “powerful force.”

“He will be what a huge
loss … for our country and certainly for the conservative movement and
my prayers go out to his family,” Santorum said. “I'm really sorry to
hear it.”

Mitt Romney posted to
Twitter: “Ann and I are deeply saddened by the passing of
(at)AndrewBreitbart: brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative,
loving husband and father.”

Sherrod, who is black, was
ousted from her job as the USDA's state rural development director for
Georgia in July 2010 after an edited video surfaced of her making what
appeared to be a racist remark. She is seen telling an NAACP group that
she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm more
than two decades ago, long before she worked for USDA.

Missing from the clip was
the rest of the speech, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing.
Sherrod told the crowd she eventually realized her mistake and helped
the farmer save his farm.

Once the entire video
surfaced, Sherrod received numerous apologies from the administration –
including from President Barack Obama – and Agriculture Secretary Tom
Vilsack asked her to return to the department to work on civil rights
issues.

She declined Vilsack's
offer but later sued Breitbart, his employee, Larry O'Connor, and an
unnamed “John Doe” defendant for “defamation, false light and
intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

A lawyer for O'Connor said
Thursday that it is unclear whether the case will proceed for the other
two defendants, who were in the process of trying to get the case
dismissed from federal court.

Breitbart's websites also
featured a 2009 hidden-camera video that brought embarrassment to the
community group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
The videos show ACORN staffers offering advice on taxes and other issues
to actors posing as a prostitute and pimp.

Those videos triggered a
firestorm of criticism, with some ACORN employees appearing willing to
support illegal schemes involving tax advice, misuse of public funds and
illegal trafficking in children.

A Government Accountability Office report cleared ACORN of criminal activities.

Even so, public pressure
led Congress to block previously approved funds from going to ACORN and
to stop future payments. Roughly 10 percent of ACORN's funds came from
federal grants and the group eventually disbanded.

Breitbart also sparked a
controversy that ultimately led to the resignation of Weiner, whose
problems began on May 28 when Bretibart's website posted a lewd
photograph of an underwear-clad crotch and said it had been sent from
Weiner's Twitter account to a Seattle woman.

Initially, Weiner lied,
saying his account had been hacked. But he pointedly did not report the
incident to law enforcement – a step that could have led the way to
charges of wrongdoing far more serious than mere sexting.

Additionally, his public
denials were less than solid – particularly when he told an interviewer
that he could not “say with certitude” that he wasn't the man in the
underwear photo.

Weiner's spokesman said the photo was just a distraction and that the congressman doesn't know the person named by the hacker.

The congressman denied
sending the photo and said he had retained an attorney and hired a
private security company to figure out how someone could pull off such a
prank.

But Weiner dropped that
story line on June 6, offering a lengthy public confession at a
Manhattan news conference, acknowledging to online activity involving at
least six women.

Breitbart seldom showed
restraint in his vitriol to his critics and seemed to relish in the
negative attention his antics earned him.

After Sen. Edward M.
Kennedy of Massachusetts died in 2009, Breitbart tweeted, “Rest in
Chappaquiddick” and called him “a special pile of human excrement.” When
critics questioned his tone, he tweeted they “missed my best ones!”

Breitbart is survived by his wife, Susannah Bean Breitbart, and four children.

___

Associated Press writers
Mary Clare Jalonick, Jack Gillum and Brett Blackledge in Washington,
Jeff Wilson in Los Angeles and Ray Henry in Dalton. Ga., contributed to
this report.


Copyright
2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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