The Andrew Breitbart Story

Ben Smith writes in his new book, Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral:

* Huffington’s young protégé was Andrew Breitbart, who had worked in her rotating cast of researchers and assistants back when she was a conservative. He was brilliant and frenetic, and brought both a deep knowledge of the internet and a different set of relationships in Los Angeles. Most intriguing, Andrew had a connection to Drudge himself: he was quietly running The Drudge Report eight hours a day!

* Arianna wanted Andrew Breitbart for the simple reason that he held the key to what The Huffington Post needed: traffic. Andrew was Matt Drudge’s minion—or assistant, or silent partner, depending on whom you asked. For eight hours a day, Andrew wrote and rewrote the simple HTML code that could drive one million views to an article. The Drudge Report ’s true power was that it told the story of American politics to millions, and set the agenda for news organizations whose editors and producers were forever refreshing the site.
Andrew had paid a strange, heavy price for that power—a decade of anonymity and even humiliation at the hands of his boss and idol. To most who knew him in Los Angeles, Breitbart was a frenetic, overweight fleabag of a man, an underachiever who’d grown up in Brentwood, barely made it through Tulane, and washed out in Hollywood. It was, in retrospect, classic Arianna Huffington to believe that, with only her connections and a dash of fairy dust, she could turn Andrew Breitbart into a leader at 2005’s hot new left-wing website. But she did have something to offer him: the chance to be his own man. She’d shifted her own politics, so why couldn’t he? And she and Kenny needed some of that traffic. First, though, she’d have to pry Breitbart loose from Drudge.
Andrew never forgot the moment he met Matt Drudge. It was a sunny day in the summer of 1995 when Drudge pulled his shitty little red Geo Metro onto Carroll Canal Court, a street in Venice, California, that neither man could possibly afford to live on. But Andrew’s girlfriend’s father was a famous comedian, Orson Bean, and so Andrew had invited his hero to their family’s glamorous address. Andrew was working on the fringes of Hollywood then, a rich kid back from partying his way through college, now building websites for the embarrassingly trashy E! network. Andrew had always had trouble paying attention—he was later diagnosed with ADHD—and he spent much of his day on the nascent internet, in particular on a set of bulletin boards called the Usenet. Posters on one of his favorite boards, alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater, would often cut and paste in an email digest called The Drudge Report , a list of links that included the newest political scandals, the big news of the day, and various oddities its mysterious author had uncovered. The newsletter “was like a tour of one man’s short-term memory,” Andrew later wrote. He was obsessed with its author, and finally gathered up the courage to send him an email. “Are you 50 people? A hundred people? Is there a building?” he asked.
Matt Drudge was, in fact an obscure, sallow, twenty-nine-year-old gossipmonger working as a clerk for CBS—which meant, in reality, folding T-shirts in the gift shop, eking out a living. At night, though, he was a new kind of journalist, emailing out a news digest that ranged from political scandal to early Hollywood box office numbers.
The two men connected intensely and immediately, spending four hours talking about politics and media, peering into the future from their vantage point deep inside the early internet. Drudge’s biographer Matthew Lysiak later reported that Drudge had offered Andrew a 25 percent stake in the website version of his email newsletter that he was launching. But Andrew wasn’t willing to give up his industry job, much as he hated it, for such an uncertain venture, and so they parted instead with a handshake deal that The Drudge Report would be Andrew’s side hustle. Between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., Andrew would be the one posting its links, and Matt would pay him “what he could.” Andrew was awed by the meeting. “That guy is going to change the world,” he told his girlfriend as the Geo Metro drove away.
Working for Drudge was a dream of relevance and power. From that day in 1995 forward, Andrew Breitbart had a front-row seat to the birth of the internet, as Drudge channeled the anger and resentment of their favorite talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, into a riveting and simple page of links. There was right-wing politics and celebrity gossip, and other subtler strains that tickled America’s id: stories of loony liberals, terrifying Muslims, extreme weather, and weird science. Slowly but surely, the minor scandals that dripped out of newsrooms to the reclusive blogger became major ones. Andrew had been the silent force in the Clinton scandals, watching as the media raced to catch up with Matt’s (and his) obscure, ugly website.

* Drudge was the force Kenny Lerer and Arianna Huffington sought to rival; he was a veritable pillar of the early internet. He was powerful and famous. Andrew had some of the power, but none of the fame. He eventually quit the job at E! but still couldn’t quite explain to people what he did for a living. After Andrew married Susannah Bean and moved back to Brentwood, few of his friends and neighbors had any idea of his power. One neighbor watched the 2004 Super Bowl with him, and saw Andrew grab his laptop when Janet Jackson’s famous “wardrobe malfunction” revealed one breast. Andrew termed what she was wearing beneath it a “solar nipple medallion,” and the neighbor realized that “for the next couple of hours you could see that phrase popping up on all the broadcasts. I couldn’t believe how quickly they could influence the Zeitgeist of the world.”
Andrew also felt the excitement of the insurgent new internet, an allegiance that sometimes trumped his politics. Back then, right- and left-wingers online had a common bond: they were allied against the old establishment. So when Gawker took a shot at launching a Hollywood blog (called Defamer ) in 2004, Nick saw Andrew as an ally. “At the time, we were all bloggers of different political complexions—in opposition to a stultifying mainstream media,” Nick wrote.

* As Nick and Jonah’s competition intensified in the beginning of 2012, Andrew Breitbart felt he’d finally found his footing. Anthony Weiner’s dick, his downfall, and the election of a Republican to replace him had combined for Andrew to wash away the stain left by the Shirley Sherrod incident. Breitbart had brought a new wave of money into the company too: A low-profile hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer, had been taken with this new source of power, and invested $10 million. They’d put some of the cash into a splashy redesign, just like the one Nick Denton had done a year earlier to make the Gawker Media brands look bolder and less bloggy. (This stylish redesign had cost the site valuable page views. Chris Batty, the longtime ad salesman, departed over it.) Just as Nick had done, Andrew would make his blogs—initially just lists of stories, the latest first—into something glossier and more professional, with the biggest story of the day pinned to the top left corner.’s traffic, which plummeted after Drudge dropped Andrew, was coming back, starting to trickle in from Facebook. Somehow, even while Facebook trumpeted its role in the Obama campaign and its executives considered future careers in Democratic politics, Breitbart’s sort of people were on there too. Anger at the media and the Clintons, coverage of Black people committing crimes—for Andrew, it was all very promising.
But Andrew hadn’t gotten much healthier since he’d landed in the hospital during the Sherrod crisis. He was just forty-three, but he was fat and stressed, and his life was a mess. He was still riding his Vespa from Brentwood to an office in a dingy warehouse near Santa Monica. Andrew confessed to a friend that while he’d become a conservative rock star—“I could get laid in a geriatric center in flyover country”—he owed $133,000 to the Internal Revenue Service; he was still struggling to navigate the internal politics and secret flows of dark money that powered the right-wing media, including many far smaller and less successful sites.
Andrew would sometimes have a drink by himself to unwind, so there was nothing unusual about his stop on February 29, 2012, at the Brentwood, a restaurant and bar near his house. He arrived a little after 10:00 p.m., alone, for a drink. Another man at the bar, a marketing executive, recognized him and started talking politics, trying to get under Andrew’s skin by discussing recent stumbles of Republican Senate candidates. Andrew, toggling between his BlackBerry, his drink, and his new companion, engaged cheerfully, and argued that the liberal media, not the Republicans, was at fault. They parted in good spirits, agreeing to disagree.
Andrew Breitbart collapsed on the sidewalk soon afterward. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead at 12:19 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, 2012. Friends at the funeral couldn’t help noticing that Matt Drudge, wearing sunglasses sunglasses throughout the ceremony, looked rested and almost absurdly fit, his biceps bulging out from beneath the sleeves of a black T-shirt.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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