My Tussle With Breitbart, the Genius of Agitprop
I'm hardly the person to properly eulogize Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing provocateur who died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 43. My only contact with him was brief, but revealing. Like so many others who found themselves in Breitbart's crosshairs, my interaction with him was through Twitter, where he hounded me to admit that the media had applied a double standard in its coverage of the tea party and the budding Occupy protest movement I'd been following in Oakland last fall. Insisting I was willfully ignoring the ugly reality of Oakland's tent camp, Breitbart sneered, "#OccupyOakland has so much promise beyond the violence, threats, misogyny & racism!"
I didn't take the bait, and our exchange turned into a light-hearted back-and-forth in which he declined my invitation to play soccer in San Francisco. "More of a baseball and football guy!" he tweeted back. "Moving. Fast. Or. Even. Slow. Not. My. Strong. Suit."
Our brief correspondence angered at least one Occupier, who demanded to know why I had given Breitbart the time of day, or at least hadn't tried to savage him. Her reaction was indicative of Breitbart's simple genius, upon which his shock-jock journalism shop successfully, relentlessly trolls its political foes, who then unwittingly play into its hands. My first story on Occupy Oakland touched on this: By taking easy jabs at the left, Breitbart and his co-conspirators elicit hysterical reactions that reinforce whatever perceived hypocrisy they're assaulting.
Such a tactic isn't particularly novel, but it was the extent to which Breitbart flaunted boundaries—hijacking former Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation press conference, screaming at Occupy CPAC protesters to "stop raping people!" (see video below)—that defied the tediousness of a Hannity or an O'Reilly. His outbursts were so outrageous that he often seemed unhinged. But he acted with purpose, reckless though it could be, and he was surprisingly effective. I wasn't the only one to suspect that the early reports of his death were another ploy until a coroner's report confirmed them.