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Political shock jock “journalist” Andrew Breitbart dropped dead this week. Literally, he was allegedly out for a walk, at midnight, hear his home in LA, when he keeled over. He was “only” 43 and not suffering from any known health problems, so they’re saying “natural causes.” While some of his crazy wingnut fans are (predictably) making allegations of murder by political enemies, I’ll be shocked if it’s not drug-related. (No one walks in LA, and certainly not in the suburbs at midnight. The cover story sounds about as believable as the whole “Tiger Woods decided to go for a drive at 3am while nodding off from sleeping pills and after he crashed his wife helped him out of the SUV by breaking the back window with a 9 iron.” incident.)
Bretbart was unhinged and manic, and probably not in an all-natural way. I’d like to think that anyone who acted as bizarrely as he did in his vein-popping media appearances, giving off the same polite tactfulness as roid-raging pro wrestler, had to be fueling that with intoxicants of some type. Probably cocaine, plus some mental illness-based prescription drug cocktail of dubious legality. If/when the autopsy reveals that, it would actually raise my opinion of him, in an odd sort of way. Like finding out that Charles Whitman had a brain tumor pressing on his rage gland. I’d like to think that something more than greed, hunger for celebrity, and megalomania were spurring Breitbart’s behavior. (Though given the things people do on reality shows for 1/50th the fame and fortune, I’m probably deluding myself with these exculpatory excuses.)
I’ve seen a lot of eulogies of the man, and while those from the right are hagiographies, writers from the left and center have a lot more mixed feeling and output. After all, Breitbart made his career with profanity, lies, deceptions, distortions, and vitriolic and entirely-partisan attacks, and he never hesitated to slander or defame anyone of a differing political opinion. Notably and relevantly, he fired off numerous hate-filled tweets the moment Ted Kennedy died. That’s the sort of “id unleashed” behavior that endeared him to so many on the right, but it’s a conundrum for non-right wing writers, as however they felt about the man personally, they couldn’t help but deplore the propagandistic dishonesty of his yellow journalism. That said, many of them are sincerely reluctant to speak ill of the dead, and/or they don’t to sink to the slime-crawling level Brietbart traveled at during his life.
One journalist who was less restrained was the the generally-entertaining Matt Taibbi. His piece is here, and I read it yesterday with mild interest. Taibbi offered a nuanced send off, by stating his own disagreements, personal and professional, with Brietbart, and yet praising the guy for his accomplishments, such as they were. Quote:
So Andrew Breitbart is dead. Here’s what I have to say to that, and I’m sure Breitbart himself would have respected this reaction: Good! Fuck him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.
I say this in the nicest possible way. I actually kind of liked Andrew Breitbart. Not in the sense that I would ever have wanted to hang out with him, or even be caught within a hundred yards of him without a Haz-Mat suit on, but I respected the shamelessness. Breitbart didn’t do anything by halves, and even his most ardent detractors had to admit that he had a highly developed, if not always funny, sense of humor.
…But he also had enough of a sense of humor to appreciate why someone like me shouldn’t bother to pretend I’m sad he’s dead. He wouldn’t, in my place. So to use one of his favorite words: Good riddance, cocksucker.* Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
* See the following Breitbart quote: “I like to call someone a raving cunt every now and then, when it’s appropriate, for effect… ‘You cocksucker.’ I love that kind of language.”
Taibbi wrote his post a few days ago, and apparently received raving hatred from Brietbart’s fans, as he’s posted a follow up talking about it. Perhaps some of Brietbart’s fans were simply honoring their fallen hero by doing the sort of thing upon which he built his fame; using profanity and racial slurs, acting outraged by taking quotes out of context, issuing death threats, etc. But I suspect the majority were a lot less ironic and considered in their replies.
I have seen (elsewhere) some comments that it’s wrong to speak ill of Brietbart now that he’s dead, as he left four children and a wife behind. Apparently he was a decent father, or so some are saying… (I wouldn’t doubt it; I assume he’s another Glenn Beck-esque, televangelist-style carnival barker, who knows his whole public personna is just a lie and an act to fleece the rubes.) but so what? Brietbart never showed anyone else that sort of decency in his professional life, and besides; no one needs to lie and twist facts around to comment negatively on him. Taibbi did a good job of that by simply recounting Brietbart’s greatest hits.
I don’t think we need to go the full Hitchens every time someone of a different political persuasion passes away, but if it’s someone like Breitbart, who made their career out of vicious insults and lies about anyone with a different political persuasion, it’s not out of bounds to call them on their behavior as you sum up their career. You’d be profoundly dishonest and irrelevant if you didn’t.
Incidentally, when are you supposed to offer an honest counterpoint to the praise heaped on a dead man? A week later? A month? A year? By then no one is listening and no one cares. So whenever a controversial person dies their defenders get a free pass to spin and eulogize and whitewash their record without any opposition? Bullshit. In this modern era of instant news, the debate happens when the iron is hot (and the body is still cooling). If people don’t get their two bits in immediately, they might as well not speak at all.
If you don’t want people to write about what a shit you were once you die, don’t spend your career providing them with ammunition.