The Other McCain

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Andrew Breitbart as Folk Hero: ‘I’ll Die With This Hammer in My Hand’

Posted on | March 4, 2012 | 15 Comments

In happier times: Andrew Breitbart autographs his book
during an April 2011 event at Americans for Tax Reform

When John Henry was about three days old,
Sittin’ on his Mammy’s knee,
He picked up a hammer and he said,
“Lord, Lord, this hammer be the death of me.”

Tributes to our fallen warrior are coming in from every direction. Donald Douglas at American Power features this video interview in which Kathy Shaidle — that rare thing, a good Canadian — talks about how Andrew Breitbart “went down swinging”:

The Five Feet of Fury blogger echoes Bill Whittle in suggesting that Breitbart’s 24/7 “lust for life” was a factor in his early death, but I would say in Andrew’s defense that he was a pioneering entrepreneur, not somebody collecting a paycheck and punching a time-clock while waiting for their next three-day weekend. If you’re an entrepreneur, the alternative to being what is pejoratively called a “workaholic” is failure and bankruptcy, so I think no one should fault him for his work ethic.

Besides, lazy bums have heart attacks, too, y’know.

When my friend Ali Akbar asked me to speak at Saturday’s “Remember Breitbart” event in D.C., I decided to prepare my remarks in advance because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by rambling inchoherently.

If you ever heard an Andrew Breitbart speech, you know how he would sometimes seem to be rambling. The first time I heard him give a lecture to college students — hosted by the Young America’s Foundation at their 2007 West Coast Conference — I remember him going off on a tangent about his own youthful days as a “Generation X” slacker.

Breitbart wasn’t nearly so famous back then, and his hair was still shoulder-length, and I’m sure some of those polite young Republican kids must have been wondering, “Who is this hippie weirdo, and why is he telling us all this stuff?” Nevertheless, a few of the YAF kids understood who Breitbart was and what he was trying to get across to them, and one of those kids — a Cal-Berkeley student named Alexander Marlow — subsequently became managing editor for (A related memory: Several of the YAF’ers had a joke amongst themselves where they added crazy nicknames to their Facebook names, so when I first friended him, the Berkeley kid was “Alex ‘Big Cat’ Marlow.”)

Breitbart was such a fascinating personality that even his rambling digressions were interesting and informative, but I was certain that nobody at Saturday’s event sponsored by the National Bloggers Club wanted to hear me ramble on, so I wrote up a 1,300-word text — about five minutes’ worth — and was prepared to read it word-for-word.

However, as the crowd gathered and other people started giving their own tributes, I realized that most of the stuff in the middle section of my prepared text was superfluous — there was no need for a detailed description of what it was that Breitbart contributed to the world of conservative New Media and citizen-journalism. Also, one of the speakers who preceded me described Breitbart as a “folk hero,” which was a point I’d elaborated on in my remarks.

So while I began my remarks by reciting from the prepared text, I got to a point where I put aside the paper, told a quick anecdote or two, and then returned to the “folk hero” theme at the end. Someone somewhere may have a video of exactly what I said Saturday night, but for now, here is the text I had prepared:

Unlike Andrew Breitbart, I am incapable of giving a fascinating speech off the top of my head, and I’ve been told I only have a few minutes to speak. So I’ve written a prepared text, just to make sure I don’t get up here and ramble on like an idiot and bore you to tears.
Let me begin by trying to put our sense of personal loss into perspective, because there are three kinds of loss involved in Andrew’s death that must be addressed. First and most importantly, Andrew Breitbart leaves behind a wife and four young children. However much we may mourn his death, our own feelings of loss are trivial and insignificant by comparison to the horrible pain felt by his wife and children. We should remember them in our prayers, and do everything we can to comfort and console them.
The second loss involved is the enormous loss of Andrew Breitbart’s abilities as a publisher, a journalist, a New Media mogul, an impresario – or whatever other phrase you choose to describe what it was Andrew did. It’s hard to find words to describe what Andrew did, simply because nobody had ever done it before. Many have called him a visionary, which is an apt term, because back in the mid-1990s, he looked at this thing called the Internet and saw a vision of what it could do to revolutionize our world. But a lot of other people had similar ideas about the Internet, and the crucial difference is that Andrew Breitbart had unique abilities and an exceptional personality that enabled him to turn his vision into a reality.
The first time I met Breitbart in 2007, I was instantly impressed by his exceptional intelligence. I’ve met a lot of smart people over the years – esteemed academics, award-winning journalists, bestselling authors, and at least one Yale Law School graduate – and none of them made that kind of instant impression on me. “Genius” is a word that has been worn threadbare by overuse, but I don’t think anyone who knew Andrew Breitbart could doubt that he was truly a genius.
Breitbart applied his brilliant mind to the task of understanding how the news industry works and, by the time I first met him, he had been studying that subject nearly full-time for a dozen years. This is something I think most people don’t get: Andrew paid his dues. He spent years working and studying under the tutelage of Matt Drudge, who is himself one of the great visionary geniuses of our age. And then he worked with Arianna Huffington, who cannot be denied her proper share of credit – even while Andrew disagreed sharply with Arianna’s politics, he always praised her for what she taught him and how she helped him.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that Andrew Breitbart didn’t just suddenly pop up one day on Fox News and take over the world merely by virtue of his sheer brainpower. He worked hard and studied a long time to become the Breitbart who dazzled and amazed America these past few years, and whose sudden and unexpected loss has so shocked us. Malcolm Gladwell could probably explain how Breitbart became Breitbart, but the important thing to realize is that a lot of hard work went into it.
He had the vision, and he had the passion, and Andrew Breitbart took on the mainstream media in the same way the folk hero John Henry took on that steam drill. Like the old song says, he picked up that hammer and he said, Lord, Lord – I’ll die with this hammer in my hand. Breitbart put every bit of his heart and soul into his work, so that when we come now to consider what his life meant, we can say like they said of John Henry, “There lies a steel-driving man – Lord, Lord! – there lies a steel-driving man.”
What did Andrew Breitbart’s life mean to the cause of citizen journalism? Above all else, he was an inspirational figure, someone who didn’t just see the way to go, but led the way, and who rallied others to follow him.
I’ve spent more than 25 years in the news business, and since I jumped out into the blogosphere four years ago, one of the things I’ve kept saying is this: Journalism is not rocket science. You don’t have to be a genius. You don’t need an advanced degree from an elite school to do it. You just have to be willing to jump in there and start doing it, work hard, try to learn more, get better and keep at it. If journalists can do blogging, why can’t bloggers do journalism?
Andrew meant so much to citizen-journalism not only because he inspired people by his example, but also because he did so much to encourage people to join in. In 2008, my blogger friend Aleister read about Breitbart’s plan to start Big Hollywood, and he tells this story:

Without expecting much, I emailed him. All I said was that I heard about Big Hollywood and I liked his idea. How can I help?
Less than ten minutes later, he wrote back.
“Thanks for writing. Here’s my cell number… call me.”
You have to understand, as a blogger I email other bloggers and media people all the time. I never get a response like that so quickly. I was a little stunned but once I had a chance to gather my thoughts I called him and he answered.
We talked about his background and mine, what he was trying to do and the people he had already recruited to help him. I remember thinking at the time – I can’t believe I’m talking to Andrew Breitbart.

That’s how Aleister became a contributor to Big Hollywood: “I can’t believe I’m talking to Andrew Breitbart.” How many other people had that kind of experience? How much did it mean to them that Breitbart took the time to reach out to them personally, to encourage them to get involved? Think about that, and try to keep that in mind when it comes to carrying on Andrew Breitbart’s legacy.
So I said that there were three kinds of loss involved in Andrew’s death, first the painful loss experienced by his family, and second the tremendous loss of his abilities as an inspirational leader in the field of citizen journalism. And the third kind of loss is what we’ve lost in terms of his personal friendship. The last text message I got from Andrew was just two words: “Where y’at?”
He was hanging out and was wondering where I was hanging out, and he sent me that text message so we could hang out together. Can I get a show of hands: How many of y’all had the opportunity to hang out with Breitbart? Wasn’t it awesome? He was just the coolest guy to hang out with, and wherever he was hanging out, that was the cool place to hang out, because then you got that sort of second-hand cool effect. You’d be hanging out with Breitbart, and your cell-phone would ring and whoever was calling would ask you where you were, and you’d say, “Oh, I’m hanging out with Breitbart.” And your friend would say, “Wow, that’s cool.”
The world today is not nearly as cool as it was before Andrew died. It’s kind of a sobering thought to realize that he was nearly 10 years younger than me, probably not that much older than some of the young people here. So we’re all hanging out here tonight, and feeling the loss of someone who meant so much to us, knowing that someday, sooner or later, we’ll be gone, too.
It’s impossible to imagine that anyone could ever miss us as much as we miss him, but when we’re gone, they shouldn’t feel bad for us, because we’ll be hanging out with Breitbart. And wow, that’s cool.

Until there is some fund created to support Andrew’s widow and four children, I would urge everyone to buy Andrew Breitbart’s book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World, which is the best way you can help now — and it’s also an excellent book.


15 Responses to “Andrew Breitbart as Folk Hero: ‘I’ll Die With This Hammer in My Hand’”

  1. rosalie
    March 4th, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    I think you did yourself proud, Stacy.  Thanks.

  2. Bob Belvedere
    March 4th, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

    What Rosalie wrote.  Well done.

  3. K-Bob
    March 4th, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

    Good job, Stacy.  I wish AB had been able to see how we’ll fare on election night this coming November.

  4. Jaded ByPolitics
    March 4th, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

    I thank you for your remembrance of Andrew Breitbart at the memorial, it was quite moving and he did indeed die “with this hammer in his hand”.  A majority of us walk through life and are never happy with what we do, Breitbart lived and died loving what he did!

  5. Beto_Ochoa
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:08 pm

     “with this hammer in his hand”
    With a scourge of small cords
    He confronted bullies with a furious righteousness.
    And they hated him to death.

  6. Chap
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    I thought you did an excellent job.  Well done.

  7. AnonymousDrivel
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

    A fine tribute to a great pioneer.

  8. Mike G.
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

    He died with his boots on.

  9. Adjoran
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    Well put.

    I think there is a tee shirt being sold with his visage and the proceeds are supposedly going to his family.  It might pay to wait a few days to be sure it is set up properly.  Not to cast doubt on those doing it, but stranger things have happened than relief funds being misdirected.

  10. Mike Rogers
    March 4th, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

    Great stuff. I’ll search for video to post.
    I do urge everyone to buy the book, and since I already own the book, I got the kindle version as well.

  11. JeffWeimer
    March 4th, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

     It’s BigFurHat and the folks at I’m sure it’s on the up-and-up. They’re good people.

  12. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 4th, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

    Stacy:  Well done.  Well said.  Thank you.  

  13. Faithful Watchman
    March 4th, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

    We’re all Breitbarts now. In life we live, in death we gain. The bonds released your soul , and Heaven awaits a favored Son. May God richly Bless you my friend. Our Love and prayers will surround your family here on earth. Viya con Dios Mi amigo…

  14. Breitbart Vetting Begins: “My Country…’tis of whatthehell” | Maggie's Notebook
    March 5th, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    […] Read Part 1 at Big Government – much, much more about Obama and Alinsky and the rules for radicals that our President is proven to utilize so handily. Today, the first hammer against the glass wall the media has built Barack Obama has struck.  […]

  15. Zilla of the Resistance
    March 5th, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Beautiful, Stacy. I have this post linked, along with your article at AmSpec, “The Breitbart Experience”, linked here: