Thursday, March 1, 2012

Breitbart - What Do We Really Owe the Dead?

Andrew Breitbart
Photo: Joseph Kaczmarek / AP
Online publisher and blogger Andrew Breitbart collapsed and died Thursday. At just 43 years old, Breitbart's death was shocking and unexpected. As a relatively young man, he leaves behind a wife and four young children. Andrew Breitbart is dead - and tons of people appear to be pretty damned happy about it.

The blogosphere and Twitter have blown up today with people celebrating the online activist's death. There are potentially tasteless jokes, online rants describing Breitbart with every foul insult from douche to asshole to scumbag, and scores of people wishing Breitbart a long and uncomfortable trip to Hell. I am not a fan of Andrew Breitbart, but I confess, all this negativity and blowback in light of his death has led me to spend the day wondering if maybe we owe the deceased a little more respect.

If you know who Andrew Breitbart is, then you might understand the deluge of internet bile being hurled at him on the day of his death.

If you don't know who Andrew Breitbart is, then here's your crash course.
  • Remember those pictures of Representative Anthony Weiner's underwear-covered bulge? The ones the congressman inadvertently Tweeted publicly? Breitbart published those pictures online.
  • Remember the "racist" remarks by African-American U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod? The comments that resulted in her wrongful firing, before it was discovered that a video clip was edited to completely distort Sherrod's meaning? Breitbart edited and published that video clip online.  
  • Remember the 2009 scandal that brought down the liberal ACORN organization? The homemade "sting" that used paid actors and hidden cameras to capture low-level ACORN representatives appearing to promote illegal activities? Breitbart coordinated and promoted the effort.
But really, is that track record enough to justify such absolute disregard for a deceased man and such callousness toward his innocent family?

Clearly, Breitbart enjoyed his role as a conservative agitator who loved to stir up trouble for his political enemies, but there's more than that behind the mass public disdain for the online firebrand.

In his appearances, in his writing, and certainly on his websites and on Twitter, he excelled at disrespecting, name-calling, and just generally pissing people off. During just a cursory check of his Twitter page, for example, I found instances of Breitbart characterizing his various online challengers as "putz," "cowardly," "loser," "fuckwad," and "sicko" - and I only reviewed the last three days. Breitbart's passion for picking a fight was legendary, and he seemed to go out of his way to make things personal.

But the man is dead. With a young family left behind to grieve. Surely, he was more than just the callous self-important S.O.B he portrayed himself to be. 

At an Occupy rally in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, Breitbart encountered a large group of protesters. He grew irate and began shouting at the protesters, screaming for them to behave themselves and demanding that they "stop raping." He declared them "filthy," and referred to them as "freaks and animals."

Still not sure Breitbart deserves such a hateful and vitriolic epitaph?

Andrew Breitbart has been accused of being dislikable, controversial, and sometimes mean-spirited, and those charges are not easy to dispute. But often death cleans the slate, or at least allows us to highlight the good while forgiving or overlooking the bad. 

When someone leaves this earthly plane, shouldn't we put the gloves back on and take only polite jabs above the belt? 

Andrew Breitbart didn't do that. Upon learning of the death of Ted Kennedy, Breitbart tweeted, "Rest in Chappaquiddick," and he followed that up later calling Kennedy "a special pile of human excrement."

So, how much respect do we owe a dead man? More than Andrew Breitbart and his family are getting today? Probably, and that's why I have refrained from editorializing against him in this post. I have relayed factually what Breitbart has most famously said and done, and I have, in some small way, attempted to show what those behaviors reaped for him when he died. I won't attempt to further take down the conservative online activist upon his death - Breitbart's own words and actions communicate everything about him that needs to be said.