Andrew Breitbart, already an increasingly prominent player in the political and media influence game, never had a moment quite like the one on June 6, 2011.
One of his websites, BigGovernment.com, had caused a sensation when it posted lewd photos of a man that appeared to be U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a firebrand liberal congressman from New York. Breitbart's move came after a suggestive photo of Weiner had been posted on the Democrat's Twitter account, which the congressman repeatedly said was the work of hackers, though he had not offered any evidence.
Some in the mainstream media were wary of reacting to the Breitbart postings. A year earlier, his site was found to have significantly edited a speech from an FDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, making it seem as if she were admitting reverse discrimination against a white farmer.
Adding to the skepticism was Weiner, who offered passionate defenses in a series of interviews and media statements but struggled to offer a clear explanation of whether the photo was of his body and how it could have ended up on Twitter. The pressure built and Weiner opted for the guilty politician's traditional confessional -- the news conference.
But Breitbart arrived and, in a surreal scene, beat Weiner to the lectern. Angry that the congressman had tried to wriggle off the hook by implicating his work, Breitbart defended the legitimacy of his site's reporting and said he hoped Weiner would apologize for "being complicit in a blame-the-messenger strategy" -- which Weiner later did. And, by the way, Breitbart said, he had another "X-rated" image of the congressman that he would not release.
Weeks later, Weiner resigned.
Breitbart’s conservative influence never rose to the level of a Rush Limbaugh. His impact remained around the edges but was profound for the individuals he targeted. He claimed his interest was in creating scandal by exposing hypocrisy on the left, which is why he ended up providing a home to James O'Keefe's ACORN sting videos, Sherrod’s out-of-context speech and the Wiener photos.
He seemed less interested in the policy or the philosophical underpinnings of the left and the right. Like many happy political warriors, he had the instincts of a first responder. Some people see arguments and trouble and back away. Breitbart ran toward it.
Before launching his own media empire, Breitbart worked for two other industry titans. For 10 years, he worked anonymously as an editor for the Drudge Report. From there, he teamed with Arianna Huffington, whose website the Huffington Post now has a distinctly liberal bent. It was ideological differences with Huffington that led to a break, though he credited her for showing him how to survive vicious attacks with grace.
His own site, Breitbart.com, began as an aggregation site. Soon it branched out, with the launch of Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Peace, all designed to counter what Breitbart described as the "bully media cabal" that ignored stories at odds with prevailing liberal orthodoxy.
His stated goal: to "destroy the institutional left."
On the Drudge Report on Thursday morning, founder Matt Drudge offered a rare personal message.
"In the first decade of the DRUDGEREPORT Andrew Breitbart was a constant source of energy, passion and commitment. We shared a love of headlines, a love of the news, an excitement about what's happening," he wrote. "He had a wonderful, loving family and we all feel great sadness for them today."
His passing drew similar comment from other conservative figures and even from the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who called him "an outspoken pioneer for conservative media who fought for what he believed in, exposing government corruption and media bias."
Breitbart was adopted by moderately conservative Jewish parents and attended two of L.A.'s most exclusive private schools -- Carlthorp and Brentwood.
His father, Gerald, owned Fox and Hounds, a landmark Tudor-style Santa Monica restaurant that later became the punk rock club Madame Wong's West. His mother, Arlene, was an executive for Bank of America in Beverly Hills and downtown L.A.
His sister, also adopted, is Latina. People make fun of how frequently he mentions being adopted, he said, but he added: "My family, it reflects that e pluribus unum mindset – you know, that we're one from many. My family is the American family."