Released in selected theaters on Oct. 19, Rocky Mountain Pictures’ documentary “Hating Breitbart” has earned a bit more than $81,000, well below the company’s previous documentary release, Dinesh D’Souza’s political “2016: Obama’s America,” which has made almost $33.5 million since coming out in July.
But “Hating Breitbart” is not so much a political documentary — although there’s plenty of political content in it — as a glimpse into the future of new media, as reflected in the tumultuous last few years in the life of online entrepreneur and provocateur Andrew Breitbart, who died in March, a month after his 43rd birthday.
Breitbart’s father-in-law, actor and game-show panelist Orson Bean, and his wife, actress Alley Mills, headed to a theater in Burbank on opening weekend to see the film.
But, says Bean, “My wife and I were so moved by seeing Andrew again so much, that I don’t know what my reaction is to the film. We were so overwhelmed. We loved Andrew so deeply. I’m not the one really to have an objective view about the film, because it was the first time we had spent a lot of time with Andrew.”
There’s no doubt that Breitbart was — and director Andrew Marcus is — on the right side of the political spectrum, but the main takeaway from “Hating Breitbart” is not really about specific political policies and legislation. It’s more about the realization that one man — in particular, one blessed with boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, utter fearlessness and an Apple laptop — can take on the titans of traditional media and score big points.
As outlined in his 2011 autobiography, “Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!”, Los Angeles-raised Tulane grad Breitbart was instrumental in the early days of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Later he created the aggregator sites Breitbart.com and Breitbart.tv., followed by targeted blog/news sites “Big Hollywood,” “Big Government,” “Big Journalism and “Big Peace,” now all grouped under the relaunched Breitbart.com.
Run out of nondescript offices in West Los Angeles, the sites take on the entertainment industry, the mainstream media, politics and international affairs, all infused with their founder’s irreverent, pugnacious and restless spirit.
When not on the phone or holding forth on some topic among friends and foes, Breitbart was usually tweeting, traveling or delivering speeches, in between being a husband to wife Susie, father to four children and friend, mentor and general irritant to people across the country.
Until heart failure felled him, Breitbart exemplified the 24/7 mentality of Web journalism and activism, and especially the nonstop stream-of-consciousness that is Twitter, where he was the recipient of a constant barrage of frequently profane hate tweets (all RTed by their target). His @AndrewBreitbart account still stands just as it was at the moment of his demise.
“Andrew, early on,” says Bean, “got the fact that what is happening is the culture is making change, and it is only through the culture that corrective change can be made — not through politics, but through the culture. I think that he’s right.”
Claiming in the film that he has “two speeds: jocularity and righteous indignation,” Breitbart is seen in both modes. He’s fired up when fiercely declaring “war” on the mainstream media and on his political opponents — his fans often use the #WAR hashtag — but also exhibits a playful side (he once merrily took on protesters while wearing roller skates).
“Andrew would bring people over here to meet me,” recalls Bean. “Everybody that came to see him, he would wind up bringing over here. When they sent a dame up from The New Yorker to spend 10 days with him, I thought they’d do a hatchet job, but she didn’t. And the New York Times did two major pieces on Andrew in the six months before he died, and they were basically love letters.
“People that spent time with Andrew, even if they hated his politics, wound up loving him.”
From Breitbart’s managing of the release of James O’Keefe’s ACORN sting videos, to his involvement with the Shirley Sherrod affair, his assault on the accusation that right-wing protesters hurled racial epithets at members of Congress — the film includes CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) spokesman Niger Innes’ blunt and unflattering assessment of Rep. John Lewis’ honesty regarding the alleged incident — and his sparking of the Twitter scandal that torpedoed the career of Rep. Anthony Weiner, “Hating Breitbart” shows what effect new media, citizen journalism and social media can have on politics at the national level.
Whether it’s a good or bad effect probably depends on whose ox is being gored at the moment.
While the stress of new media likely contributed to his premature death, Breitbart lived and breathed the Web, with all of its possibilities and pitfalls (more than a few of which he fell into himself along the way). And as often as not, he did it with a smile on his face.
“He would bring people here,” says Bean, and say, ‘Tell them a joke,’ and I would have to tell him a joke. I told a joke at his funeral, because you get big laughs at a funeral. I loved Andrew so much, that I went with him.”