July 22, 2010 - -- In this year of American voter anger and discontent, Andrew Breitbart has found his moment.
"I get to be me right now," he said. "That's the best part of this entire thing. This, to me, is the beginning of the beginning."
And what is beginning is, he hopes, the age of Breitbart.
He's everywhere. On Fox News -- a lot. Hobnobbing with Republican leaders in New Orleans. Rallying the Tea Party faithful in appearances across the country. Launching the websites Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood.
He's also lobbing grenades of controversy -- like his most recent revelation this week of an old speech by Obama Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, in which she confessed that she once, decades ago, was deeply reluctant to help a white farmer who needed her aid.
"I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land," Sherrod said in the video.
Sherrod resigned under pressure -- and then it turned out Breitbart had released only a clip of her speech that distorted her real meaning: that she had been wrong and learned from her error.
The controversy continues -- to Breitbart's delight. He says he considers it a victory to have panicked the Obama administration and precipitated a public apology from the White House.
If this is Andrew Breitbart's moment, there are good reasons for it.
First, he's worked very, very hard to get here.
"I'm kind of an alien," he said. "I grew up in West Los Angeles, but I was raised by my [adoptive] parents. ... I was adopted. And so my sister was Hispanic, clearly, and I was Irish, clearly, and my dad was Jewish and my parents were very Middle-American in the heart of the Beverly Hills-Brentwood rich, you know, scene."
He was, he said, a typical West Coast liberal -- until the Clarence Thomas hearings lit him up with the fires of conservative resentment against the liberal establishment.
"This is a circus," Thomas famously said in the hearings. "It is a national disgrace. It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves."
"It was the moment that I saw a glimpse of the matrix," Breitbart said. "And I started to ask some very tough questions of myself, and my peer group, and my parents and their friends."
Andrew Breitbart: Drudge, Huffington
Breitbart soon signed on to work for a then-fledgling conservative website, The Drudge Report, which he helped build into an Internet colossus.
A few years later, with the same gift for generating buzz, he helped to launch the liberal site, The Huffington Post.
We asked Breitbart about Matt Drudge.
"That's the one thing I don't talk about," he said. "I mean, Matt is an international man of mystery, and the last time I saw him was running into him at the White House correspondence dinner in 2005. That's the last time I saw him. I will say this: Boy, did I get lucky to work with Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington."
Now it's Breitbart who's got a genius for buzz -- for getting people talking, for getting stuff out there that he knows the media can't resist covering and things that advance his conservative libertarian ideals.
One example was the 2009 uproar over undercover videos shot by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe in the offices of ACORN, a community activist group.
The videos appear to show ACORN officials counseling O'Keefe, who was posing as a pimp, on how to run a brothel and evade the law, and how to smuggle underage girls into America to be prostitutes.
"And so, when they came to me with their videos, they had concocted the strategy, they had done everything, they had even edited the videos when they came to me and put it on a platter to me," Breitbart said. "And I said to them, 'Here's what I can do for you. And here's my strategy on getting this story out there. I don't want it to be housed on my site. ... I don't have a proprietary piece of software where you can only see it on my site. I want to put it on YouTube, I want everybody to be able to dissect this thing however they want.'"
Andrew Breitbart on Journalism
And everyone did. And that might end up being the beginning of the end of ACORN.
But it's not the end of the story. Once again, Breitbart had put out a heavily edited version of the tapes that omitted some key information -- like the fact that an ACORN employee called the police after talking to the supposed "pimp."
We asked Breitbart if he told the audience that ACORN employee had called the police.
"I'm-- I actually don't know," he said. "But I-- We were-- I don't think he called the police. ... He called his cousin."
His cousin -- who was a police officer.
"There was no-- it doesn't matter. They didn't issue a police report," Breitbart said. "This is the first I'm finding out that there was anything ... other than that he called his cousin."
Andrew Breitbart isn't about journalistic standards or mainstream debates.
He's a provocateur, a rabble-rouser, a master manipulator of the media's appetite for controversy -- real or fake.
And his time has come.
We asked him about the assertion that he's part of a culture of extreme angry rhetoric that some people think is poisoning the political well.
"I'm fighting back against years and years and years of the cultural and the political left telling people to sit down and shut up," he said. "And I'm finally telling a bunch of people, whether it be a conservative or a libertarian on a college campus, whether it be an actor or a director in Hollywood who wants to make movies that represent his world view, I'm sayin' I'm gonna lead the charge. And you want to follow me? Fine. And there are people who are followin' me. I want to make things equal. I want people to have a free and open voice."