Hating Breitbart

May 17, 2013

Hating Breitbart
Grade: 83
Cast: Documentary
Director: Andrew Marcus
Rating: PG-13, for language
Running time: 92 minutes

On one level, Andrew Marcus’ sporadically entertaining Hating Breitbart isn’t really much of a movie. It’s an uncritical, fawning valentine to the late conservative blogger provocateur Andrew Breitbart, a belligerent media-baiter who played a key role in the 2009 Acorn Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now interview scandals, helped force the resignation of United States Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod in 2010 and, in 2011, first brought New York Congresssman U.S. Rep. Anthony Wiener’s sexting tweets to light.

He was routinely denigrated by some mainstream journalists, a rock star in Tea Party circles, and generally good television shouter. If you already have an opinion about him, this film isn’t going to change your mind.

Lots of people will tell you Breitbart — who dropped dead in March 2012 of a heart attack at the age of 43 — was evil, duplicitous and ruthless; here he comes across as a rather likable guy, the sort of boisterous ideologue it might be fun to have a beer with even (or maybe especially) if you disagree with his assumptions. (Several times during the film, Breitbart announces that he has only two modes — “jocularity” and “righteous indignation.”) Maybe that’s simply because Marcus is sympathetic with his politics (I don’t know that he is, though the film’s official website does offer would-be moviegoers the chance to “adopt a liberal”), or maybe it’s just the way the guy carried himself, but I have a hard time reconciling this portrait of Breitbart with the impression I’d gleaned from his television appearances and the work that appeared on his various blogs.

But if every argument worth having has many sides, Hating Breitbart isn’t interested in probing any potentially interesting gray areas of the subject’s character — as far as this film is concerned Andrew Breitbart was a great American, a nearly mythical figure like Daniel Boone. (Who, as members of my generation will remember, also “fought for America, to make all Americans free.”) We never really learn much about Breitbart — we don’t really hear much about his upbringing or his family life, though we dco do hear him say that its it’s a good thing he didn’t pay much attention when he was in college at Tulane University, if University — if he’d listened to his professors, he probably would have remained a liberal.

One nugget we do discover is that Breitbart was the son-in-law of the polymath Orson Bean, who served as a kind of mentor to him. Inexplicably, Marcus fails to pursue a promising diversion here by making no mention of Bean’s interesting family history (his father was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union who raised funds for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys) or his political journey from blacklisted actor, heavy drinker and sexual libertine to Born Again born-again conservative.

Marcus obviously had great access to his subject, and we watch Breitbart fighting the good fight through “new media” channels as he bounces around the country. And his haters are represented as a string of talking heads. Mostly they say unsurprising, and ultimately uninteresting things.

Still, Breitbart managed to raise some important questions about the way those in power, in government and in the media, do their jobs. Still not all the arguments Breitbart makes on camera are convincing — there is an element of racism in the way some in this country have reacted to the election of Barack Obama, and its it’s disingenuous for Tea Partiers (as well as mainstream Republicans) to pretend otherwise.

I’m not sure what Andrew Breitbart’s ultimate legacy will be; he was less an innovator than a brilliant opportunist, and his greatest “victories” — except perhaps for the outing of Weiner as a contemptible liar and sexual idiot— were the sort of partisan political gotchas that accrue to no one’s credit. Still, he was one of those people who made things interesting, and it would have been interesting to see how (or if) he would have evolved. You don’t have to agree with his politics to miss his pugnaciousness and passion.

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