Hollywood A-list actress and longtime “Law & Order” star Angie Harmon caused a bit of a stir recently when she made the following comments about our new president: “If I have anything to say against Obama, it’s not because I’m a racist, it’s because I don’t like what he’s doing as president, and anybody should be able to feel that way. But what I find now is that if you say anything against him, you’re called a racist.”
But Harmon’s brazen outburst of political incorrectness was just getting started. Here’s what she had to say about Barack Obama becoming the first sitting U.S. president to appear as a guest on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”: “I do think McCain would have done a better job, only because I think he has more experience. I also think if W. or John McCain or Reagan would have gone and done a talk show, the backlash would have been so huge and in his face, and ‘What is our president doing? How unclassy!’ But Obama does it, and no one says anything.”
Want more? Here’s Harmon on the subject of Sarah Palin: “I admire any kind of woman like her. My whole motto is to know what I stand for and know what I don’t stand for and have the courage to live my life accordingly, and she does exactly that.”
WILLING TO TAKE A RISK
Yes, the rumors are true. After decades of cowering in the deep-blue (as in Blue State) shadows, Hollywood conservatives are beginning to openly express their political beliefs despite the price they’ve paid—both socially and professionally—for doing so in the past. Some are calling this newfound courage the Breitbart Effect, named for the affable New Media titan who exposed the amoral Superfund toxic waste site of Tinsel Town by subjecting it to the standards of traditional, conservative (read: normal) American values.
Through his pioneering work on news aggregation Web sites such as the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post, Breitbart led the charge away from the take-it-or-leave-it company store of monolithic network news and toward the consumer-driven free market of the New Media. How important was it to break up this monopoly? Before there was a New Media, Dan Rather’s “CBS Evening News” “exposé” about George W. Bush’s National Guard service (complete with forged documents) would have gone unchallenged—and Dan Rather would still have a career. Because of New Media and outlets such as Drudge, Rather’s inept hoax was discovered—and shared with the world—within a matter of hours.
Recently asked if Angie Harmon’s remarks were an example of the Breitbart Effect, the man in question’s response was as characteristically modest as it was uncharacteristically brief: “Never heard of it.”
Call it what you like—the Breitbart Effect, the Having-Just-Grown-A-Pair Effect, the Other Great Enlightenment—a little candor on the part of show business conservatives would be a refreshing change from the days when being “outed” in Hollywood had more to do with what one did in the privacy of the voting booth than in the bedroom (or, this being Hollywood, in the hot tub).
WHAT’S A ‘BREITBART’?
So who is this man who, by some accounts, may have helped jump-start this right-wing Renaissance?
Andrew Breitbart grew up in the part of Los Angeles known as Brentwood (“O.J. country,” he calls it), surrounded by entertainment industry families and regular working folks like his father, a restaurateur, and his mother, who worked in the trust department at Bank of America. Andrew’s Wonder Bread years were spent playing baseball, watching his beloved Dodgers and absorbing the pop culture references that would help form the foundation of his life’s work.
Unlike many of his trust-funded peers, Andrew also worked during these early days, first lying about his age at 15 to get a job at All-American Burger, later graduating to delivering pizzas and washing cars. But young Mr. Breitbart wasn’t just putting video gaming coin in pocket; he was also internalizing the value system that defined his parents’ lives: hard work plus common sense as a formula for success. “I trusted my parents’ methodology and approach to life more than I did that of any college professor I ever encountered,” he now admits.
When it was time for college, Breitbart sought to expand his horizons by enrolling at Tulane University where he spent four years earning gentlemanly C’s, adding to his encyclopedic knowledge of classic TV and ’80s music, and waiting for his life’s purpose to reveal itself. Naturally, he was also absorbing a bellyfull of the post-modernist bilge undergrads have shoveled into them, which, like the dormitory food being dispensed, he found filling yet unsatisfying. Back in Brentwood after graduation, Andrew realized that, while the Hegelian dialectic he’d been subjected to in college was clearly not going to help him find a job, a return to the traditional values his parents had taught by example (but never preached) just might.
Breitbart’s nascent conservatism blossomed as he watched gavel-to- gavel coverage of the Clarence Thomas hearings on C-Span in 1991. “Going in, I wanted us to take down this serial sexual harasser,” he says now of that experience. “By the end of the hearings, I was screaming at my TV, ‘How can you do this to this man?’ What made Ted Kennedy feel confident enough to grill Clarence Thomas about his private videotape collection and insinuate that this man was a sexual predator? How ironic that it was Ted Kennedy at the forefront. Throw in Joe Biden, and suddenly I saw the matrix that would define my perspective from there on in.”
In a flash of insight, Breitbart realized that the media were the Democratic Party, that the NAACP was the Democratic Party, that NOW was the Democratic Party and that the false notion that the media and the various rights groups were acting in the best interests of America independent of ideological bias seemed less laughable than criminal to him. That lesson learned, Andrew Breitbart had the work ethic, the political convictions and the knowledge base he needed to fulfill his destiny. All he needed now was to somehow randomly stumble upon that which he was born to do, which is about when the Internet happened.
A PROVIDENTIAL CONFLUENCE
From the first time he logged on to Al Gore’s magical new Information Superhighway, Andrew knew that his interests in politics, popular culture and the media could constitute a powerful vehicle for change—and that he might get to do some of the steering. “This is my absolute passion,” Breitbart says today of his media presence. “When I didn’t have [a passion], I wished for one—and I got it. Now I have no choice in the matter. I would be doing this whether they paid me to or not.”
His mission now clear, Breitbart began by establishing an editorial relationship with the Drudge Report, which began in 1996 as an on-line gossip site run out of Matt Drudge’s tiny Hollywood apartment and grew into a $10-a-year, subscriber-supported e-mail newsletter before finally assuming its present form: a virtual town square of news and commentary specializing in posting the story online before the Old Media has a chance to print or broadcast it. The Drudge Report put itself on the map in 1996 by being the first to report that Bob Dole had selected Jack Kemp as his running mate. Two years later, Drudge revealed that Newsweek magazine was sitting on a story about an inappropriate relationship between President Bill Clinton and a White House intern—the rest is history.
In 2005, Breitbart entered into a similar editorial relationship with the fledgling Huffington Post, a left-leaning news aggregation blog promising to distinguish itself from Drudge with frequent posts written by the likes of Warren Beatty and Tim Robbins. The Huffington Post quickly blossomed into an imposing media power in its own right. “So [Arianna Huffington] would become the queen of the left- wing blogosphere, and the right-wing blogosphere and talk-radio world would have enough material to last them until the end of time,” says Breitbart, adding, “Well, that was the idea, anyway.”
In 2004, Breitbart (with co-author Mark Ebner) published “Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon—The Case Against Celebrity,” a powerful and enjoyable indictment of entertainment industry excess. Breitbart calls “Hollywood Interrupted” his entree from being behind the keyboard to speaking out directly on the nexus between politics and popular culture.
Next came the creation of Breitbart.com and Breitbart.TV, two wildly popular online sources of news and imagery from around the globe. After years of keeping his quick wit and camera-friendly manner a secret, Breitbart eventually agreed to start making (increasingly frequent) guest appearances on TV shows such as “The Dennis Miller Show,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and Fox News Channel’s late-night comedy round-up “Red Eye.” Breitbart also began filling in for talk-radio hosts Dennis Miller and Michael Savage, and a weekly Washington Times opinion column called “Big Hollywood” recently morphed into what may be Breitbart’s most ambitious undertaking yet.
Launched earlier this year, Big Hollywood is a group blog that allows members of the Hollywood community to editorialize on entertainment-related subjects. “I started Big Hollywood to show Hollywood from different angles, to prove that this town is not a left-wing monolith,” says Breitbart. But that’s hardly the only reason behind the launch.
Big Hollywood’s name is an allusion to supposedly evil corporate powers. Like Big Oil and Big Pharma, Big Hollywood’s name cheekily suggests that entertainment isn’t just an industry, it’s a powerful force for social and political change. “I started the Washington Times column version of Big Hollywood—and now this group blog—to let the powers that be know that popular culture put Barack Obama in the White House,” Breitbart says. And presumably, though Breitbart doesn’t add this, that popular culture could just as easily turn him out of it. “Obama changed the rules,” Breitbart points out. “He had no résumé, we weren’t allowed to see his college grades, read his papers or even know what courses he took—and yet he was elected president. Bobby Jindal’s response to Obama’s [State of the Union] speech didn’t fail because of its words but because, after witnessing Obama’s soaring delivery, America saw that Jindal couldn’t match Obama’s star power.”
EARNING HIS STRIPES
Getting into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is relatively simple: You have to either hit 600 home runs or win 300 games as a pitcher.
Admission to the as-yet imaginary Conservative Hall of Fame will be somewhat more selective: You have to have been mocked on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” a feat Breitbart achieved just recently. During a segment on “anti-Obama hysteria,” Stewart showed a clip of Breitbart saying that at his son’s school in Brentwood the kids were required to call St. Patrick’s Day “Potato Day.” This elicited the usual guffaws from Stewart’s audience of trained seals only after their beloved host suggested (falsely) that Breitbart believed the school had done so at Obama’s behest. Andrew explains, “I was talking about all the p.c. euphemisms Obama has introduced, like ‘man-made disasters’ instead of ‘terrorist attack,’ and how that this was creating an atmosphere in which misleading euphemisms are damaging the language, and the last example I gave was Potato Day.” Which, naturally, was the only example the “Daily Show” audience saw.
Breitbart, who was also not warmly received by Bill Maher’s audience on HBO’s “Real Time,” adds, “When you walk on stage for ‘Real Time’ or the ‘Daily Show’ or even a debate and the booing starts before you speak—and people are shouting out ‘Racist!’—something is obviously, drastically wrong. The United States was founded on the free exchange of ideas. Democracy can’t survive where people can’t express ideas openly. Perhaps that’s the point. Until the Right realizes that we’re in a propaganda war and we’re losing, we’ll be on the losing end of this debate."
Breitbart has some interesting ideas about why there are so many liberals in Hollywood: “Many of them came here to sleep with starlets, live in gated estates and rub elbows with the best and the brightest. But Hollywood leftists have a deep contempt for an American middle class, which has encroached upon their real estate for 40 years.”
Uh, say what?
“The average middle-class American can now have a house similar to the one Susan Sarandon lives in,” he points out. “They can go to many of the same resorts she’s visited. The sight of a Mercedes-Benz has become as common in the suburbs as it once was in Bel-Air. There are only two tangible things the Hollywood Left has to keep them up in the ether, high above the hoi polloi they escaped from after high school.”
And those two things are? “Private jets and an exclusive ZIP code. Plus, simply by being a liberal, they have a virtual 10-foot ideological wall separating them from the Great Unwashed.”
What about the Hollywood conservatives he knows? “They’re the exact opposite. It’s eerie. When they meet one another, they’re like people who have just emerged from the desert and they haven’t had anything to drink yet—they’re so thirsty to meet like-minded people. They’re the same way when they meet the military—conservatives revere them so much. Hollywood conservatives love to interact with G.I.s.”
Does anything else (beside their ideologies) strike him about the difference between Hollywood liberals and Hollywood conservatives? “Yeah, Hollywood conservatives are a much happier lot, even though they’re manifestly oppressed. The best analogy I can think of is that Hollywood right- wingers are like an impoverished Third World child who happily plays with a stick, and Hollywood left-wingers are like a spoiled rich kid surrounded by expensive toys who’s so bored he’s throwing a tantrum.”
The Breitbart Effect aside, are conservatives in Hollywood sometimes deprived of jobs because of their politics? “Yes, it does happen. I know that complaining smacks of victimhood, but there are real victims of this. And when someone hits you in the head with a pipe, you needn’t apologize for bleeding.” Does Breitbart personally know of Hollywood conservatives who are still too afraid to “come out” as right-wingers? “Yes, some of them are major talents, and it really ticks me off. I can’t even tell my wife some of their names, they’re so scared of damaging their careers. Once you realize how many there are and how eerily similar the description of what they’ve gone through is from example to example, the case against liberal Hollywood in this regard is open and shut.”
JUST WANTS AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD
With the challenge of sustenance largely taken care of, Breitbart can afford to be reflective about the life he’s built for himself and his family. Andrew Breitbart clearly relishes life, an attitude that’s highly contagious in his presence. You get the feeling that he could have a really good time at a party whether he knew anyone there or not. But beneath the sunny exterior, behind the eyes some might actually call merry, Breitbart is a man unceasingly obsessed with politics and the daily battlefield reports from a culture war he’s convinced we must not lose.
“I can’t turn it off,” he admits.
Speaking of his wife, Susie, he says, “She didn’t sign up for this. She’s like a military wife whose husband is frequently gone on mental deployments.”
So given all that, what does Breitbart want from the perennial debate? “All I want is a fair game,” he insists. “I’m positive our ideas beat their ideas when the game isn’t rigged. That’s why I helped get the Huffington Post off the ground: I want everyone to hear what the Left has to say. Also, I want those of us on the Right to tell people what we believe—not to have those on the Left to do it for us.”
“Yes. The American people need to know that there are thousands of people in Hollywood—people who are liked, admired, people who are hot!—who are also conservative. They’d be surprised to see a group picture of all the conservatives in Hollywood.”