ALEX ZATMAN talks to one of the most powerful players on the American media scene
IF there were such a thing as bad publicity, Andrew Breitbart would be anonymous. Instead, he is one of America's most notorious media figures.
He has played a significant part in destroying the credibility of many of America's senior politicians, including President Bill Clinton and, more recently, sex-scandal congressman Anthony Weiner - who was found to be sending lurid images of himself over Twitter and Facebook.
He has been described as a
"right-wing race-baiter", "shock Jock", "combative" - but he sees that as an achievement.
He said: "I have to be a provocateur in order to make my work known and I'm not ashamed. It's effective and it's in line with my sense of mirth and humour."
Breitbart, 42, is not what one might call a traditional journalist. He proclaims himself an invader on the territory of news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News - three of the biggest in the world.
Consequently, the mainstream media hold him in utter contempt . . . and he feels exactly the same way. The last three weeks have seen a tidal wave in his life.
His rampage to uncover "corrupt practices" - and his notoriety for it - saw him destroying the political career of sex-scandal congressman Anthony Weiner and even appearing in front of the world's media on the same stage on which Weiner would make his grovelling apology moments later.
Typical of his razor-sharp analysis, he described this latest episode as "Jew on Jew crime".
But it was the discovery of online gossip newsletter The Drudge Report that started the path to his own network of news and commentary websites.
One episode in his childhood, above all others, spawned his malevolence towards what he sees as "hypocrisy".
It was, by his own admittance, an "idyllic, suburban, Los Angeles upbringing".
Breitbart grew up in Brentwood, LA - "where the Hollywood executives rear their children," he said with an acerbic hue.
He was barmitzvah at University Synagogue in 1982, but it "was not a spiritual experience - just a right of passage". He claims that the rabbi - and much of the congregation - was more interested "liberal politics that religion".
"When your rabbi supports the antisemitic Jesse Jackson, who said that New York is a 'hymietown', then you have a deeply problematic situation," he said.
Civil rights activist Jackson used the pejorative term for New York Jews in an interview with a Washington Post reporter in 1984. He denied having had the conversation, but under intense pressure eventually relented and apologised.
Andrew's father Gerald, apoplectic at the rabbi's support for Jackson, pulled his family out of the congregation Andrew has not returned.
He said: "Since then I have held Reform Judaism in mild contempt. I've come to realise that my real allies are Orthodox Jews.
"Reform Judaism was comical to me. Most Reform Jews want to be able maintain Jewish identity without having to do any of the heavy lifting."
And his track record with observing Judaism didn't improve from there. He was kicked out of Hebrew school for talking out of turn to his teachers - though he admits now that he "deserved it".
While he grew up in a secular Jewish household, he had actually been adopted from Irish parents. Only later did he discover that his birth mother was also Jewish.
His adopted mother Arlene - a banker - had converted to Judaism when she married his adopted father Gerald, a restaurant owner.
After "drinking like a fool" for four years at Tulane University, New Orleans, his "education" began on discovering the Internet.
Breitbart, cast as the prophet, knew it was the beginning of a new epoch.
"The Internet opened me up to obsessing with the news," he said.
He came across The Drudge Report in the mid-1990s and saw his future life pan out before him.
Breitbart said: "I read Matt Drudge's very early newsletters and decided to email him to ask him about the website.
"We started meeting and I became somewhat of an obsessive over what he was doing. I felt he was a trailblazer and wanted to be a part of it. I acted as his second in command."
He was also a reasearcher for one of the most powerful women in the world - Arianna Huffington, co-founder online newspaper The Huffington Post.
Breitbart would play an indispensable role in the birth of The Huffington Post - despite political disagreements with Arianna.
She had previously been a conservative news contributor, but turned to Democratic Party politics during the George W Bush presidency. Breitbart said: "I just kind of rolled my eyes at her changed politics but I didn't care. I wanted to make her the queen of the left-wing blogosphere."
And despite helping to create the dominant left-of-centre blog of American politics, he simply saw it as an opportunity to create a counter weight to his own media endeavours.
"My opinion has always been that more transparency is necessary," he explained.
Since then, he has gone on to create a network of conservative news and political commentary websites - such as Breitbart.com, BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com
Another of his websites - BigPeace.com - he describes as a "repository for people who challenge the mainstream media's anti-Israeli narratives, we like to debunk truths".
And his next adventure will be BigJerusalem.com
He is hoping it can "help undermine much of the preconceived propaganda that seeks to undermine America's most important ally".
Does he consider himself a pioneer of new media? "I hope people perceive me in that way, otherwise I've wasted my time and energy," he said.
One of his most high-profile stings was posted on his website in September, 2009. James O'Keefe, a 25-year-old activist, surreptitiously filmed in several offices of Acorn - a community organising group in America.
O'Keefe and his friend Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and a prostitute seeking housing and business help.
They presented a business plan for smuggling underage Salvadorian girls into the country to use as sexual slaves. Seemingly unperturbed by this prospect, the Acorn employee's response was "my job is to not judge people".
It sent shockwaves across the United States. And Acorn, while remaining open and active, has been left irreparably damaged and in a grave financial situation.
Breitbart did not plan the sting, but it had all the hallmarks of Breitbart's crafty plots.
His biggest gripe is with the mainstream media though.
He rails against the "fake, journalistic, professional class who spend most of their time trying to curry favour with the people they should be exposing" and revels in the downfall of these "hubristic sourpusses".
It may be perceived as bitterness, but he considers himself free of the strangulating, "iron-clad rule book" that the news networks are constrained by.
He considers it his duty to take on the establishment.
"I tell them I'm invading on their territory - I represent the heathen masses," he said. "To be judged viscerally by modern journalists is the great pride of what I do. I have so much fun doing it."
Consequently, it is a perennial struggle for Breitbart to make his stories known. He used the recent scandal over Anthony Weiner to highlight the difficulties.
The story began to unravel a week after Breitbart had received a tip-off that a woman had received graphic photos of Weiner - but thought nothing of it, just another lunatic on the Internet.
On May 27 while on a family holiday, just as he was turning off his iPad, he received a Tweet on the social networking site Twitter - of which he is an avid user.
It came with a risque image of a man in his underpants.
Not until June 16, after enormous pressure from conservative media figures including Breitbart, did Anthony Weiner admit he had been sending sordid pictures to a 21-year-old Seattle student named Gennette Cordova.
But that was only one track of the story. Weiner had also been sending similar photos to a 26-year-old single mother, called Megan Broussard, in Texas .
Breitbart, a self-confessed Madchester addict, said: "By pursuing that track and ultimately being able to secure Ms Broussard's co-operation I was able to obliterate a compulsion within the media to try and protect Weiner because he's a Democrat.
"Since the media is so grotesquely left of centre, for me to take stories that are eminently newsworthy I have to figure out ways to take my legitimate stories and make them known. We are held to a higher authority.
"For four days I had to fight vigorously to get it into the media. We were ubiquitous. We went one publication at a time and acted as sources to mainstream media."
A story that should have taken five minutes actually took four hours to investigate and publish - he has to be discerning due to the sour relationship between him and the mainstream media.
Normally he faces "a reactionary tidal wave of antipathy from mainstream media networks", but they could not ignore this story.
In the midst of the media storm, Weiner held on until the inexorable pressure became too much to bear. When President Barack Obama said it was time to go, he could no longer bury his head in the sand.
In a bizarre twist, Breitbart again found himself at the eye of the storm even as Weiner was about to announce his resignation from Congress. To be closer to the action he flew to New York, cutting short his family holiday.
On arriving at his hotel, he received a phone call that Weiner was resigning at a press conference not far from where he was staying. The fleet-footed Brietbart made his way there and somehow found his way to the stage.
There he was harangued by a baying gaggle of journalists ready with questions. He stood before them demanding an apology from Weiner. Moments later, the congressman himself read his own political eulogy - and Breitbart had scored a major victory.
However, he is still certain that the media will continue to lambast his methods.
He said: "They'll figure out new ways of hating me. But as long as they behave in a corrupt fashion while claiming to have the moral high ground of neutrality there is an opening for me to continually prove them wrong."
At The Drudge Report he was part of the team that broke Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky - just one of his most significant episodes - but he refrained from picking one moment which he is proudest of.
He said: "So many people who stand by me - my writers and editors - who see that I'm maligned and attacked. They have my back, we're part of an historic force that's taking on a corrupt media order.