By MICHAEL R. BLOOD, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Can you have Breitbart.com without Andrew Breitbart?
The death Thursday of the combative online blogger and publisher leaves open the question of what will become of a thriving colony of conservative websites for which he was owner, prolific contributor and relentless salesman.
Always the provocateur, Breitbart recently dangled the possibility that he had politically damaging videos of President Barack Obama from his early days.
He used his websites to promote a hidden-camera video with actors posing as customers that led the downfall of the liberal Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. He posted explicit photos of former Rep. Anthony Weiner that caused the New York congressman eventually to resign, but an edited video caused former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod to resign over since-reversed perceptions she was a racist.
Breitbart was known for his showman instincts and waging war with liberals "but he really had a vision of the multimedia future that a lot of us do not possess," said Republican strategist Jonathan Wilcox, who knew Breitbart and also teaches a course on politics and celebrity at the University of Southern California.
The technology and staff are in place for websites, including Big Government and Big Journalism, to continue but "the superstar is not there ... and that's going to be the challenge going forward," Wilcox said.
Joel Pollak, a Breitbart editor, said a retooled website was in the works and would go forward. It wasn't immediately clear who would take over the company, which once ran out of Breitbart's basement and now employs about a dozen people. Pollak didn't respond immediately to an email inquiring about the Obama videos.
Breitbart, 43, died after collapsing shortly after midnight during a walk near his home. He was rushed to the emergency room at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
He suffered heart problems a year earlier, but his father-in-law, actor Orson Bean, said he could not pinpoint what happened. Larry Dietz, watch commander at the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said an autopsy was likely.
"It's devastating," Bean told the AP.
Breitbart used the Internet to ignite political scandal and expose what he saw as media bias, even if he sometimes had to edit the facts to do it. In a new media age, he argued that anyone with a laptop could reshape public discourse, and his takedown of Weiner established him as a conservative media hero.
He relished public combat with liberals — a YouTube clip last month shows him bellowing at Occupy Wall Street protesters, "Stop raping people, you freaks!" Yet conservatives and tea party activists who loved him saw a crusader against corrupt politicians and what he called the hopelessly liberal "old media guard."
He was filled with contradictions. He was a self-avowed enemy of the mainstream media, yet subscribed to The Associated Press and admitted loving the venerable news agency's photos that came from afar. "It's a love-hate relationship," he confided at a quiet moment. He pleaded with conservatives to drive relentlessly forward — walk into the line of fire, he would say — yet the final sentence from his prolific and often caustic voice on Twitter was, ironically, an apology for calling a follower a "putz," just in case he misunderstood a message to him.
The converted Hollywood lefty who partied his way through Tulane University was also, at home, a soft-spoken father of four. He chose to live on enemy turf, Brentwood, the tony Los Angeles enclave favored by the Hollywood elite he so often mocked.
His business partner and lifelong friend, Larry Solov, once said Breitbart had two speeds: lighthearted jokester and fiery culture warrior. "They flip back and forth," Solov said. "And there is not that much in between."
Breitbart leaves behind the websites that waged daily war with what he considered liberal bias infecting the media, college campuses, unions and the entertainment industry.
"The core of what Andrew did was bring new citizen journalists into the new media," Pollak said. It "was, and still is, what we do."
His anchor site, Breitbart.com, was visited by 1.7 million people in January, according to website tracker comScore Inc. Though other political sites are far larger — his mentor, Matt Drudge, attracted more than 4 million visits that month — his profile was elevated by public appearances, the Weiner scandal and relentless speechmaking, particularly at tea party rallies, where he was a favorite.