What Killed Andrew Breitbart? - Page 3

By Maer Roshan, Hunter R. Slaton 03/04/12

Mainstream reporters have jumped on rumors that the conservative icon was assassinated by the President. So why are they ignoring a far likelier scenario?

Breitbart's death provoked a rash of conspiracy theories—and exposed
a media double standard.
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(page 3)

Not surprisingly, nobody took Breitbart up on his offer to undergo a drug test. Three weeks later, he was dead. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the blogger had his last drink at The Brentwood fifty minutes before he collapsed on the sidewalk, after talking politics with a man sitting next to him at the bar.

Despite some circumstantial evidence, we should be abundantly clear: No one—especially not The Fix—can conclusively claim that alcohol or drugs actually played any role in Breitbart’s untimely demise. People die young for a wide range of reasons. But according to the National Institutes of Health, only 10 percent of heart attack victims in America—roughly 61,000 people—are under 45 years old. Many of them succumb for reasons completely unrelated to substances, like congenital defects, diet and smoking. 

Even discounting Breitbart’s alleged history with drugs and alcohol, it’s safe to say that he was not a poster child for healthy living. Overweight and full of rage, he may have fallen prey to his own outsized passions. As Breitbart’s fellow blogger and sometime antagonist Andrew Sullivan noted after his death, “There have been times writing and editing this blog ... when I have wondered who this new frantic way of life would kill first. I do not doubt that Andrew tried to keep a balance, and stay healthy, but like the rest of us, he became consumed with and overwhelmed by this twittering, unending bloghorreic chatter. It takes a much bigger physical, emotional and spiritual toll than most realize, and I’ve spent some time over the years worrying it could destroy me.”

If Breitbart was battling a heart condition, as his father-in-law says, his drinking certainly didn’t help. According to the American College of Chest Physicians, "long-term heavy alcohol consumption ... is the leading cause of ... alcoholic cardiomyopathy," known more colloquially as alcoholic heart muscle disease—which can lead to heart failure in its later stages. Abuse of cocaine, amphetamines or other stimulants is also a major risk factor for heart disease. By some estimates drugs play a role in close to seven percent of heart-related fatalities each year.   

The media’s skewed coverage has broad implications beyond Breitbart. It encourages a public image of addiction as a scourge that afflicts addled celebrities, heartland meth-heads, urbane gays and inner-city teenagers. But the truth is, at last count, 22 million Americans were suffering from substance addiction. Drugs and alcohol are the country’s most pressing health problem.

Given his erratic behavior, it’s curious that the mainstream media Breitbart so derided has been more willing to report on charges that he was killed by the White House than that he may have had a problem with alcohol or drugs. Consider the reaction to the death of Whitney Houston, whose body was not even in the ambulance before blogs and news outlets—including Breitbart’s own BigHollywood—began speculating that her death was alcohol- or drug-related. Given the endless coverage of celebrity addictions, we’ve almost come to expect pop stars to be battling something or other. But politicians, businessmen and reporters generally get a pass. “Drugs,” one editor noted, “didn’t really go with the Breitbart brand.”

What explains this apparent double standard? Fear certainly has something to do with it—in this instance, fear on the part of an embattled mainstream media of conforming to right-wing allegations of liberal bias. In our highly charged, hopped-up Internet era, simply raising standard questions about a political icon like Breitbart means stepping into the trenches of the culture war—which journalists do at their own peril. After Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi posted a lacerating eulogy, “Andrew Breitbart: Death of a Douche,” he was forced to shut down his phone after Breitbart’s friend, the agent Pat Dollard, tweeted Taibbi’s personal phone number and address to thousands of his followers. And that was just from grade-school name-calling. Imagine what reaction Taibbi might have brought down upon himself had he titled his piece, “Andrew Breitbart: Death of a Drunk.”

The media’s skewed coverage has broad implications beyond Breitbart. It encourages a public image of addiction as a scourge that afflicts addled celebrities, heartland meth-heads, urbane gays and inner-city teenagers. But the truth is, at last count, 22 million Americans were suffering from some sort of substance addiction. Drugs and alcohol are by far the country’s most pressing health problem. And as both Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can attest, successful, patriotic middle-aged Americans are hardly immune. Limbaugh’s 30-pill-a-day Oxycontin habit was exposed after he dispatched his maid to the parking lot of a Palm Beach pharmacy to score the prescription drug from a dealer. Beck has been open about his addiction to both cocaine and alcohol before his mid-life conversion to both Mormonism and conservatism.

Though he was far less famous than Whitney Houston, Andrew Breitbart ultimately had a much bigger impact on America’s political discourse than Houston ever did. His legacy, and his websites, will live on long after he does. According to Joel Pollak, the site’s editor-in-chief and in-house counsel, the still-unreleased videos will be a marquee feature on Breitbart.com in the coming weeks. In the end, rather than illustrating the perils of substance abuse, which could benefit the health of left and right alike, Breitbart's passing is already being used to further stoke the culture wars that he so eagerly fomented.

Is it fair to speculate about the causes of Breitbart’s death in the absence of an official coroner’s report? No such concerns bothered the national media after Houston’s death last month. It’s now a given that she died of some combination of drugs and alcohol, even though the singer’s official toxicology report won’t be released until April. But while it’s true that Houston’s history with alcohol and drugs was thoroughly documented, Breitbart left a similar—albeit fainter—trail, visible to any journalist who bothered to look for it. In the end, the substance use of a man who has helped shape America’s political conversation for the past five years seems to us as important and relevant as the addiction of a waning pop diva. 

Perhaps the right-wing radio talk-show host Michael Savage put it best late last week, when he began raising questions about President Obama’s possible involvement in Breitbart’s death to his estimated 10 million daily listeners. “It’s entirely plausible,” Savage said, “that Andrew simply collapsed of a heart attack because of overwork and a reported history of health problems. I’m asking a crazy question but so what? We the people want an answer. This was not an ordinary man. If I don’t ask this question, I would be remiss."

We agree. Andrew Breitbart built a career on asking uncomfortable questions that no one else dared to pose. The irony is that one of the few journalists fearless—or crazy—enough to pursue this story would have been Breitbart himself.

Maer Roshan (@maerroshan) is Editor-in-Chief of The FixHunter R. Slaton is the site's Rehab Review Editor.

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Maer Roshan is an American writer, editor and entrepreneur who has launched and edited a series of prominent magazines and websites, including FourTwoNine.com, TheFix.com, NYQ, Punch!, Radar Magazine and Radaronline.com. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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Hunter Slaton is the esports managing editor for Blizzard Entertainment. You can find hunter on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.