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‘News addict’ gets his fix

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

His computer pings with every new e-mail. His cell phone rings with calls from friends. Distractions surround Andrew Breitbart. Yet he remains focused on the latest happenings from around the world, flowing into his laptop computer via a half-dozen wire services and other news sources.

A self-described "news addict," the 38-year-old Californian sips a Mountain Dew as he scans the latest headlines and talks about his journey from being a stereotypical Generation X slacker to being on the cutting edge of the 21st-century information revolution.

Having already been associated with two of the biggest success stories on the Web — DrudgeReport.com and HuffingtonPost.com — he is now proprietor of the Breitbart.com news site, a project begun in 2005 that now attracts more than 3 million visits per month.

Not bad for someone who graduated from Tulane University in 1991 "with no sense of my future whatsoever," as Mr. Breitbart said in an interview during a visit to Washington last week. And not bad for someone diagnosed as afflicted with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, although he says ADHD might be the secret to his success.

"The Internet was like an awakening for me," Mr. Breitbart says, describing how, in 1992, his friend Seth Jacobson first told him about the online world.

"He said, 'The future is the Internet.' And he gave me this long, impassioned talk about how my mind, which is manifestly ADD-addled, perfectly fits the way that the Internet works. … And I just remember hearing what he had to say, and it felt kind of absurd. Like, 'OK, well, I don't really understand what, precisely, you're saying, but I'll store it away.' "

It took another two years before he managed to log onto the Web — an all-night effort that was aided, he explains, by a six-pack of his favorite beer, Pilsner Urquell.

"I started clicking onto folders and seeing all this interesting stuff, and I felt like I was mischievously investigating a world that nobody else knew about. I would say that was the day my life and my career began."

The discovery of online news was especially thrilling, Mr. Breitbart says.

"I'm a news addict, news aficionado who, instead of watching 'Sesame Street' growing up, would watch the local news. And I'd watch the 4:30 news, then I'd watch the 5 o'clock news, then I'd watch the 6 o'clock news, then I'd watch the national news at 6:30. … I was such a voracious news consumer."

About a year after he first logged onto the Web, he says, he made the acquaintance of another young Internet news devotee, Matt Drudge.

"I e-mailed him after reading his posting of what was a newsletter, basically, that he posted on the alt.news newsgroups, and I was just very interested in the subjects he was covering — politics, box office, extreme weather," Mr. Breitbart says. "It just seemed like a more interesting take on the world than what I was seeing on the networks and on the front pages, which was a predictable representation of a mundane truth."

That early version of the Drudge Report "was the first thing that I found online that I recall that I was passionate about seeing," Mr. Breitbart says. "I thought that he was perhaps an operation of about 20 people. And when I found out that it was just one person, that we lived in the same town as one another, we became quick friends. And I became a strong supporter and ally of his vision."

Mr. Breitbart eventually began filling in occasionally for Mr. Drudge, updating the headlines on DrudgeReport.com. This collaboration has continued, although Mr. Breitbart won't talk about the details of what he does. What he will talk about is how the rise of the Internet has reshaped the news business and created the environment in which he now flourishes.

"It seems that if you've ever felt constrained by the bureaucracies of the world — whether it be government or corporations — it seems that now any individual can do anything that they set their mind to," he says. "A person can create a Web site that looks as if it's a multinational corporation. … You can pretty much do anything. You can start your own T-shirt company, you can cultivate an audience, you can create a business from scratch."

Americans have become so accustomed to the free flow of information through the Internet "that if people were to start taking away your freedoms online, you'd see a bloody revolution," he says.

"I think people take it for granted. I think people should be jumping up on top of their beds, thanking God every single day that this thing was invented," Mr. Breitbart says. "I went from having a television [habit] to the point where, I don't have it in me to be able to turn on television to watch regular programming. It's like, why would I go there, if I can be on the Internet? And I can be a participant in this, and read and see what I want, and not let some executives tell me what to laugh at, and then lead me there with a laugh track. It just seems like the Internet is inherently smarter."

Arianna's action

Mr. Breitbart, who identifies his own political leanings as "center-right," says he has learned a lot from his association with Arianna Huffington, the ex-wife of former Rep. Michael Huffington, California Republican, who has emerged as a persistent critic of the Bush administration.

"Arianna has her political ideas, but she also has a strong sense of fun. She's part journalistic pit bull and she's part party-thrower, and that's a fun combination, especially for people of an activist bent," says Mr. Breitbart, who worked as a research assistant for Mrs. Huffington in the 1990s then later helped her develop the HuffingtonPost.com site, which debuted in 2005.

The "HuffPo," as it is often called, is now the top-ranked "analysis and opinion" site according to the Internet rating service Alexa.

"I think that [Mrs. Huffington] had the vision that the Internet was where the real action was going to be, and that running around getting your column in another dozen papers is a valuable way to spend your life, but that the real action is jumping online and seeing if you can swim — and she did," Mr. Breitbart says.

His own Breitbart.com site is basically a one-man operation, but he also has created the Breitbart.tv site — in partnership with Scott Baker and Liz Stephans to produce and distribute online video news.

"We launched with an interview with Fred Thompson the day after the first [Republican presidential] debate at the Reagan Library," he says.

Mr. Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee who is reported to be preparing his own campaign for the Republican 2008 presidential nomination, has been "brilliant" in his use of the online medium, Mr. Breitbart says, citing an incident two weeks ago when Mr. Thompson needed only eight hours to deliver an online video response to criticism from liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

"Unbelievable. It was awe-inspiring," says Mr. Breitbart, adding that the Thompson video was a Breitbart.tv exclusive that now has been seen by more than 2 million viewers.

Online 'panacea'

His current status as a player in the world of online news and politics is a source of wonderment to Mr. Breitbart, who recalls his days as a "typical left-of-center college kid," graduating amid the 1991 recession, feeling "a certain sort of hopelessness" and becoming "a fairly cynical person."

He says he was diagnosed with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder while working in Austin, Texas, as a music writer in the early 1990s. "This psychiatrist said to me, 'You don't have to come back for the follow-up test, because this is the biggest no-brainer I've ever seen.' "

Looking back now, he realizes that he "made my way through prep school and college without really paying attention to anything," Mr. Breitbart says. "I sleepwalked and drove drunk through college. I mean, when I wasn't sleeping, I was drinking, and I was not remotely invigorated by the academic experience. Getting online and having access to all the information I want, all the news wires, all the historical information that I could possibly want, has made me, in hindsight, be very regretful of having treated college the way I did. I wish I'd had the Internet at the time."

Mr. Breitbart, who is married and a father of four, acknowledges skepticism about whether ADHD is a disease.

"I don't think every boy was meant to sit at a desk. I think that men were supposed to go out there and hunt and gather. … I feel like, in an electronic sense, I am hunting and gathering. I'm out there on my own free range, doing what I want to do, how I want to do it.

"The idea that I could do for a living that which I would do in my free time, for free, is the single greatest thing on the planet," he says.

"I realize that my entire brain was meant to be connected to the Internet — it is my Ritalin. I don't feel that I have a disease now. I really don't. I'm like, 'Oh, finally the device has been invented.' That's why I call it a panacea. The Internet is the greatest single invention, to me, ever."

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