Good and bad, the controversial Web publisher had a major impact on media, politics, and our public discourse.
The day that Andrew Breitbart died, the short obituary I published in these pages urged everyone to reflect on the evident love he had for his family, the energy with which he conducted his work, and the personal generosity he showed friends. People possessed of those qualities die every day without mention, some readers noted, arguing that the deaths of public figures should occasion no more than narrow assessments of their professional legacy. But the double standard would be better resolved in the other direction. The journalist's charge is to convey reality, and although the press treats politics and business as though they're of unique importance, it isn't so. We'd do well to reflect more on the private people who shape society. The significance of apolitical, non-economic acts are often overlooked and under-appreciated.
For staunch critics of Breitbart, it is especially important to acknowledge his best attributes. They help to explain the posthumous outpouring of support he has received. His personal friendships with public figures are distorting how they are judging his professional legacy, but people who behave badly in one sphere can set an example in others. Matt Yglesias, a model of online civility compared to Breitbart, controversially tweeted after his untimely death, "The world outlook is slightly improved with Andrew Breitbart dead." Few who've pilloried Yglesias objected even once to the daily stream of ad hominem incivility coming from the Breitbart publishing empire or his personal Twitter stream, so the righteous outrage on display is a bit hollow. But there is a better objection to Yglesias' tweet than calling it uncivil: the fact of the matter is that even a critic of Breitbart's professional legacy has no reliable way of measuring it against his personal life and making a summary judgment about his overall impact on the world.