LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Breitbart, the publisher of Breitbart.com and a couple of other popular websites, set the tone for a program at the University of Southern California last Wednesday by calling George Stephanopoulus of ABC News, a little rat with a runny nose.
He continued by equating mainstream newspapers and television news, National Public Radio, Hollywood and American universities with totalitarians around the world, citing Joseph Stalin, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, cultural Marxism and storm troopers.
He was joined by Jon Fleischman, founder of FlashReport.org, a popular website out here that aggregates and reports on California politics, government and cultural life. He offered the opinion that "President Obama represents the abyss. He is taking us over the socialist cliff."
Then he added: "We're in a war here, a cultural war, fighting over the future of the country. We're playing defense against the dominant culture."
Breitbart, you may remember, made his bones trying to destroy ACORN, a social agency advocating for poor people, by using hidden cameras to photograph a community organizer offering advice to a phony "pimp," actually a Breitbart staffer -- then editing the film and giving it to Fox News.
He is a very serious, very angry man, and a professional (with his own definitions of professional) who helped found and establish The Huffington Post. And though he might deny it, I, for one, found him more angry than he is Republican or conservative.
"I don't give a damn about Romney or Santorum," he said. "I am trying to level the media playing field," which he sees as tipping wildly to the left.
In addition to Stephanopolous, who worked for President Clinton, Breitbart is enraged by the fact that James Carville, another Clinton product, is on television so often playing the folksy Southerner. He also has a thing about Christiane Amanpour being married to James Rubin, a former Clinton spokesman.
(No one mentioned that Diane Sawyer of ABC News was in President Nixon's press office, and so was David Gergen of CNN.)
It was a revealing hour, sponsored by the Annenberg School's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, opening a window into what kind of thinking is behind or under the Republican Party, the tea party and the conservative movement, which are not all the same thing by any means. The panel included a student, Lizzie Breiter, president of the USC Republican Club, and Jonathon Wilcox, a CCLP instructor who once wrote speeches for Republican governor and senator Pete Wilson. In fact, the person they attacked most often was George Soros, who helped finance MediaMatters.org, which presents itself as a rapid response monitor and corrective to right-wing websites and blogs.
They all seemed to see this as an exciting time for media -- and it is. Breitbart said his mentors or examples were Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, who forced their way onto the media playfield. If you think back to what Drudge managed to do from a small apartment with no money in West Hollywood in the mid-1990s, he is practically the Guttenberg of aggregating news and opinion to serve a political purpose. It was Drudge whose career has best illustrated a basic Breitbart tenet: Today, anybody can be the media.
Where does all this go? I don't know. To me it seems like the just-below-the-surface rage against the machine in the Democratic Party during the Vietnam War. But Breitbart, a great performer, says this phenomena is at best still in its adolescence. Can't argue with that.
As for me, both an academic and a liberal columnist, Fleischman had this to say: "American colleges are the petri dish for hell."