Note from Senior Management:
As former Rep. Anthony Weiner explores a return to politics, the mainstream media have been eager to help him rehabilitate his reputation–and to distort or ignore the role played by Andrew Breitbart in driving the story. Andrew’s victory in Weinergate was as much a triumph over the mainstream media as it was against a Democrat who had falsely claimed to be the victim of a crime–and who had suggested that Andrew could be the culprit. In spinning for Weiner, the mainstream media are attempting to restore their own tarnished reputations. As blogger Ace of Spades noted yesterday: “It was absolute smoking gun proof offered by Andrew Breitbart that did Weiner in on June 6th , and not “questions from reporters,” that compelled Weiner to confess.
Orwell wrote in 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future.” Whatever Weiner’s future, we will not allow the mainstream media to re-write history to suit their agenda.
The following excerpt from the updated paperback edition of Andrew’s book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World (Grand Central Publishing, 2012–available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble), tells the Weinergate story precisely as it happened–not as the mainstream media wish it to have happened.
As the sun began to set at the start of a weekend meant to delineate spring from summer, I asked my wife if she’d like me to open up a bottle of white wine. No sooner had I opened the bottle of Chardonnay and poured two glasses, standing at our kitchen island, then I began multitasking, refreshing my Twitter stream on my iPad. It was at that moment that the best-laid vacation plans of mice and men ended, and my recommitment to the story began four days ahead of schedule.
Huh, I thought, what’s this?
Someone, using the Twitter handle PatriotUSA76, had re-tweeted an alleged tweet of sitting congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY). The message included a link to an image, which I immediately clicked. While sipping wine, I looked at the image at first with mild confusion. What am I looking at? I wondered. I picked up the iPad and turned it in different directions to try to make out what the image was. It took about ten seconds for me to get it, at which point I had a mild “Eureka” moment: Aha! I know exactly what that is!
Being the gentleman that I am, I turned to my wife and said:
“Oh my God, you have to see this–you won’t believe this, if it is what it purports to be.”
After giving Susie the short backstory and showing her the Twitter message, she distinctly asked, “How do you know that it’s his?”
I responded, “I don’t. But if it is his, this is a big deal.”
Being–once again–the gentleman that I am, I called Big Journalism editor Dana Loesch (who was set to travel to Puerto Rico on vacation the next day with her family). “Check this out,” I told her.
Her reaction was not unlike mine and my wife’s.
I said that we needed to convene an editorial conference call. Tuesday was indeed coming early. And immediately available, on the shortest of notice, were Nolte, Solov, and O’Connor. (Pollak, our resident Orthodox Jew, was to miss the first rollicking twenty-four hours of Weinergate due to religious observances. We would make that up in spades, as you will see later in this chapter.)
The conference call was the first of many dramatic and emotionally excruciating moments that would occur over the next three to four weeks. The first order of business was to determine whether or not the tweet emanated from Congressman Weiner’s verified Twitter account. The Twitter feed seemed to be genuine–and it contained another clue: a shout-out to Seattle earlier that evening, where the apparent intended recipient of his photograph lived. Our second concern was whether or not the image, which was connected to a yfrog account (a photo hosting service), belonged to Weiner. But while the confirmation process was taking place, at about 8 p.m. Pacific time, we watched, in real time and in great awe, as the yfrog account’s photos–mostly innocuous snapshots of the congressman–were taken down. Simultaneously, the intended Twitter recipient of the image–the bulging member of Congress in grey boxer briefs–deleted not just her Twitter account but also her Facebook account.
“We’re watching the cover-up!” I exclaimed to the crew.
My father-in-law, Orson Bean, now a committed Christian, likes to reinforce his belief system with a smile on his face, stating, “There are no coincidences.” In the Friday night flurry to find out as much as we could about Weiner, the recipient of the tweet, archives of images, and records of other online communications, I had forgotten a most blatant missing puzzle piece. Nine days beforehand, we had received an e-mail tip from a gentleman in Texas who claimed to have compromising photographs and communications between a single mother in Texas and Congressman Weiner. We had followed up via Pollak, who was skeptical but did not dismiss the tip entirely. We were not particularly interested in Weiner’s private life, nor did we have any reason to believe the pictures would be real. In any event, the source spoke to Pollak once but never followed up with him. In truth, we probably would have forgotten about it had PatriotUSA76 not re-tweeted Weiner’s original tweet that Friday night.
In fact, it was Larry Solov–a central part of Breitbart and the Bigs, but not usually an editorial force–who remembered and forwarded the tip in the midst of our conference call. I knew then that the key to the story was getting to the bottom of that tip. So I got off the conference call while it was in progress, and left a message for the person in Texas at the phone number he had provided. I knew that I had to keep trying to get hold of him. I also knew I was calling him at an inappropriate hour–sometime between 11:00 and midnight, Texas time–but I didn’t care. This was that important. In the end, I didn’t reach him until Saturday morning–whereupon he told me he was going to be out of communication until Tuesday. So whatever evidence he had would have to wait. The woman in Texas was the key to blowing the story wide open, and the fact that she existed would remain in the back of my mind for days. But we had to press on without her.
Back on the conference call, we had confirmed, through a congressional Twitter archive service (TweetCongress), that the tweet had, in fact, come from Weiner’s official account. Coupled with what we already knew and had witnessed–the online cleansing by Weiner and the intended recipient–we felt strongly that in a fair and just media, we had enough to report our story. But given the “it’s just about the sex” narrative that the Democrat-Media Complex used to extricate Clinton from his extracurricular legal peril, we knew that we would be wrongly accused of obsessing over a congressman’s private life. We had to fret no more over that tired and hypocritical tactic when Congressman Weiner tweeted during our conference call: “TiVo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next? #TheToasterIsVeryLoyal.”
Hours after what we perceived to be a private, direct message tweet turned accidental public tweet, Weiner had returned to the scene of the “crime” to attempt to clean up his mess further. But by alleging that a federal crime had been committed against a powerful member of the House of Representatives, the congressman had inadvertently trapped himself. We now knew we could run the story and that there was nothing the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and Media Matters could do about it.
Our conference call had been going on for hours now. Big Journalism editor Dana Loesch, who was packing her bags, started typing out the story. I offered the title, “Weinergate: Congressman Claims ‘Facebook Hacked’ As Lewd Photo Hits Twitter,” and the first sentence: “Hacked–or Hung?” The congressman had put himself in quite a pickle.
The next twenty-four hours–even though it was Saturday of a Memorial Day weekend–were going to be critical. We knew that the organized left was going to wage war, and by the time I woke up the next day, after launching the story, I realized that the Democrat-Media Complex was playing for keeps. For starters, the Daily Kos, the proto-Huffington Post whose founder, Markos Moulitsas, is still granted Meet the Press airtime, published a post immediately declaring war on me. Without bothering to investigate the veracity of our allegations, the Kos post simply declared: “Breitbart to use SEX SMEAR on Rep. Anthony Weiner.” The post was later updated to accuse me of faking the photograph. (Kos, months earlier, led the charge on another Saturday morning when he tried to blame me for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by the insane Jared Loughner. Within these battles against prominent Internet lefties, there are no repercussions when their side lies, cheats, and attacks. How could Kos get away with publishing a declaration of war, without having the facts, even after having been proven so egregiously wrong in trying to connect a political enemy to the despicable behavior of a lone, crazed gunman? As Dennis Prager often says, being a liberal means never having to say you’re sorry.)
So Saturday was spent at war on Twitter with hundreds of prominent left-wing activists desperately trying to turn the narrative away from Rep. Weiner and against me. Dana Loesch was on her flight already, and the rest of my staff was monitoring the situation, looking for new evidence that might emerge and fending off the Kos-fueled attack. By the end of Saturday, whether I liked it or not, the narrative became Breitbart vs. Weiner.
In my own home, I was trying to tell my wife why I was singularly focused, and why this was not going to be an ordinary Memorial Day weekend. Susie asked if we could still travel to Palm Springs. Not wanting to disappoint everyone, I made hopeful assurances that the story would not interfere with family fun.
The two-and-a-half-hour drive on Sunday foretold the essence of the vacation: that’s your daddy’s body, but he is not here with us. While driving, I tried to honor a “no business phone calls” policy, but when Mediaite, a major media analysis website, took the Kos bait and delivered a scathing article making the Weiner story an attack on my credibility, I was forced to defend myself. Even though I was 100 percent convinced that our story was correct and that we had the potential to bury Weiner with a second possible “dick pic” recipient, I knew that the collective media attacks could draw attention away from Weiner’s culpability and make the story DOA the morning after Memorial Day. Not only had Mediaite attacked me, but Salon.com entered the fray–its editor, Joan Walsh, falsely accused me of “savaging” the young coed in Seattle who was the intended recipient of Congressman Weiner’s errant tweet. In fact, we had made the decision in that painstaking and elongated conference call the night before to leave the girl’s identity out of the story. Our prediction–that the media would try to make it appear that we were attacking an innocent woman–came true. But we never could have imagined that the left’s desperation would become so great that someone as high up in the left media food chain as Walsh would brazenly lie about something so provably false. (To this day, she has not yet apologized or retracted that statement, though she remains a permanent critic, ironically challenging my journalistic integrity.)
There were two low points in Palm Springs that spoke to how much pressure was building up. One was when someone on Twitter–a Hollywood producer, I would later find out–apparently saw me walking through the resort, talking frantically on the phone. He tweeted something to the effect of “Hey Breitbart, listen to your kids and get off the phone!” I reflexively re-tweeted that “attack”–my way of dismissing its effectiveness–but he hit me dead-on. The second moment of antibliss came as I was walking with our neighbors and my wife up a scenic desert mountain trail. The understood value of the moment was the serenity and the beauty for the other five–yet I had to take an emergency phone call from an editor who declared that he was going to “skullfuck” and “ruin” me.
On day two of the Weiner scandal, conspiracy theories were building steam suggesting that there had in fact been a hacker, or hackers. One such theory was that PatriotUSA76–the still-unnamed person who drew my attention to Weiner’s errant re-tweeter–was the alleged hacker. The second one, which was started by the Daily Kos and took on a life of its own, became the narrative Congressman Weiner was hoping would stick–namely, that I was the alleged hacker. While I was screaming back into the phone, amid picturesque cacti and red, rocky terrain, I put the phone on mute and looked at my wife and friends and emphatically told them: “I have no choice. I apologize profusely. I’m fighting for my media life.” At one point, I tried to explain to the other two husbands what was going on. “Have you ever heard of Congressman Anthony Weiner?” I asked. Both had a passing knowledge of his existence. “Well, I’m in the middle of breaking a story that will be huge, if I can just get past Memorial Day and into the real news cycle.”
A source who had told me on Friday night that Weiner’s staffers were called to Capitol Hill for an emergency meeting informed me in the middle of this kinetic weekend that Weiner’s strategy would be to “turn on you, and make it so that the story is neutered by Tuesday.” His friends in the Netroots left–from Kos up the food chain through ThinkProgress, Media Matters, Salon.com, and the Huffington Post–fought valiantly throughout the weekend, but I believe we beat them on Saturday on Twitter, where we pounded Weiner over the fact that he had claimed he had been hacked, yet he showed zero desire to open an official investigation into that extremely serious allegation. The left could attack me all they wanted, but Weiner wanted it both ways: he wanted to pin the blame on a nefarious partisan trying to take him down, but he also wanted the whole story to go away without a serious investigation into who that villain was.
While I was positive that we had reported the story 100 percent accurately, I knew that the press would be unforgiving toward me if Weiner had, in fact, been hacked. Come day three of Weinergate, I traveled home from Palm Springs and stopped at a Ruby’s Grill. There, I found out that Weiner stepped back from his dangling hacking accusation when he downplayed the emerging scandal as a prank. The acute fear that had tormented my time in Palm Springs was 90 percent alleviated at that moment. At the same moment, I had learned that a friend from Tulane had died over the weekend. He was a vibrant, adventurous guy who had been skin-diving, and drowned after he was caught in kelp. It was the second time in my life that I heard bad news about a friend at a critical moment; before my first book, Hollywood, Interrupted, was released, I had learned that another friend had died in a construction accident. It was a reminder that these battles at the highest levels of the media, however invigorating and frustrating they may be, are punctured by the cold, hard reality of life and death.
Nevertheless, after implying the need for a formal investigation throughout the weekend, Rep. Weiner had answered our mystery. He did not want his lies to face the scrutiny of formal testimony. Not only did I sense that we were moving out of harm’s way, but I could also immediately sense that the Netroots and other traditional allies to politicians like Weiner didn’t want to continue treading water for a man running out of alibis.
My basic attitude toward the press is that it is a toxic mix of deeply ideological and partisan leftists who are skeptical of my very existence. But I treat every individual reporter as innocent until proven guilty. It appeared early on that CNN’s Dana Bash–of whom I had no opinion, positive or negative–was ahead of the mainstream media curve in a serious way. If the mainstream media were to consider this story as being as serious as I thought it was, Tuesday would be a critical day to push the narrative away from me and back onto a congressman who was now only digging his hole deeper. I spoke to Bash and clued her in to everything we knew.
So as the weekend ended, I felt we had some wind in our sails. I had two questions on my mind: first, would the media come back from vacation and give this emerging megascandal the airtime it was due; and second, how soon could I find the woman in Texas to whom Weiner had apparently sent more photographs? On Capitol Hill that afternoon, Weiner address an impromptu press conference where he had intended to pivot to talking about a vote in the House of Representatives to raise the debt ceiling. It was his attempt to get beyond the story by once again donning the mantle of partisan warrior, in which he was often very effective. But one thing that was missed by most, and which foretold that Weiner’s days in Congress were numbered, was that aside from scandal-plagued congressman Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), no prominent Democrats, aside from his mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), were coming to his defense. This was not going to be Clinton redux. When he faced the gaggle of reporters, Weiner, whose value to the Democratic Party was that he was a media attack dog who used his Brooklyn base to wage partisan warfare from the set of MSNBC, seemed to believe that media bias would be his Kevlar vest and that he could say whatever he wanted, no matter how absurd or offensive. Weiner’s reality check came in a volley with CNN’s Bash, who clearly was not having any of the congressman’s obfuscations and misdirections.
If I felt that the storm had cleared when Weiner downgraded from “hack” to “prank,” I sensed my first feelings of elation when Weiner called Bash’s producer, Ted Barrett, a jackass for asking the most basic of follow-up questions. While Rep. Weiner made many incredibly stupid rookie mistakes, none sealed his fate more firmly than his decision to attack a journalist for doing his job. Now the rest of the media was starting to experience Weiner’s blame-the-messenger strategy. It was a tactical error Weiner probably regrets as much as his decision to tweet a bulging gray underwear pic to a girl in Seattle.
By Wednesday, the story had become a full-scale media circus. Weinergate was now seemingly out of my hands. Realizing that the press was now turning on him for his attack on CNN, Rep. Weiner was forced to expose himself to full media scrutiny. He appeared twice on MSNBC and sat down for an interviews with Bret Baier of Fox News and Wolf Blitzer of CNN. From one hour to the next, Weiner seemed to be backing away from his initial claim that the gray underwear picture was not of him, even though he still insisted he had not sent the original offending tweet. He continued to insist that a private investigation by a law firm he had hired would get to the bottom of the apparent mystery and satisfy the public’s desire to know what happened. (Even Jon Stewart, an old friend of Weiner’s, would mock him later that evening for his newfound uncertainty.) Blitzer was typically sympathetic to the liberal stalwart as he pleaded his case, and he allowed Weiner to continue to support the left’s theory that someone–namely, me–had committed a crime. He told Baier: “I know for a fact that my account was hacked.”
But by now, Weiner was in full meltdown. From his “jackass” debacle in the Capitol, right through Wednesday’s dissembling appearances, Weiner thought he could appeal to his natural allies using his glib, fast-talking, made-for-television persona. He even seemed to think he could tell them what questions to ask, and when to stop asking. On Thursday, Weiner announced that he was done talking about the scandal. But he didn’t realize, as I had, that the media was turning on him. When Marcia Kramer of CBS’s New York affiliate turned up at Weiner’s office to ask for an interview–after he had shunned local news for the national networks–Weiner’s office called the Capitol Police to escort her out. (It was a mistake that would come back to haunt him a few days later.) And fellow Democrats, many of whom had long resented his camera hogging, were furious that he had let Weinergate swallow a week in which they had hoped to demagogue Republicans on Medicare and other talking points. Without his pals the Clintons and the Democratic leadership standing by him, it was becoming clear Weiner was a political dead man walking. Even Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) wasn’t taking his calls.
When people compliment me for perfectly strategizing l’affaire Weiner, they fail to take into account that most of Weiner’s wounds were self-inflicted. Had he owned up to his transgression on Memorial Day weekend, when the press was asleep, we would have had a minor story with, at worst, a congressman taking a few weeks off for “sex rehab.”
But Weiner very nearly got away with it. Without further evidence except his own self-destructive interviews, the story could not move forward. For the next few days, the media began asking about PatriotUSA76 and the sources of the original story. Even though Weiner was clearly in implosion mode, the mystery of what really happened on Friday night, May 27, was still a hot topic in the blogosphere, and even in my own camp. While Lee Stranahan, Patterico (Patrick Frey), and LibertyChick (Mandy Nagy) tried to figure out who PatriotUSA76 was, I was more focused on a much bigger fish: Megan Broussard, the woman in Texas whose friend tipped us eight days before the congressman’s now-infamous tweet.
When I first spoke with Megan Broussard’s friend on Saturday, May 28, I thought that we’d have a 50 percent shot–at best–at getting her to come forward if she was, in fact, a recipient of Congressman Weiner’s lewd online offerings. When I next spoke to him, on Tuesday, May 31, we were talking for the first time against the backdrop of a full-blown media scandal. Broussard would have to make a very difficult choice about coming forward in the face of major media scrutiny. I made my pitch that I could devise a strategy that would limit her exposure. I left it to him to convince a young lady with whom I had never spoken to put her life in my hands. I was hoping he would get back to me the next day. Instead, I left multiple messages on his voice mail and sent him several e-mails. By Thursday evening, I was dejected, believing that I had lost my potential big catch.
On the one-week anniversary of Weinergate, late Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, I received a text from a Texas number. It was Megan Broussard. And in very few keystrokes, she conveyed that she was ready to come forward. Within moments, I was on the phone with her, and before I knew it, she e-mailed me a series of photographs that I knew was going to take the story to the next level.
Pause: because I was so desirous to convince Megan to come forward with the story and the photos, I wanted to make sure that the transaction happened as quickly as possible when she matter-of-factly sent off five images, one of which was beyond damning, far beyond the one he had tweeted to the girl in Seattle. After getting off the call with her, I raced upstairs from the sidewalk in front of my office so that I could share the bounty with Joel Pollak (who is now the editor-in-chief of Breitbart.com). I brought up the most offending shot into my iPad e-mail reader and placed it against the glass pane of Joel’s office door. (Did I mention he’s a beanie-wearing Orthodox Jew? There’s nothing I like more than shock value.) When he noticed that I was standing there, and he focused on the photo, we simultaneously (don’t get the wrong idea…) had a once-in-a-lifetime laugh that also lightened the pressure of the past week. We weren’t just having a laugh at Weiner’s expense. We just knew, implicitly, that we had our man–and that we had beaten the media again.
One week before, this unexpected journey had begun, had consumed a holiday weekend, and had built up into the biggest media frenzy of my professional career. This next weekend was setting up to be a strategic opportunity to end the story once and for all. While the drip-drip strategy worked well with ACORN, not every story is best served by delivering the story one excruciating bit of information at a time. In fact, the tactic can get old if overused. But these photos were destined to be released one at a time–not over a series of days, but over a series of hours, starting Monday morning. We’d start with the shock announcement that a second woman had come forth who had a series of online communications, including intimate and graphic photographs. After whetting the media’s appetite, I strategized publishing the least offensive shot through the second-most offensive shot throughout Monday morning. The second part of the strategy was to reach out to ABC News. Yes–that ABC News, which had acquiesced to radical left-wing pressure to get me kicked off of Election Night coverage in November 2010. Why them? To send a message–not just to ColorofChange.com, but to ABC News as a whole–that they hadn’t defeated me.
I had promised Broussard that I would devise a strategy to interject her into the story and pull her out before the media jackals could pick her apart. The way to get her story out there with as much credibility as possible was to have ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo interview her and scrutinize her story and her photos. In turn, ABC News would be granting its imprimatur to our story. We’d drop the story of the existence of Megan Broussard and her photos (all except for one) on Monday, and ABC News would have an exclusive interview on Tuesday with the attractive single mom who would be sealing Congressman Weiner’s political fate.
On Sunday night, from Ashville, North Carolina, where I was preparing for a Monday morning speech, I contacted Fox News’s Sean Hannity to offer him a cable news exclusive. Broussard would do two television interviews and then return to Texas to live her life.
And it worked. Knowing what so many women accusers went through when they came forward to corroborate Paula Jones’s woeful story with Bill Clinton, I promised Ms. Broussard that she would be protected from a similar fate. On Monday morning, I woke up in North Carolina and gave a speech at a breakfast meeting, then returned to my iPad to confirm that we had already posted two of the offending shots. One featured the congressman in his office holding a sign that read “Me,” in which he was trying to convey to Ms. Broussard that she was, in fact, in communication with the real Anthony Weiner.
The second photo, entitled “Pussies.jpg,” featured Weiner sitting next to two longhaired cats and looking at the camera with a “come hither” look.
As I headed to the airport to board a flight to New York, where I had planned to appear on Hannity, I gave the directive to put up the second-to-last photo. We would state that we did not intend to make the last photograph public because of its raw, prurient nature. We felt that the next-to-last photo was more than enough to put the congressman, his staff, and his Democratic compatriots in a state of frenzy. The photo showed Weiner from the eyes down to his waist, shirtless and in full muscle-man pose, sitting at his home desk, staring creepily into the camera. Behind him, over his right shoulder, was a photo of him embracing his wife; over the other shoulder was a picture of Weiner with former president Clinton. The photo reminded me, quite obviously, of the scene in Animal House in which a tiny devil perched on Pinto’s shoulder tempted him to molest a passed-out and drunk teenager, while an angel on his other shoulder tried to convince him otherwise. For the duration of the one-hour-plus trip, I was writhing over the fact that I couldn’t hyper-reload the comments section from the Big Government post featuring this explosive new photo. I knew that I was performing Chinese water torture on Congressman Weiner and his allies, but I also knew that for one brief moment in my controversial media life, I was hand-feeding the media beast special cheese, fudge, and the richest delicacy they could possibly consume.
Before I landed, my phone was ringing with media requests (yes, flight attendants, I stealthily refused to turn it off in flight). Upon landing, my voice mail was full. The walk from the commuter plane through the airport into a cab and onward into midtown Manhattan was a rush of communication with the top producers of every major network and cable news program. Being perversely curious, I asked every single one of them, “So, what do you think?” None could contain their glee. They may all be partisan hacks, but the story had become a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm where the subject, the topic, the circumstances, and all the peripherals added up to pure media ecstasy. Now everyone was riveted and consumed.
I spoke to WCBS’s Marcia Kramer–the reporter who only four days before had been forced by police to leave Weiner’s office–and made a commitment to meet her. For a brief moment in time, I felt a sense of comradeship with herand with CNN’s Bash and Barrett. We were the ones who dared challenge the arrogant and lying congressman. Now we were set for some serious vindication. Kramer and I had arranged to meet at my hotel, the Crowne Plaza, at Forty-Ninth and Broadway. But when I arrived, she was nowhere to be found. I checked my e-mail and discovered that she had told me she had to head to the Sheraton at Fifty-Third Street and Seventh Avenue, where Congressman Weiner had announced an emergency press conference. I had stayed at that hotel just a few short months before, and knew it was less than five blocks away. I didn’t have to think about it. I just started walking there.
On the way, I started to think, Do I want to confront him on his lies, and the fact that he made it about me? About midway through the brief walk, I called my office and reached Larry Solov, my Dr. Gonzo, but instead of getting a pep talk, my naturally careful partner-in-crime was looking for assurances that I had nothing up my sleeve. He asked me to keep a low profile. I told him, “I swear to God I’m not planning on doing anything. Do we know what he’s going to say?” Larry had heard rumblings that Weiner was going to admit partial culpability but try to hold on to his seat in Congress. I figured that as long as he finally came clean, my place in the press gaggle as he spoke at the podium was only going to be as an observer. If he planned to continue his obfuscation–then, I mused, I’d throw him a question or two.
Upon entering the ballroom where the press conference was being held, I had one existential goal: find an electrical outlet for my BlackBerry. It had been working overtime and had dipped into the deepest red zone. Without it, I was screwed. So I slinked into the room, as much as someone with my personality and body type can slink. I walked underneath a row of cameras on tripods in the back of the room and aimed at the podium. There were hundreds of reporters there. It was media pandemonium, as I had imagined it. In the back corner, I found what I was looking for and plugged the BlackBerry in.
When I turned around, quite miraculously, I was surrounded by at least a dozen reporters, who started to pepper me with questions. Ever since Memorial Day weekend, I had been fighting a vicious throat cough. My voice was shot, and I had trouble projecting it. The rest of the press, which had staked out the best seating and placement, were now begging me to go onstage to answer their questions, utilizing the microphone and the podium. I awkwardly began to approach the stage while simultaneously asking the reporters, “Is it okay if I go up on the stage? I’m not paying for this thing. Would it be rude?” I got the sense that everybody wanted me to get up there, and that I was playing it too coy.
One demonstrative voice was that of Marcia Kramer. In the movie, she will be the one standing there, directing me: “Get. Up. On. That. Stage.”
The thirteen-plus minutes that I spent answering questions–many of which were hostile toward me–were, as a matter of fact, unintimidating. I had been hoping that if I got lucky, the gathered press would include my quotes in the Weiner press conference footnotes. Maybe a cable network would pick up a line or two. I expected my team to post the entire video and assumed we would have to chide the media for not covering my remarks. So when I left the stage, I made a beeline for my phone, hoping that it would now be in multiple-bar, charged territory. The ringer was silenced, but I could see that ABC News producer Chris Vlasto was calling. He was producing the Broussard segment with Cuomo. Vlasto was beside himself. “Why did you do that? Why did you do that? Now Weiner’s not going to do his press conference,” he bellowed.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“There’s no way he’s going to go on the stage now.”
“You just hijacked his press conference,” Vlasto said.
“What do you mean? I just answered a few questions. They asked me to go up there and answer some questions.”
“Andrew–they cut to you. That went out live on TV,” he told me.
“Are you kidding me?”
Call-waiting: the Sean Hannity show. “Hello?”
“Sean wants you on the air. Now.”
The room was so loud that I had to go out through the hallway and onto the roof, which was accessible only to hotel staff. As I began to speak to Sean on the air, my phone was being bombarded with call-waitings from every media outlet known to humankind. The ABC News producer could not have been more wrong. This was the best thing that ever happened in my life. Period. It was the serendipitous elevation of my righteous indignation and my mirth, wrapped into a surreal and extravagant media moment that was redemptive on every conceivable level, after a year of my integrity and veracity being challenged by the media and the political class.
After getting off Hannity’s radio show, I did a brief on-air interview by phone with Fox News’s Eric Sean, and then caught word that Weiner had finally taken the stage–fifteen minutes late. (I believe I set a precedent: no major figure will be late to an announced live press conference ever again.)
I slinked back into the room to hear Weiner’s statements. If he was standing at home plate, I was the third baseman. I was, at most, forty feet away from him. And it was clear that he was taking responsibility for his actions for the first time. He had been lying through his teeth for well over a week, and through our truthful reporting, diligence, and well-executed strategy, we put him in this position. Yet when I saw him welling up, I was strangely and completely sympathetic to the man, at least for a few minutes. Even though he and his allies had one escape strategy–to destroy me with lies in a relentless propaganda war–I still couldn’t help but cringe for his burden. But he kept talking, and talking, and talking, as if he either had the worst media strategist in the world or he was not unlike me: he likes to hear himself speak. Perhaps that was why I sympathized with him.
And then, while standing there, Irish filmmaker, former Financial Times reporter, and friend Phelin McAleer walked up and asked me what he should ask Weiner. I replied: “Does he apologize to me for his strategy to destroy me to save himself?”
No sooner did I suggest that than McAleer boldly asked Weiner: “Will you apologize to Andrew Breitbart?”
While Weiner eventually singled me out, he included me in a wide apology net that involved even Sri Lankan street merchants. But McAleer persevered and got him to focus on me. At the moment, I didn’t take it as particularly sincere, but rather as a forced recognition that he had wronged me. But the media, which I challenged in my thirteen-minute Q&A over its relentless, baseless character assassination of me, seemed to take note of the apology and its significance. For a very brief moment, perhaps days, walking around midtown Manhattan, going from studio to studio and through the heart of media row, I felt vindicated.