Maybe the most telling thing about the news that conservative blog impresario Andrew Breitbart had died was that many people didn’t believe it, even though it was reported on his website. Whatever you think of his politics or journalism, his death is sad. Breitbart died suddenly of apparent natural causes on March 1 at 43, leaving behind a wife and four children. He also leaves behind a network of high-traffic, highly partisan websites and an image as one of journalism’s and politics’ most abrasive and zealous fighters and critics of Big Media, willing to use his sites to support political ends — sometimes with explosive, widely publicized stories that relied on manipulation and strategic editing.
In a way, the people critiquing Breitbart are paying a kind of tribute. Breitbart came out of the American political tradition in which if you cared about things, you fought about them. Part of his legacy is a rise in the power of partisan journalism. But if another part of his legacy — exemplified by the first reaction to his death — is a rise in skepticism and critical reading of the media, that’s not entirely a bad thing.
This text originally appeared in the Mar. 19, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
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