It’s 8 p.m. on Monday night and Joel Pollak, editor-in-chief of Breitbart.com is still at work. He's been working round the clock ever since his boss,
Tonight, Pollak’s wife, Julia, has brought their 5-week-old daughter, Maya, into the office because, Pollak says, he has had barely any time to spend with his family. Breitbart was at Maya’s baby naming ceremony barely four weeks ago, but with his sudden death, Pollak and the rest of the staff at Breitbart.com have spent the past few days frantically scrambling to launch Breitbart’s new format for Breitbart.com on schedule.
“We’re all holding together on adrenalin,” Pollak told Patch in a telephone interview. “This [new format] was Andrew’s vision, his dream, a technologically cutting edge format to define the news cycle and create narratives to provoke people.”
Pollak confesses there were “many hugs of celebration and a lot of tears,” surrounding the new rollout. “I couldn’t stop thinking how much fun Andrew would have been having,” he adds.
Pollak said he first heard about Breitbart collapsing via a telephone call from one of his site’s contributors shortly after midnight last Thursday.
“He was worried because he had called Andrew and a stranger had picked up the phone,” Pollak recalls. “Then I called Andrew and nobody answered. Then the hospital called me and I went straight to the hospital.”
Pollak, who began his career as an attorney, first met Breitbart three years ago. He began writing for Breitbart’s website just over two years ago, and following an unsuccessful bid for Congress in Illinois’ 9th District in 2010, Pollak decided to offer his legal services to Breitbart’s operation.
“I’m licensed to practice in California and [Andrew] gave me a chance,” Pollak, who now lives in Santa Monica, said. He quickly moved into editorial, but in the wake of Breitbart’s passing, he says he now finds himself taking on even greater roles. Suddenly, he’s the point person for media contacts as well as strategizing how to roll out new stories and he’s become heavily involved in the day-to-day planning and running of the website.
“Andrew had such a unique, strategic media mind,” Pollak recalls. “He understood how the media works better than almost anybody. He could understand how a story would roll out long before it launched.”
Breitbart and Pollak’s desks were side by side in their Santa Monica office and Pollak fondly recalls how working every day with Breitbart “was intense and wonderful. He’d interrupt me and I’d get irritated and then he’d get irritated with me because he hated the TV on and constantly told me to turn it down.”
Pollak, however is under no illusion that Breitbart was a polarizing figure. He even describes his own relationship with him as one of “productive tension,” which he says can be seen in an interview he did with Breitbart on the Dennis Miller show on Feb. 23 this year.
“Andrew was a fighter,” Pollak says. “The hatred [from other people] never bothered him. He’d even retweet other people’s hateful tweets. What bothered him was dishonesty; people writing about things that they didn’t know and couldn’t prove.”
Pollak says Breitbart respected people who played by the rules “as he saw them.” That included being open about their biases.
“He could be kind to those with whom he disagreed,” Pollak says… "but not always and sometimes he gave as good as he got. He was a big personality and he could be very warm or very hostile to rivals if he thought you did something wrong. He described himself as a happy warrior.”
As to all the conspiracy theories surrounding Breitbart’s death – that he was killed because he was going to release videotapes about President Barack Obama – Pollak says it’s best to simply ignore conspiracy theorists. He is far more concerned about what’s been said about Breitbart by those he sees as “self-serving Conservatives.
“I would be lying if I said it’s impossible to not feel disappointed by what’s been written by some of those who were politically on the same side as Andrew."
Pollak cites Ross Douthat's opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times in which he speculates Breitbart’s death was caused by excessive political partisanship. “Andrew never put politics first,” Pollak says, “and those comments are really offensive.”
Pollak also calls out an opinion piece by Richard Cohen in today’s Wall Street Journal.
“He says terrible things about Andrew including that Andrew delighted in getting Anthony Weiner kicked out of office. Andrew never called for Weiner’s resignation.”
These are the things that bother Pollak the most, he says. “People who say, ‘Never mind the facts, I know how I feel.’”
The Breitbart that Pollak knew was a man who was always attracted to people who had overcome incredible difficulty and found strength in who they were.
“Many of those people came to work for us,” Pollak says. “Andrew was fascinated by people who had survived extraordinary experiences and who had voices that didn’t fit into normal categories.”
Asked what he misses most about Breitbart, Pollak says, “I just miss him. You never knew what he was going to do next or who he was going to meet next.”
Breitbart’s legacy, Pollak says, is citizen journalism: "The idea that an individual not formally employed as a journalist can make news with social media and a friendly, editorial voice. Andrew showed people what they could do with their stories. And he’s not going to fade,” Pollak adds. “What he’s done here [at Breitbart.com] is going to keep getting stronger. The people he inspired are following in his footsteps.”
Breitbart’s funeral will take place today. There will be a ceremony for the family this morning and a memorial service this afternoon. Pollak says there will be many “lefties” as he calls them coming to pay their respects.
“Because,” Pollak explains, “Andrew had a striking number of friends across the political spectrum. Even if they didn’t agree with him, they understood what he was about.”