I have interviewed Joel Pollak, 34, several times since he ran
unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 against Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) in
the 9th district of Illinois. I’ve kept in touch with him and talked to him as he left his boyhood roots in Skokie and moved to L.A. to go to work for Andrew Breitbart.
I had spoken to him last Thursday, the day the 43-year-old Breitbart died, and again late Monday. (Breitbart’s funeral is today.)
Without saying so explicitly, Pollak indicated that his boss had died of natural causes. As to the reports of previous heart problems, he said, “Andrew was the picture of health. I had a conversation with someone who had been with Andrew on the day before he died and this person told me, 'Andrew looked so good.' He went to the gym the day he died, he was losing weight, he was healthy and robust.”
“There is no thought being given to shutting down,” Pollak said in answer to my questioning how Breitbart.com could survive without its public in-your-face namesake: “The most important thing that makes Breitbart.com work was the people who provided and continue to provide news stories and video. ... Andrew’s role was media strategist and defender of citizen-journalists who work with us.”
Who on the left had offered genuine sympathy at the provocateur’s death? I asked Pollak. He named Donna Brazille. He also pointed to Current TV’s Cenk Uygur as a left-of-center commentator whom Breitbart respected. Breitbart had appeared on Uygur’s show in mid-February to debate the Occupy movement. Uygur wore a jacket and tie and looked every inch the cable TV talk host; Breitbart appeared in a grungy, limp T-shirt and looked like one of the Occupiers he was denouncing. A couple of weeks later, on the day of Breitbart’s death, Pollak appeared on Uygur’s show to remember Breitbart.
Current TV? Why would Breitbart (or Pollak) appear on a fledgling network whose name is so closely tied to Al Gore and Keith Olbermann? Pollak told me that Breitbart preferred Current TV and MSNBC, for example, to the more establishment CNN. “At least those two networks don’t try to hide their left-wing biases,” Pollak explained. He also mentioned that Breitbart was fond of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews because he respected the "Hardball" host’s “passion for accuracy.”
Pollak plans to stay put at Breitbart and argues that while his mentor was “larger than life and that his shoes, or his Rollerblades, will be hard to fill,” the staff will carry on as it is accustomed to doing. The image of Breitbart as always needing to be the center of attention is mistaken, Pollak claims; “Andrew was about cultivating other voices and would let others take credit for work he did.” Pollak points to the early work that Breitbart did on congressional insider trading, later reported in detail by "60 Minutes."
I asked Pollak when we’d see the videos of President Obama during his college days that were, Breitbart promised in his most blustery tone shortly before his death, going to derail Obama’s reelection. “I can’t talk about it,” Pollak, a Harvard Law graduate, said, distinguishing himself at that moment from his boss, who would have talked and boasted and bloviated and, as promised, released the tapes. Would they have derailed Obama en route to his second lease on the White House? Who knows? But I’d bet not.