Plenty of people throughout history have made careers of pushing others’ buttons (see Mark Twain), but the Internet gave birth to a new type of rabble-rousing big-mouth: the blogger. The most successful writers to harness this medium have been the ones to realize—in the tradition of Matt Drudge, the godfather of dotcom provocateurism—the Internet’s unique power to enrage people. Armed with snark, a keyboard, and a gift for attracting Web traffic, the following instigators are some of the most notorious (and often successful) in the business.
A onetime editor of the Drudge Report, Andrew Breitbart has created his own popular online persona by mastering the art of confrontation. From government agencies to major news outlets, no institution is safe from the wrath he and his contributors hurl from Breitbart’s conservative blogs, including BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com. He’s become a celebrity among the Tea Party crowd, casting himself online as a populist crusader—but that role can have its drawbacks. He recently found himself at the center of the Shirley Sherrod controversy when it was revealed that a video he posted of Sherrod had been heavily edited to make it appear as though the USDA worker was making racist comments. (Breitbart says he didn’t know the video had been edited in a misleading way.)
Pick a celebrity scandal from the past two years, and you can bet Mario Armando Lavandeira (better known as Perez Hilton) was either writing about it or directly involved. Ever since the syndicated TV show The Insider dubbed Hilton’s blog Hollywood’s “most hated website,” the gossip extraordinaire has been making headlines as often as he writes them. He’s the one who asked Carrie Prejean whether she believed every state should legalize same-sex marriage, prompting the Miss USA contestant’s controversial answer and later allegations that she lost the competition because of her socially conservative views. He’s also the one who Tweeted an upskirt photo that apparently showed underage singer Miley Cyrus without underpants. When the blogosphere began buzzing with speculation that Hilton could face child-pornography charges for posting the photo, he quickly deleted it, adding that the singer was, in fact, sporting underwear. Of course, in true Perez-style, the blogger milked the controversy for days, posting a video mocking his critics along with additional scandalous pictures of Cyrus.
Andrew Sullivan has a way of making everyone crazy. Even the stock prefixes regularly attached to his name sound paradoxical: openly gay, conservative, devout Catholic. On his blog for The Atlantic, The Daily Dish, he savages liberal pieties and advocates limited government, theoretically aligning him with the right. Yet he has been one of the fiercest critics of the GOP in recent years, railing against the conservative take on issues from gay marriage to the war on terror (which he initially supported, but now says was a mistake). He has called Glenn Beck a “nutjob,” and Michelle Malkin has labeled him “a rhetorical lynch mob leader.” Sullivan has been more than willing to fight back. On his blog he created The Malkin Award, “for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric” (Ann Coulter is ineligible, he says, “to give others a chance”). He has a similar award for left-wing bluster named for filmmaker Michael Moore. So whose side is he on, anyway? Sullivan says no one’s—the tagline of his blog reads “Of no party or clique.”
Sandra Rose blogs on everything from politics to fashion, but riling up the hip-hop world is her bread and butter. For example, Rose recently posted an article titled “How the Mighty Have Fallen: Jermaine Dupri Rebounds,” which chronicled the rapper-producer’s recent career failures and claimed that he was “in denial” regarding his breakup with Janet Jackson. It wasn’t long before gossip blogs began reporting that Dupri had called and threatened the blogger. So far, Dupri has declined media requests for comment, but Rose has already apparently moved on to her next target. Regarding Halle Berry’s September Vogue cover, Rose wrote, “I’ve never met a strikingly beautiful chick who didn’t have subtle or overt mental issues.” Ouch.
In 2008, Michael Wolff participated in a panel on the future of news, where he told NEWSWEEK senior writer Johnnie L. Roberts, “If Newsweek is around in five years, I’ll buy you dinner.” Of course, NEWSWEEK isn't the only one targeted by Vanity Fair’s media blogger. Wolff has made a career out of antagonizing journalists, keenly understanding that if you make your media peers mad enough, they’ll eventually respond—most likely with a link to your blog. Speaking of which, here’s one of Wolff’s many recent articles on NEWSWEEK. Thanks for the advice, Michael. Your business savvy has, after all, been well documented.
Michelle Malkin seems to have a unnatural ability to agitate people, especially liberals. The conservative blogger and founder of hotair.com has inspired so much vitriol that when liberal Web sites posted her home address, Malkin got so many harassing calls from crazed detractors that she and her family moved. Critics have tagged her a “fascist” and a “Nazi,” in part for her backing of racial profiling as a tool to fight terrorism and for her hard-line views on illegal immigration. But as much as she has come under attack, she’s just as often the one making incendiary statements, like calling members of the NAACP “race hustlers” and labeling Michelle Obama the “First Crony.” Malkin has even targeted the GOP, criticizing former President George W. Bush for not being conservative enough. On her blog, she wrote, “I don’t miss having a corporate socialist Republican in the White House any more than I like having a corporate socialist Democrat in the White House now.”
A 2007 Wired article described TechCrunch founder and blogger Michael Arrington as a “persona somewhere between an aging linebacker and Tony Soprano—a large man always on the verge of losing his cool.” It sounds unkind, but Arrington, one of the most powerful tech writers in the business, has never denied that he has big opinions and a habit of blowing a fuse, often mowing down friends and enemies alike. But that’s part of what happens when you’re Silicon Valley’s current kingmaker—a good TechCrunch review is like a seal of approval—and Arrington won’t just dish out good reviews for any old startup. In fact, in the same Wired article, he told writer Fred Vogelstein, “One of my friends, Tom Ball, is mad at me because I just trashed his startup, Jigsaw. He’ll get over it—I hope.”
Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas has taken on some of the biggest conservatives in the game, from Sarah Palin to Tom Tancredo, and bruised his fair share of egos along the way. His most recent adversary: media personality Joe Scarborough, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. It started on Twitter, where Scarborough commented on allegations of a White House job offer extended to Rep. Joe Sestak if he dropped out of his primary challenge to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. Scarborough tweeted, “Luckily for the White House, the media has been negligent on this story since Day 1.” Moulitsas, who argued that it was a nonstory, fired back with a reference to Scarborough’s employee Lori Klausutis, who was found dead in his district office when Scarborough was a congressman. In a blog post, Moulitsas explained that what he meant was that if Scarborough had been a Democrat (like former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, who was once suspected of having been involved in the killing of intern Chandra Levy), such an incident would have been front-page news. Moulitsas argued that the situation was an example of a media double standard. The back and forth continued and degenerated into a hatefest that resulted in Moulitsas being temporarily banned from appearing on MSNBC. Moulitsas blogged about that, too, saying he found it noteworthy that he was “booted from the network because of a Scarborough temper tantrum.”