It is nearly impossible to relay the immediate shock and resulting sadness I felt Friday afternoon upon learning that staff writer Bre Payton of the Federalist was dead at age 26.
Bre (pronounced just as it looks: Bree), was swiftly becoming one of the brightest of aspiring conservative media stars. Hospitalized on Thursday, she was diagnosed with swine flu and possible meningitis. Within 24 hours, she was gone.
Neither George Will nor Pat Buchanan had their careers in the punditocracy take off as early and as rapidly as that of Bre Payton. A graduate of Patrick Henry University with a degree in political journalism, 23-year-old Bre joined the Federalist in 2015 and immediately began discussing public policy as a “talking head” on TV.
Among her first on-camera appearances that year was on Newsmax TV, which gave me the opportunity to observe her first-hand as she developed a pleasant and winning style.
“Planned Parenthood, the single largest provider of abortion in the United States,” is how Bre opened up every reference to the controversial organization in an exchange over whether it should continue to receive taxpayer funding.
But in doing so, she smiled what seemed to be a 90-Watt smile, shook her head with a chuckle when her opposition retorted fiercely, and never lost the cool that would become her constant companion in the televised arena.
It wasn’t long before other networks thought that Bre Payton would add a little something to their panel discussions and invited her on. Among the networks in which she opined or debated were some observers would consider unfriendly to a someone who made no secret of her strong Christian faith or pro-life passion: MSNBC, CNN, and National Public Radio.
They all invited her back. So did Fox News, where she was rapidly becoming a regular fixture.
Bre’s good nature extended to her printed words in The Federalist. Her coverage ranged from Kanye West to the Supreme Court, and her columns were frequently fresh and unique stories of America.
She once brought attention to a senior citizens’ center in Chehalis, Washington in which residents were banned from displaying Christmas cards in common areas or saying “Merry Christmas” (the reason given, Bre reported, was “because the center receives funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” but, she also reported, “HUD does not ban funding recipients from celebrating Christmas”).
Although she eschewed the “gotcha” journalism of some of her contemporaries, Bre was not afraid to mix it up with those she felt were hurting the conservative movement. Following a panel that featured the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin—whom many on the right cannot stand being labeled a “conservative columnist” on the right—Bre shook hands and cheerfully asked Rubin what conservative principles she actually holds, the Post pundit replied “I’ve got to run” and, as Bre tweeted, “walked away.”
“We are devastated,” Federalist publisher Ben Domenech tweeted shortly after the sad news of her death, “Last we saw her, she was her funny, smart, vivacious self. Now lost to us so suddenly.”
Bre Payton could easily be likened to Nathaniel West, who wrote “Miss Lonelyhearts” and “The Day of the Locust” before his untimely death at 37 in 1940, or Thomas Wolfe, who died at 38 in 1938 after writing the epic “Look Homeward Angel.” She was someone who demonstrated enormous talent at an early age only to be taken from us so quickly and so sadly.
Like West and Wolfe, the young lady with the engaging laugh and the sharp-but-gentle retorts will be thought of with speculation about what else she would have done and how far she would have gone.
But Bre Payton will also certainly be remembered for what she did and how she demonstrated that one could engage in the rough-and-tumble and remain gentle and cheerful.
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