When Bre was researching this reported article on a $2 million taxpayer boondoggle to install decorative lighting in Washington D.C. underpasses where homeless people live, she reached out to me for advice. We ended up with a lengthy correspondence, not just about the excellent article she wrote but about how she wanted to start doing more reported features. We kicked around some ideas for her to pitch in the new year, and talked about what sort of stories and subjects would be a good fit for her.
In this, as in my every other interaction with Bre, her candor and sincerity were obvious. She was humble enough to ask for advice from an older reporter, but confident and serious enough about her work to push herself to the next level, confident that she could do it. I was confident in her, too, and told her so.
This article she did on the plight of the homeless in DC and the outrageous decorative lighting program is the sort of thing not everyone jumps at. Reporting on homelessness and hanging around highway underpasses isn’t what you would expect of most young female reporters. That Bre pitched this story, and followed it up by reaching out to talk about ideas for more like this, is a testament to her talent, grit, and exemplary character.
On Thanksgiving Day, Bre took the time to research and write an extended homage to the men and women who risked their lives to save others during the devastating California wildfires last November. She didn’t write the article because she thought it would get a ton of traffic or gain attention for herself, but because she believed that the Camp Fire heroes deserved special recognition for their sacrifices.
Bre highlighted a school bus driver who put his life at risk to drive 22 children to safety after they had been stranded at an elementary school, nurses who sheltered newborn babies and sick, elderly patients after their hospital was evacuated, and a garbageman who saved a 94-year-old woman with a broken back who was trapped in her home, among others.
The article exemplified Bre’s character and priorities, and showcased her desire to find the silver lining in the dark clouds. Amid death and destruction—nearly 100 people were killed in the fires—Bre focused on the beauty in the tragedy. Rather than allowing the devastation in her home state to overwhelm her, she used it as an opportunity to highlight the best of humanity.
It is a testament to how she lived her life, and how we can overcome the desperate sadness of a world dimmed by the loss of her light. Through Christ, we know that we will see Bre again, clothed in majesty and free of the sickness and suffering that engulfs us. While we mourn her loss, we rejoice in the grace of a heroic savior who lived to die, to quench the fires of Hell, that all who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.
The first thing that hit me as I scrolled through Bre’s work is just how prodigious she was. Every major event of the past three-plus years is catalogued in her breezy, contrarian voice. Her ubiquitous presence helped define The Federalist, and it reminds me how much we’ll miss not only her friendship but her professionalism.
Now that she’s gone, my favorites are the ones that feel like conversations we might have had with her. “Let’s Be Honest. Keurig Machines Deserve To Be Smashed. They Make Terrible Coffee” and “I Tried Hubble Contacts, And Here’s What Happened” remind me of her quirkiness and humor.
But perhaps the article I enjoyed rereading most was one she wrote after wandering into a Scientology church in Pasadena, California, headlined “I Visited The Church Of Scientology. Here’s What Happened.” Her description of the church members’ ham-fisted proselytizing is incisive, funny, and pure Bre.
In one of her first articles for The Federalist, Bre took on the challenging task of watching the gruesome videos involving the trafficking of human body parts by Planned Parenthood and discussing some of their lowlights. She never shied away from difficult topics, and she never stopped caring about the women and children harmed by abortion.
She stuck with the baby body parts story, providing an update as recently as a couple of months ago about taxpayer funding for aborted baby parts.
More than any particular post, however, I’m struck by how prolific Bre was. She had multiple people constantly asking her to write up this or that update to a story, and she always did it. She wrote nearly 1,000 articles for The Federalist—334 of them last year alone.
Many of these were important and necessary news articles and pieces of analysis on major stories that were being mischaracterized by major media, perhaps most notably her dozens of articles on the confirmation battle of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She did this amazing amount of work with a cheerful heart, and an infectious joy that made all of her colleagues strive to work harder and better.
This is Bre at her best, shooting from half-court when everyone else was taking the easy dunk. The writing is sharp, her voice is clear. While the rest of us were laughing at the cover image, she was digging deeper.
In fact, she dug all the way back to Winston Churchill, seamlessly integrating a quote she just happened to run across that same day. It’s a perfect example of her capacity to surprise us, turning hot-take fodder into something so much more meaningful. How many writers would connect a Hollywood Reporter cover to Winston Churchill?
It should also be said she published two additional articles on the same day as this one, a testament to her raw talent, work ethic, and strong drive to speak up when she felt compelled. Smart pop culture analysis, which is often in short supply on the right, was Bre’s bread and butter.
“Be lovers of freedom and anxious for the fray,” is our motto here at The Federalist. This excerpt from her conclusion shows why Bre was the perfect embodiment of that difficult, but important charge: “We need great men (and women) who are venerated for their virtues and their strengths, their commitment to justice and truth — not for the number of Instagram followers they have, or the amount of money in their bank accounts. Men who understand that the purpose of liberty is not to amass a great fortune and play golf on a course with tiny presidential seals on it, but to pursue virtue.”
In early October, Bre took on the one-year anniversary of the Me Too movement. All of her work on the Me Too movement was strong, but here in particular she exposes the gap between the Me Too media phenomenon and any real changes that most women feel in their lives. This was a unique gift she had to not just understand the top-line politics of an issue, but also how it affected real people.
Using the backdrop of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the article picks apart not only the hypocrisy of much the Me Too movement’s focus on conservatives, but also the difference between sloganeering and actually effecting serious change. Today the article feels prescient for its ability to foresee the growing frustration with the Me Too movement and the real feeling that it is running out of steam.
Madeline Orr Osburn
In late September, Bre went on NPR in the midst of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonies—a lion’s den she never shied away from. After her hit, she sent an email to staff about how offended she was that the other women on the panel were gaslighting her into thinking Brett Kavanaugh’s public statement was “toxic” but that Ford’s was “brave.”
“The fact that people are confused about what courage is and what it is not when it’s staring them in the face is alarming,” Bre wrote to us.
This is an opinion many wouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot pole at the time. But Bre did not like the gatekeepers telling her what to think, especially what she was supposed to think because she was a woman. She was courageous in all of her writing and her opinions, but especially at a time when anyone who dared to even question Ford’s testimony faced raging backlash.
“We are being told that Ford embodied courage and to say otherwise would probably make me a monster, but I will say it anyway,” Bre wrote in her subsequent article on the topic. “Courage is more than just taking a stand — it’s taking a stand for what’s right, while speaking the truth.” She wrote these words about Kavanaugh, but it’s what she believed, and how she lived, too.
Of course my favorite Bre Payton article is one we wrote together, about childhood experiences we shared of finding our female bodies sometimes an awkward fit. This feeling among girls is certainly increasing right now. We both grew out of it, and to love being women, and shared that publicly hoping to help girls who today are told this is a sign they need to mutilate themselves. Bre’s perspective characteristically blended straight talk, empathy, and relatability.
Here is part of what Bre wrote: “Boys seemed like they got to have all the fun, whereas girls only had childbirth and menstruation to look forward to…My parents encouraged me in my efforts to find the answers to my questions, but instead of filling my head with the notion that I could be whoever I wanted, they gave me realistic answers. I was a girl because I had been born that way, they said, and nothing I could do would ever change that. Their answers helped me to embrace who I am.
“That period of questioning everything—including my gender—helped me to better understand myself and how I fit into the world. I am now happily settled into my skin and am grateful that my parents gave me realistic answers instead of fueling my childlike gender fantasies with hormones.”