Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
With its former chief, Steve Bannon, now wielding power inside the Trump White House, Breitbart in recent days has been collecting a string of symbolic Beltway trophies.
Last week, a reporter for the far-right site was seated in the front row, alongside Reuters and The Associated Press, for the White House press briefing with President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Earlier this month, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos bragged that he’d be attending a White House press briefing, although he never showed up.
Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time, invited Yiannopoulos on as a guest last Friday, and the two men “got along famously,” according to The Washington Post. That’s the same Yiannopoulos who has called transgender people “mentally ill” and “retarded,” announced that “there is only one place for lesbians: porn,” and claimed that “feminism is a bowel cancer.”
Previously banned from Twitter for inciting a harassment campaign targeting black actress Leslie Jones, Yiannopoulos found a safe haven on Maher’s show. “There was little conflict or cross-examination,” noted The New York Times.
The following day, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) jumped on Yiannopoulos’ hate rhetoric bandwagon, inviting him to speak at the annual gathering. The move seemed to further mainstream the “alt-right” movement and its white nationalist fan base within the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, scroll back to last December, when publishing giant Simon & Schuster signed off on a Yiannopoulos book deal reportedly worth $250,000. (“They offered me a wheelbarrow full of money,” the Breitbart editor bragged.)
The deal was widely denounced in the publishing world. “He’s a clickbait grifter who has made a name for himself spewing hate speech,” wrote Adam Morgan, editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books.
But Simon & Schuster stood proudly by its new author and defended the generous book contract, even suggesting it was taking a noble stand in the name of free speech.
That was before tapes resurfaced this weekend “in which Yiannopoulos appears to defend pedophilia.”
Today, as controversy swarms around Yiannopoulos over his shocking comments, who now has the biggest regrets about reaching out to the Breitbart editor in an effort to normalize his dangerous crusade? Simon & Schuster, CPAC, or Maher?
All of them are learning the same valuable lessons: 1) Intellectually, Breitbart is an infested sewer, and it always has been. And 2) Lots of journalists and mainstream organizations that try to embrace or legitimize the site and its rancid rhetoric inevitably come to regret it.
They regret being associated with such purposefully offensive people and likely wish somebody had stopped them before they tried to brandish the Breitbart name for their own short-terms gains. Specifically, the regrets now revolve around “alt-right” mob leader Yiannopoulos, who appeals to rotten white nationalism.
It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.
In terms of regrets, it’s now likely a toss-up between Simon & Schuster and CPAC, but I’m guessing it’s the leaders of the annual conservative conference who, at least privately, are most embarrassed by their harebrained idea to invite Yiannopoulos to be a featured speaker. The move instantly set off criticism from within the conservative movement as journalists expressed dismay at the idea of elevating a bully to the role of a public intellectual.
Then, in the wake of the CPAC invite, when a conservative-run Twitter account distributed clips of the Yiannopoulos pedophilia comments, the criticism erupted into a deafening uproar of condemnation for the conservative organization, much of it voiced by conservatives themselves.
For its misguided attempts to normalize targeted bullying and to try to feed off the “alt-right” harassment movement for political and commercial gains, CPAC, at least temporarily, became synonymous with an apparent defense of pedophilia. (The leadership later pulled the invite.)
Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster looks equally foolish for allowing its conservative imprint, Threshold Edition, to embrace Yiannopoulos in hopes of cashing in on his hate rhetoric. (Over the weekend, the publisher canceled the book deal.) Keep in mind that the Breitbart editor’s ugly history was hiding in plain sight prior to the six-figure book deal. Meaning, people in positions of power should have known better.
From last December:
On Monday night, pop right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, who lost his Twitter access earlier this year after one too many online insults against women and minorities, was on the campus of Miami University in Ohio, scheduled to talk about “PIZZAGATE: The deep Dish on Liberalism and Pedophilia.” Half an hour before the speech, he abruptly changed his topic to “On Stabby Muslims, Campus Censors and Daddy’s Transition.”
That’s who Simon & Schuster chose to publish. That’s who Maher invited on his HBO program for a televised Friday night “bromance.” That’s who the American Conservative Union decided to elevate as a new face of GOP politics in America at CPAC.
The good news is that a lot of corporations don’t want their brands anywhere near Breitbart or Yiannopoulos.
As BuzzFeed recently reported, Omnicom, one of the world’s largest ad-buying agencies, “has instructed its staff to pull advertising from pro-Trump website Breitbart on behalf of its biggest clients.” One internal Omicom email referred to Breitbart’s content as being “pretty unpalatable.”
That’s a good rule of thumb.