Greta Van Susteren: Democrats Must Applaud Trump During Parts Of His Speech Or They Will Look Like They Don't Want America To Be Great Again
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On Friday, President Donald Trump told a crowd of cheering supporters that major news outlets are “the enemy of the people” because they make up critical stories about his administration. Press secretary Sean Spicer followed up that rhetoric by barring credible journalists from a press gaggle while making room for pro-Trump reporters.
While collective action remains in short supply, the moves drew quick denunciation from the press. "I find it deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that the White House is actively running a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press," National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou wrote in a statement. "The action harkens back to the darkest chapters of US history and reeks of undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional censorship.”
But as criticism of the White House poured in, one party proved noticeably timid: the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the very White House press corps that remains constantly in the administration’s sights.
After an initial statement in which he said the WHCA was “protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House,” the organization’s president, Jeff Mason, embarked on a media tour in which he has seemingly run damage control for the White House press office. In several interviews, Mason has paired tepid criticism of the Trump administration’s actions with praise for the access the administration has granted reporters.
“We’re not happy with how things went today,” Mason told The New York Times the same day. “But it’s important to keep in mind the context of how things have gone up until now.” Stressing that the White House continues to do daily press briefings, he added: “I don’t think that people should rush to judgment to suggest that this is the start of a big crackdown on media access.”
“I think it’s worth noting that since Sean became press secretary, he`s been having regular briefings in the White House press room on television. I would -- I’m reluctant to draw conclusions from what happened today,” he said on MSNBC’s For the Record that night. “We don`t like what happened today, but I want to look at the full record and also say we’ve had pretty good access so far. We hope that that is the trend that continues and not a trend of excluding news organizations.”
“It's important, I think, for viewers to know that despite that rhetoric, we have worked well with the Trump White House. We have had many opportunities for journalists to ask questions of the president and of his press team,” he added on today’s Morning Joe.
He later added: “I want to put it in the larger context of what has happened during this first month. During the first month, Sean Spicer has been briefing regularly from the briefing room and on television and that is what we asked for. And so that is important not to forget. The fact that they did not include a bunch of organizations on Friday is certainly a concern. And, of course, it comes in the context of President Trump saying things like the fact that he believes the media is the enemy of the American people. We absolutely do not believe that.”
Taking questions from journalists at daily press briefings is not some special privilege that Spicer has provided. It is literally the least that any journalist could expect from a press secretary. And the vitriol that Trump wields on a daily basis deserves more than mild disagreement.
Either Mason is truly unconcerned with the attacks the Trump administration has heaped upon the press or he is desperately fighting to preserve the very basics of press access.
As Poynter’s James Warren wrote of Mason’s comments to the Times:
It was disappointing and suggested an underlying craving by some for peace and moderation and press-White House harmony. Intentional or not, it suggested how a bully can intimate his victims and make some of them cower.
Friday's outrage over the gaggle in Spicer's office is a hint of things to come. It was a toe in the water. It's like, as a friend puts it, "The Trump administration is basically boiling the frog, and the frog is better off not being tepid when the water turns lukewarm."
During an era in which the president and his officials have attacked the press in unprecedented fashion -- with Trump himself declaring that he is in “a running war with the media” -- Mason has repeatedly been called upon to respond. And again and again, he has seemed more concerned with preserving his relations with Spicer and the press office than with defending journalism in the age of Trump.
At times, Mason’s interviewers have seemed shocked at Mason’s willingness to downplay the Trump administration’s efforts to delegitimize journalism.
On January 22 -- the morning after Spicer used his first appearance before the press corps as White House press secretary to attack reporters for accurately reporting on the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration -- Mason appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources. While Mason acknowledged that Spicer’s comments had been “stunning,” he praised the White House for keeping the press briefings in their current location and allowing a pool to observe Trump signing an executive order (again, the bare-minimum expectations for what the White House should do).
Watch host Brian Stelter try to get Mason to admit that the White House’s actions against the press have been extreme, and his response.
BRIAN STELTER:There's clearly some anxiety here. What are you telling the White House correspondents about how to approach this?
JEFF MASON: Well, for starters, I think it's important to reinforce the point that we've already made here at the panel, which is that there's always going be a level of tension between the White House and the press corps. That is normal, that is healthy, and that is something that we expect to continue here. That level of tension may have gone up a little bit --
STELTER: May have?
MASON: OK -- did.
STELTER: He said there's a running war with the media. He's using war analogies. He's referencing combat.
MASON: Yes, you're right. You're absolutely right. And we recognize that. And so, it puts some strain on the relationship. But it's in the interest of the White House Correspondents' Association to try to continue to be an honest broker and a good interlocutor between the press corps and the White House. And that's why it's important for me to keep meeting with Sean and our board to keep meeting with his team.
In the weeks that followed, the Trump administration regularly attacked the press, with Trump himself repeatedly calling the media and various outlets “fake news,” “a disgrace,” “the opposition party,” “failing,” “dishonest,” and “the enemy of the American people.”
But during a CNN International interview last week, Mason praised the access reporters have gotten to the White House, while saying only that “the tone set by the President has been a challenge.” That led to this exchange with host Hala Gorani (accessed via Nexis):
HALA GORANI: But, Jeff, it's not every day the President of the United States calls reporters the enemy of the American people. This is the type of thing we expect to hear in the Middle East or in regimes, you know, that have not a great democratic sort of track record. I mean, did this send a chill in the White House press corp when you heard that?
JEFF MASON: Well, it's not the type of tone that I would choose to set, but it's up to the President to decide what kind of tone he wants and to use the language that he wants. You know, I've said repeatedly, we don't influence the language --
GORANI: It's not innocuous language, though. I mean, this is pretty serious, or actually it is --
MASON: I agree.
Mason is acting like he has no cards to play, as if the White House press corps exists by the sufferance of the administration. As long as the press corps engages in such open display of weakness, the White House will continue to see what it can get away with.
Click here to tell the White House press corps to stand up to Trump’s media blacklist.
Over the past five days, the White House chief strategist called the press the “opposition party” and threatened to destroy it, the press secretary barred major news outlets from a press gaggle while opening the door to right-wing outlets, and the administration announced it would be giving a plum Oval Office interview to a Breitbart.com reporter considered among the administration’s most sycophantic media boosters.
The Trump administration’s press strategy is clear: delegitimize mainstream news organizations, especially those that produce critical reporting that jeopardizes its efforts, while lifting up unabashed propaganda outlets.
And his fans love it.
“I want you all to know we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake!” President Donald Trump said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.” His supporters responded to Trump’s six-minute attack on the press with laughter, cheers, and chants of “USA! USA!”
While some conservative media figures are speaking out against the Trump administration’s efforts to manipulate coverage and damage the institution of the press, many more can’t get enough of the way he treats journalists with utter contempt and grinds them into the dirt.
And those opinions are mimicked by their audiences. Seventy-three percent of Republican voters approve of the way he talks about the media, according to a recent poll. Nearly four out of five trust President Trump more than the press to tell the truth.
But those views are wildly out of step with the rest of the American public, which overwhelmingly disapproves of Trump’s conduct and trusts him less than the media.
This divide is the result of extremely successful efforts by Republican activists, politicians, and conservative media outlets to convince conservatives that the mainstream press is liberal and deceitful and that only avowed right-wing sources can be trusted to provide the facts.
Those attacks first boiled over at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which followed weeks of vitriolic criticism against the press by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and his supporters. Goldwater had been widely castigated by columnists and commentators for his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, generating a backlash from activists who believed (quite accurately) that reporters had taken sides against segregation over the previous decade.
As conservatives triumphed over the moderates who had controlled the party for decades and installed the Arizona senator as the party’s nominee, activists raged at and even assaulted the purportedly liberal press. Former President Dwight Eisenhower’s exhortation from the podium to “scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family, including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators” drew wild applause and jeers from the crowd.
This anti-press animus would enter the White House with Richard Nixon’s election in 1968. As Mark Feldstein detailed in June:
Just a few months after [Nixon’s] election, he dispatched Vice President Spiro Agnew to launch a public assault on the “small and unelected elite” of journalists who held a “concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history.” Nixon publicly said that he hadn’t heard Agnew’s speech. In fact, he had privately approved it word-for-word ahead of time, chortling that it “really flicks the scab off.”
In addition, Nixon invited top broadcast executives to the White House and told them that “your reporters just can’t stand the fact that I am in this office.” Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler declared that all of the TV networks were “anti-Nixon” and would “pay for that, sooner or later, one way or another.” Another top adviser, Charles Colson, told the head of CBS News that Nixon’s administration would “bring you to your knees” and “break your network.”
“The press is your enemy,” Nixon told Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a private meeting in February 1971. “Enemies. Understand that? . . . Now, never act that way . . . give them a drink, you know, treat them nice, you just love it, you’re trying to be helpful. But don’t help the bastards. Ever. Because they’re trying to stick the knife right in our groin.”
Given his criminal activity, Nixon was right to fear the press. The dogged reporting of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward eventually forced his resignation -- giving conservatives a new data point in their grievance against the media.
As conservative politicians lashed out, conservative activists tried to build their own outlets. A central premise of such outlets was that they were needed because, as Agnew claimed, the press was irreparably liberal.
Two decades before Roger Ailes founded Fox News and began building it into a conservative media juggernaut, the former Nixon aide served as news director of the fledgling Television News Inc., a conservative news outlet that claimed nonpartisanship but was funded and led by right-wingers.
But TVN was unable to find an audience, bled millions of dollars, and lasted only a couple years. And as Republican presidents racked up victories in the years to come, the impetus behind purely right-wing outlets -- outside of a handful of conservative magazines and journals that largely served elite audiences -- dissipated.
But in 1992, Bill Clinton unseated President George H.W. Bush, whose campaign spent its final months urging supporters to “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush.” Clinton’s victory unleashed a new, grass-roots-focused wave of right-wing talk radio hosts, led by Rush Limbaugh.
These radio hosts provided conservative news, opinion, and talking points to a broad audience, while simultaneously targeting individual Democratic lawmakers for defeat. They were an alternative news source that sought to delegitimize both the new administration and the press that covered it. The result was the “Limbaugh Congress” of 1994, which made the radio host an unofficial member of the House Republican caucus.
Two years later, Fox News was founded. Its “fair and balanced” mantra implicitly suggested that the network’s competitors were not. And the hosts and anchors have spent the last two decades making that subtext text, attacking other journalists and media outlets on a regular basis and constantly suggesting, as Agnew insisted decades before, that the press consists of untrustworthy liberals.
In Fox’s wake, new outlets like Breitbart have risen, all seeking to mimic Fox’s success in attracting conservative audiences by condemning the rest of the press. The result has been plummeting trust in the press among Republicans.
Once that effort was complete, the stage was set for Trump’s ascendance.
“The conservative alternative media, and I'm part of that, grew up and I was very proud of that and I assumed that what we were doing was informing people, making people smart, giving people factual information, telling them the other side of the story,” conservative radio host Charlie Sykes said last year. “And unfortunately what's happened is it has morphed into this alternative reality whereas Joan says, we live in these different silos. And having discredited the mainstream media, now what do we have? We have the InfoWars, we have the Breitbarts, we have the Drudges, in which information is passed, things that that bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever.”
Trump and his advisers are trying to crystalize those changes. They want to convince as many of their supporters as possible that only Trump can be trusted. And after years of conditioning from this decades-long campaign, they have frighteningly little work to do.
Click here to tell the White House press corps to stand up to Trump’s media blacklist.
On the February 26 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, journalists warned about the parallels between attacks on the free press from President Donald Trump and his administration and similar strategies used by President Richard Nixon and authoritarian regimes.
Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor and conservative columnist Bret Stephens stated that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s decision to exclude certain outlets from a February 24 press gaggle is part of a strategy by the administration to “bully the press” and “manipulate coverage,” saying he “would call it Nixonian, except I think that would be unfair to the memory of President Nixon.” Stephens added, “if the administration is going try to boycott certain news outlets, then perhaps we should, as news organizations, return the favor to this administration”:
BRIAN STELTER (HOST): When you invite a channel called One America News Network, which is so small it doesn't have Nielsen ratings, but then you exclude CNN, it's clearly a premeditated decision. So let me ask you Bret about this, does this feel like part of a strategy by the White House?
BRET STEPHENS: Yeah, it seems, I would call it "Nixonian," except I think that would be unfair to the memory of President Nixon. This is an attempt to bully the press by using access as a weapon to manipulate coverage. And, I think The Wall Street Journal put out a statement that I thought was very clear: that if we had known what was happening we wouldn't have participated in that meeting with Mr. Spicer. And I think that's the right attitude for the rest of the press to take, that if the administration is going try to boycott certain news outlets, then perhaps we should, as news organizations, return the favor to this administration.
In a later segment, columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News compared Trump’s relations with the media to that of “right-wing authoritarians in Europe in the 1930s” and “Hugo Chavez in Venezuela on the left in the 21st century,” stating, “the first thing authoritarian governments do is go after the media”:
STELTER: Will, you wrote for the Philly Daily News that this language, “enemy of the people,” that it has historical parallels. Tell us about that.
WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. If you look back, Brian, the last 100 years going all the way back to the rise of right-wing authoritarians in Europe in the 1930s, but follow a straight line all the way to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela on the left in the 21st century, and you’ll see that the first thing that authoritarian governments do is go after the media. And there's been concerns about Donald Trump, going back to the campaign, that he was going to try and run the government in an authoritarian fashion. And I think when he calls the press the "enemy of the American people," I think he’s playing exactly into the worst of what people feared from a Trump administration. Not to get too Orwellian here, but I think what's going on big picture is the Trump administration and his advisers like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump himself are in a war to control what is the truth. When they tell repeated lies like about the murder rate in America or even about little stuff like the number of people at his inauguration, they’re trying to create a scenario where they, and not the media, are the ones defining the truth. And so tearing down the media is also part of the strategy. And some of it doesn’t matter now, but in the months ahead there’s going to be big crises. We’re going to see his signature programs, like mass deportation implemented over the coming months. And the truth is going to become more and more important. And you know, just like Orwell warned in "1984", he who controls the truth is in control and I think that’s the big strategy here.
Click here to tell the White House Press Corps to stand up Trump’s media blacklist.
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Hours after President Donald Trump denounced critical journalists as “the enemy of the people” before a cheering crowd of supporters, major news outlets were blacklisted from a White House press gaggle while the administration’s sycophants were ushered in.
“CNN was not permitted to attend, along with the New York Times, Politico, Buzzfeed and much of the foreign press that regularly attends White House briefings,” CNN reported. Instead, White House press secretary Sean Spicer found room for the pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com, The Washington Times, and One America News Network.
The restrictions mark the return of the Trump campaign’s strategy of revoking reporters’ press credentials and denying them access to events following unfavorable coverage of the now-president.
They also cap off a week of vitriolic attacks on the press from Trump’s administration. Last Friday, Trump tweeted that “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) ... is the enemy of the American People!” Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus have since defended Trump’s comments, blaming the media for failing to be fair to the president.
Yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), White House chief strategist and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon referred (again) to the press as “the opposition party,” telling the audience that the administration’s feud with the “corporatist, globalist” media will only get worse because they are “adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda.”
And at CPAC this morning, Trump devoted six minutes of his speech to an anti-media screed, characterizing outlets doing critical reporting as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” He described some reporters as “terrible, dishonest people” who “do a tremendous disservice to our country and to our people.”
The good news is that The Associated Press and Time magazine reportedly stood up for their profession, showed solidarity with their colleagues, and boycotted the gaggle. The bad news is that NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News did not, leaving open the question of whether the administration will face consequences if officials continue to use such tactics to divide and conquer the press.
The press had no qualms about acting collectively to defend Fox News when the Obama administration excluded the network from a round of interviews in 2009. The other television news networks staged a “revolt” and boycotted their scheduled interviews.
Eight years later, Fox appeared to have no qualms about walking into a White House press gaggle when other outlets were banned. Reporters from mainstream publications joined the network in ignoring their blacklisted colleagues and attending the gaggle.
This is not going to stop until reporters make it stop. Unless they all stand together, things will continue to get much worse.
UPDATE: In a statement to Politico's Hadas Gold, The Wall Street Journal says it would not have participated in the gaggle if it knew others were banned and will not do so in the future.
WSJ says they would not have participated in gaggle had they known of the blocking of others and said they won't in future pic.twitter.com/Osef9I0XPx
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) February 24, 2017
UPDATE 2: Politico reported that the BBC and Los Angeles Times were also blocked, Hearst Newspapers joined the gaggle as part of the press pool, and that McClatchy Newspapers also attended. The latter issued a similar statement to the Journal:
McClatchy says they won’t participate in such gaggles again if outlets are barred pic.twitter.com/4yrnIr3aQO
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) February 24, 2017
Media Matters president Angelo Carusone issued the following statement on the events:
"Media Matters sounded the alarm about the clear and present danger Donald Trump presented to a free press.We told White House correspondents that Trump’s blacklist was only going to to get worse over time if they didn’t act. And it wasn’t just us. More than 300,000 people signed a petition urging White House correspondents to stand up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate if Trump banned one -- or more -- of their colleagues.
"Today’s actions underscore the importance of White House correspondents standing up to Trump’s blacklist. It's no coincidence that the outlets that have been at the forefront in breaking stories about Trump’s conflicts of interest and his associates’ ties to Russia were banned from today’s gaggle. Trump is trying to delegitimize and punish news outlets for practicing rigorous journalism while simultaneously giving their spots to pro-Trump propagandists.
Outlets like Time and The Associated Press did the right thing in standing up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate in the gaggle in solidarity with their banned colleagues.
“It’s unfortunate and damaging for the profession of journalism that ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg chose to support Trump’s blacklist by attending the briefing. It may sound harsh to characterize their participation in the event as support, but that’s what it is. By participating, these outlets not only make it easier for Trump to continue blacklisting journalists, but they also lend legitimacy to a process that is fundamentally inconsistent with a free press."
Major news outlets have failed to label the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council -- groups praising President Donald Trump’s repeal of nondiscrimination protections for transgender students -- as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. This failure is part of a larger trend of major news outlets failing to properly identify anti-LGBTQ hate groups or acknowledge their extremism.
The term “alt-right” is toxic. It should be. The loose confederation of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and misogynists have spent the last year spreading fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.
The problem for conservatives is that the movement is directly connected to the major right-wing news outlet Breitbart.com; its former executive chairman, Stephen Bannon; and Bannon’s new boss, President Donald Trump.
“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right,’” Hillary Clinton said last year after Bannon was hired by the Trump campaign, highlighting the website’s promotion of “race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman [ideas].” “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” she added.
That “fringe element” is now in the White House. But direct association with racists and misogynists isn’t great for the conservative movement’s brand -- or Breitbart’s bottom line. So the organizers of this week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are working hard to redefine the term “alt-right” in order to retroactively separate that movement from the White House and the website.
In cable news interviews and speeches from the conference lectern, CPAC’s organizers have condemned the “alt-right” -- even having security very publicly remove from the premises Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who originally coined the term.
But at the same time, they have vouched for Bannon, are hosting seven Breitbart staffers and accepting a sizable donation from the website, and they even claimed that the “alt-right” is really made up of liberals. Bannon’s “alt-right” ties went unmentioned this afternoon when he sat alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for a fawning “conversation” with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.
In a speech this morning titled “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All,” the ACU’s Dan Schneider claimed that the term “alt-right,” which he claimed had previously “been used for a long time, in a very good and normal way,” had been “hijacked” by a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist group” that “stole the term specifically to confuse us.”
The ACU is having trouble getting its story straight -- Schlapp claimed during an MSNBC interview this morning that he had never heard of the term before last year -- according to him, it is a “new term.”
But Schlapp did want everyone to know that Bannon is definitely not associated with the “alt-right.” “Today, [Bannon] would repudiate what these people stand for,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he’s a tolerant man.”
“I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man; he is not a racist,” Schlapp added on CNN. “Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative movement are changing. But I do not believe that he is associated with the ‘alt-right’ at all.”
This is all bullshit. Bannon himself described Breitbart last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” and he led the website in an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, ethno-nationalist direction that appealed to that movement. He hired Milo Yiannopoulos and had no apparent problem with the despicable commentary and activism he wrought -- or the way he championed the “alt-right.”
Notably, when Breitbart produced a list of “20 lies” in Clinton’s speech on the “alt-right,” it made no effort to distance itself from the movement or suggest that she erred in linking it to the website and its former leader.
Bannon was very happy to be associated with the movement when it was boosting Breitbart’s traffic, influence, and revenue. But now things have changed, as companies and ad vendors have pulled their advertising from the site in huge numbers due to its association with racism and misogyny.
And so CPAC is helping the website out, repeatedly condemning the “alt-right” while very deliberately separating it from Bannon and Breitbart.
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“My biggest fear is that later this week I will be among the legions at CPAC rearranging the furniture,” wrote Andrew Breitbart just days before the first Conservative Political Action Conference of President Barack Obama’s administration. “Instead, the conservative movement needs to think in revolutionary terms.”
Eight years later, Breitbart has passed away, but the revolution he started is at its peak: the media company he founded is everywhere at CPAC, and his successor is in the White House working for Breitbart.com’s chosen candidate.
Former editor Milo Yiannopoulos is no longer on the program, but seven Breitbart editors and reporters will participate in panels and or give speeches at the conference this week. (In an almost certainly related note, Breitbart is a “Partnering Sponsor” of the event, the highest level.)
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who took over the website following its founder’s death, will appear alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp today for a “conversation” intended to show that the Republican Party establishment and the fringe outsiders who pushed President Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential primaries are united.
And of course, after he pulled out of speaking at last year’s conference following a backlash from conservative critics, Trump himself will loom over the conference, with an address scheduled for Friday morning.
Andrew Breitbart himself dominated CPAC in the early years of the decade. He strode through the conference like a rock star, granting media interviews, greeting cheering supporters, confronting liberal provocateurs, and scouting for new talent. His annual speech-screeds drew large audiences far more interested in hearing his rants against journalists and other elites than they were a sober speech from a Republican politician or think-tanker.
“I'm old, so I remember CPAC before Andrew Breitbart: Quiet,” wrote David Weigel in 2012. “Since 2010, the first CPAC after Breibart's Big Government released James O'Keefe's ACORN video investigations, Breitbart's appearances at the conference have begun with media interviews, continued with assorted people confronting him on video, and ended with his own speeches, full of nostalgia for the stuff that just happened.”
Weeks after his 2012 CPAC appearance, at which he famously freaked out at liberal protestors, Breitbart suddenly passed away. Bannon took the reins, and began turning the website Andrew Breitbart founded into “the platform for the alt-right.”
The following year, CPAC celebrated the first anniversary of Breitbart’s passing. Hundreds of CPAC attendees showed up for events intended to remember the right-wing media mogul. A standing-room-only showing of his final documentary was followed by a panel featuring his former colleagues and friends, followed by a cocktail party. In 2014, the paeans continued as CPAC rolled out the Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award (radio host Mark Levin was the first recipient; Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was the second).
But even as CPAC showered love on Andrew Breitbart’s memory, under Bannon’s leadership, the website he founded was suggesting that the conference was too politically correct and overly dominated by the establishment. In 2013 and 2014, Breitbart.com hosted “The Uninvited” sessions during CPAC featuring anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and fringe figures that were not welcome at the conference itself.
Notably, The Uninvited sessions featured Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”
Andrew Breitbart once hired Gaffney to help run his national security website; he still contributes to Breitbart.com. And Bannon loves Gaffney, calling him “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” But Gaffney was persona non grata at CPAC for years because he is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who accused two members of CPAC’s board of being secret supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (he has returned in recent years and is on the 2017 agenda).
The situation was bad enough that after he became chairman of the American Conservative Union, which oversees CPAC, Matt Schlapp invited Breitbart editor Matt Boyle to the ACU’s headquarters for a lengthy interview in February 2015. Schlapp and his staff, in fairly obsequious fashion, pitched Boyle on how that year’s CPAC would be more responsive to Breitbart.com’s concerns.
CPAC had “drifted away from the core values of conservatism” but now, “concerted efforts by the ACU to listen to grassroots concerns about the direction of the landmark conference, the organization is now emerging as stronger, more conservative and more united,” Boyle concluded following the presentation.
In the two years since, the Republican establishment has been routed by the Breitbart-led forces who pushed Trump to the front of the Republican presidential primary field and supported him at every step of the way. Bannon moved seamlessly from head of Breitbart, to head of Trump’s campaign, to Trump’s top White House aide.
In addition to Trump and Bannon, attendees at this year’s CPAC will have the opportunity to see Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow interview a Republican congressman on tax reform. They can watch Breitbart UK chief Raheem Kassam introduce Nigel Farage, his former boss at the right-wing UK Independence Party. Breitbart’s Frances Martel and John Carney will be moderating panels on “China’s Expansion” and “Repealing Obama’s Banking Monstrosity,” while Joel Pollak and Sonnie Johnson are on panels discussing trade policy and how the left hates cops. James Delingpole will be leading “CPAC Conversations” on energy.
Breitbart.com spent years shilling for Trump’s candidacy. Now Trump will swagger through the conference that Andrew Breitbart once owned, while the news site he created is a dominant force at CPAC. An ascendent Breitbart.com and President Trump are truly Andrew Breitbart’s greatest legacy.