Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announced today that it has named Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as its new chief executive. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that the move signals “nothing is off limits now,” and “we're going to see the most fringy ideas, the most right-wing ideas bubble up to the surface.“ Here’s what you need to know about Bannon and the bigoted news empire he has run since 2012.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported in April that Breitbart has recently “undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-Immigrant ideas -- all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’” The SPLC noted that “Over the past year the media outlet has been openly promoting the core issues of the Alt-Right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership -- much to the delight of many in the white nationalist world who could never dream of reaching such a vast number of people” and pointed out that the site has been “publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants” since 2015.
The SPLC also detailed how Breitbart has promoted the “popular racist conspiracy theory” that “African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates.”
Several Employees Left Breitbart After The Site Failed To Defend A Staffer That Was Allegedly Manhandled By Corey Lewandowski
In March (now former) Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields alleged that she had been manhandled by Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager at the time. After Bannon appeared to defend Trump over Fields, several staffers quit the site. Former editor Ben Shapiro said Bannon had “betrayed” the site’s original mission, stating: “In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew's mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump; he has shaped the company into Trump's personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter, Breitbart News' Michelle Fields, in order to protect Trump's bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who allegedly assaulted Michelle.”
Last August, as the Republican presidential primary kicked into gear, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reported that several anonymous Breitbart staffers were upset that “the company’s top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website” and alleged that the Trump campaign had been paying the site for favorable coverage. (Bannon denied the allegations.) From Coppins’ article:
According to four sources with knowledge of the situation, editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least last year that the company’s top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website — using it to hype his political prospects and attack his enemies. One current editor called the water-carrying “despicable” and “embarrassing,” and said he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump. A second Breitbart staffer said he had heard a similar description of the site’s relationship with the billionaire but didn’t know the details; and a third source at the company said he knew of several instances when managers had overruled editors at Trump’s behest. Additionally, a conservative communications operative who works closely with Breitbart described conversations in which “multiple writers and editors” said Trump was paying for the ability to shape coverage, and added that one staffer claimed to have seen documentation of the “pay for play.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to requests for comment. But my sources at Breitbart said the billionaire has regularly taken advantage of his relationship with the site by placing calls to Bannon and asking for stories to be written about himself. They said his typical requests for coverage in the past tended to center on his serial flirtations with running for office, but they added that his constant presence on the homepage — and his general knack for pandering to the conservative fever swamps — had won him a true following among their readership.
According to Vanity Fair, the “pro-Trump coverage [at Breitbart] is rigidly enforced from the top down,” with Bannon personally approving anything written about the Republican nominee.
Bannon defended disgraced former Fox News chief Roger Ailes against former anchor Gretchen Carlson’s accusations that he sexually harassed her. Bannon wrote a July 8 piece claiming that “Carlson is not the real shark because her ‘bombshell’ is, in fact, a total dud” and “Carlson seems to have no true case.” In a later post, Bannon claimed that the allegations against Ailes were part of a nefarious plot by a wide-ranging cast: “I think it’s virtually the whole of the Democratic establishment, including the Obamas, the Clintons, and their billionaire financiers, such as George Soros. These are the people who are plotting to take down Ailes. And if Ailes goes, I’m afraid, so could America.”
Since Carlson filed the suit, at least 25 additional women, including Fox host Megyn Kelly and former host Andrea Tantaros, have made similar claims against Ailes, triggering his separation from the company. Trump has similarly dismissed charges against Ailes, who is reportedly now advising him.
The book Clinton Cash was written by Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. The documentary film based on the book was written and produced by Bannon. Bannon is also the executive chairman and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI); Schweizer is the president of GAI. Schweizer thanked Bannon in Clinton Cash, writing: “The Government Accountability Institute has benefited from terrific leadership in our little more than three years of existence. This includes our chairman and CEO Stephen K. Bannon.” A Media Matters review found more than 20 errors, fabrication, and distortions in the book.
Joshua Green reported in an October 2015 profile of Bannon for Bloomberg:
Bannon does, indeed, have a touch of Clinton Madness. When we met in January, Bill Cosby’s serial predations had just exploded into the news after laying dormant for many years. Bannon was certain this signaled trouble for Bill Clinton, whose own sexual history some conservatives long to revive as a way of hampering his wife’s campaign. His conviction stems from the group of young, female Breitbart News reporters whom he’s dubbed the Valkyries. When I expressed skepticism about the value of reintroducing old scandals, Bannon countered that the Valkyries—a sort of in-house focus group of millennial voter sentiment—were unfamiliar with Clinton contretemps that most older people consider settled. "There’s a whole generation of people who love the news but were 7 or 8 years old when this happened and have no earthly idea about the Clinton sex stuff,” he says.
In 2011, Bannon released The Undefeated, a documentary that was viewed as trying to pave the way for a presidential run by former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. It was savaged by critics as “a straight hagiography, without nuance or ambiguity,” “fawning,” and “worshipful.”
Green reportedly spoke with Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of Breitbart News, after a screening of The Undefeated, during which Breitbart compared Bannon to Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl:
Bannon continued making documentaries—big, crashing, opinionated films with Wagner scores and arresting imagery: Battle for America (2010), celebrating the Tea Party; Generation Zero (2010), examining the roots of the financial meltdown; The Undefeated (2011), championing Palin. In the Bannon repertoire, no metaphor is too direct. His films are peppered with footage of lions attacking helpless gazelles, seedlings bursting from the ground into glorious bloom. Palin, for one, ate it up and traveled to Iowa, trailed by hundreds of reporters, to appear with him at a 2011 screening in Pella that the press thought might signal her entrance into the 2012 presidential race. (No such luck.) Breitbart came along as promoter and ringmaster. When I spoke with him afterward, he described Bannon, with sincere admiration, as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement.
Glenn Beck, who has been a vocal Trump opponent, accused Bannon and Breitbart.com of “taking orders” from Trump and compared him to Nazi Joseph Goebbels.
Breitbart.com Regularly Uses Anti-LGBT Slurs, Pedals Anti-Gay Conspiracy Theories, And Features Articles By Anti-LGBT Hate Group Leaders
Breitbart.com regularly publishes articles with anti-LGBT slurs “trannies” and “faggot” in headlines. Breitbart contributor Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) -- an organization designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- is largely the face of Breitbart’s anti-LGBT coverage. In the past, Ruse used his perch at Breitbart to peddle conspiracy theories about the hate-crime murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard. He described Shepard as a "winsome young homosexual," “achingly handsome,” and “delicately chiseled,” and blasted “Matthew Shepard Inc.” for promoting the “lie” that homophobia contributed to his murder. More recently, Ruse headlined a post about HIV rates in the transgender community with the anti-transgender slur “trannies,” accompanied by an image of 15-year-old transgender transgender activist Jazz Jennings.
Former Breitbart Editor Ben Shapiro: Bannon Is A “Sinister Figure”; Site Embraced “White Supremacist Alt-Right” Under Him
Former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, who left the site amid the turmoil over the Michelle Fields incident with Lewandowski, published a piece on the Trump campaign “predictably and hilariously” hiring Bannon, whom he labeled a “legitimately sinister figure.” Among Shapiro’s objections was that the site has “embraced the white supremacist alt-right” alongside Bannon’s embrace of Trump: “Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”
Shapiro also wrote that some former Breitbart staffers are “afraid of Steve Bannon”:
Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon. He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination. Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not. He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition, and he will use anyone bigger than he is – for example, Donald Trump – to get where he wants to go. Bannon knows that in the game of thrones, you win or die. And he certainly doesn’t intend to die. He’ll kill everyone else before he goes.
Other former Breitbart staffers also spoke out about the hiring -- former Breitbart spokesperson Kurt Bardella, who also left after the Fields incident, wrote on Twitter, “From a temperament standpoint #Bannon makes #coreylewandowski look like a golden doodle.”
This post has been updated with additional information.