Donald Trump’s presidential campaign hired Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as its new chief executive on August 17, a move that the Los Angeles Times described as “an inevitable culmination of a candidate’s war with the mainstream media.”
In reaction to the hire, CNN’s Brian Stelter stated 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.” Under Bannon’s tenure, Breitbart News has been known for its sycophantic devotion to Trump, its whitewashing of racist and anti-semitic elements of the Republican Party, its embrace of fringe conspiracy theories, and its complete lack of care for facts or standards of journalistic integrity.
The Los Angeles Times reports that this move “has been years in the making,” and that Trump joined with right-wing media outlets “in crafting … an alternate reality where Trump is favored to win.” From the August 20 article:
It seemed bizarre. But Donald Trump’s choice this week of a renegade, far-right news executive to lead his campaign was an inevitable culmination of a candidate’s war with the mainstream media and his embrace of his party’s most incendiary voices.
Trump’s obsession with the media has been one of the few constants in his campaign. He rails against “scum” reporters, withholding credentials from major news organizations and lashing out on Twitter this week against the “failing New York Times,” while granting lengthy interviews to those same outlets and basking in their attention. He exploits the divide in conservative media to bash enemies and create safe zones on select television and radio shows. He questions the core tenets of the 1st Amendment and flouts the judgment of fact-checkers with abandon.
The union of conservative media’s edgiest elements with the party’s standard-bearer has been years in the making, fomented by the establishment media’s loss of dominance and credibility. Trump, who has spent years learning how to navigate and dominate the news, has stepped into that credibility void to push once-fringe ideas into mainstream conversation like no other candidate.
While trust in the media has fallen precipitously in the country, the drop among conservatives is especially large over the past two decades. Only about one in four Republicans surveyed by Gallup in 2014 said they trust the mass media, roughly half the level of trust expressed by Democrats. Earlier polling by Pew showed similar results, with large and widening gaps in the trust levels held by Democrats and Republicans in specific news organizations such as CNN, NBC and the New York Times. A Morning Consult poll released Friday found a plurality of Americans of all political stripes — 38% — believe the media is biased in trying to help elect Hillary Clinton president, a far greater percentage than the 12% who said the media is biased in favor of Trump.
Republicans have long fed off that trust gap, but Trump has made it a central talking point.
Trump has used that distrust to join with sites like Breitbart in crafting what some observers see as an alternate reality where Trump is favored to win the election despite polls showing otherwise, where voter fraud is rampant in spite of evidence that it’s not and where stories that reveal darker aspects of Trump’s past are either examples of media bias or do not exist at all.
In tapping Stephen Bannon, the editor of Breitbart News, as his campaign’s chief executive officer, Trump has elevated a kindred spirit who, like Trump, relishes trafficking in taboo subjects and conspiracies once relegated to the far corners of conservative dialogue.