Major newspapers are ignoring or burying Steve Bannon’s ties to white nationalism and anti-Semitism when reporting on his appointment as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor. By burying or dismissing the information, media are failing to provide their audiences with essential background on one of Trump’s most influential advisers.
On November 13, Trump released a statement announcing that Bannon, who previously ran the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News, would serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor. The same statement noted that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus would become Trump’s chief of staff. While White House chief of staff is typically the most senior position in the White House, the press release named Bannon first and described the two as “equal partners” in the Trump administration.
Major newspapers either downplayed or entirely ignored Bannon’s connections to white nationalism and his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Politico, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today made no mention of Bannon’s racist history in articles on his new position. Other outlets, including The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, noted his ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right,” but not for several paragraphs. Rather than describe his connections to anti-Semitism and explain that he ran a white nationalist website, the articles refer to him as a “right-wing media provocateur,” a “rabble-rousing conservative media figure,” and a “flame-throwing media mogul.” All of these descriptors whitewash Bannon’s extremism.
In addition, none of the headlines for the aforementioned pieces included any indication of Bannon’s extremist views or ties. As The Washington Post noted, studies found that “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” By omitting Bannon’s white nationalist and anti-Semitic ties from headlines, newspapers are blinding the majority of Americans to the troubling background of one of Trump's most influential advisers.
Bannon, who served as the CEO of Trump’s campaign, previously ran the unabashedly white nationalist and anti-Semitic website Breitbart News. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Bannon bragged that Breitbart News had become home to the “alt-right” -- which is merely a racist code word for white nationalists. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News has featured racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT rhetoric. The site recently made a “noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas -- all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right,’” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Before he died, Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart himself reportedly called Bannon “the Leni Riefenstahl of the tea party movement,” referring to the Nazi filmmaker.
Bannon has his own history of alleged anti-Semitism. As CNN’s Jake Tapper noted on Twitter, Bannon’s ex-wife swore in court that “he said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to school with Jews. Esquire politics contributor Charles Pierce wrote that hiring Bannon “is exactly the same as hiring David Duke,” a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
By ignoring or downplaying Bannon’s extremist history, major newspapers are not giving their readers the essential background information they deserve on a man who is soon to be one of the most influential people in politics.