NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak of Breitbart News about Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of the outlet -- which he bragged was the platform for the white nationalist “alt-right” -- who was also recently appointed as White House chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump. The NPR interview failed to tell the full story of Bannon's role in promoting racist and anti-LGBTQ ideologies, adding to the worrisome trend of mainstream media outlets normalizing Bannon and Breitbart's extremism.
The announcement of Bannon’s appointment as a senior Trump White House advisor has been met with considerable concern and criticism due to his past history of championing white nationalism and anti-Semitism. NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep hosted Joel Pollak to defend Bannon from this criticism. Inskeep asked about Bannon’s prejudice by pointing to Breitbart’s legacy of publishing inflammatory content under his tenure. The site posted headlines such as “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage” after a white nationalist who fetishized such confederate imagery massacred nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C. Inskeep also allowed Pollak to defend Bannon’s use of the slur “dykes” by claiming that people in the LGBTQ community use that word.
But the interview failed to contextualize the true extent of Breitbart’s extremism under Bannon’s leadership, evidenced by the site's consistent role in peddling hate speech, promoting white nationalism, and furthering anti-LGBTQ extremism. Inskeep allowed Pollak to brush off Breitbart’s bigotry as “individual articles” and claim that Bannon’s hiring of openly gay, misogynistic, anti-Muslim, alt-right mouthpiece Milo Yiannopolous was evidence that Bannon couldn’t possibly be anti-gay, with no mention that Yiannopolous has regularly used Breitbart as a platform to attack transgender people.
Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News heavily promoted white nationalist “alt-right” views. Since 2015, the site has been “publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC report also noted that Breitbart has promulgated the “popular racist conspiracy theory” that “African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates.” In addition to racist and nationalist themes, Breitbart regularly uses anti-LGBTQ slurs in headlines, features articles by anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders, and has published multiple articles pushing conspiracy theories about the hate-crime murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard.
As conservative pundits rush to sanitize Bannon’s ties to white nationalism, it’s imperative that other media outlets not become complicit in the whitewashing of Bannon and Breitbart’s extremism, which is far from just a few instances of inflammatory rhetoric. Instead, journalists need to tell the full story of Bannon’s role in promoting Breitbart as a platform for hate-filled rhetoric and alt-right ideologies.
From the November 16 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition:
STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): Now, people have heard a lot the last couple of days about Bannon's statements or statements on Breitbart. But before we get into that, I want you to round out the picture of this guy you know, and what are people missing?
JOEL POLLAK: Steve Bannon is a fantastic manager. He helped Breitbart grow fantastically to the point where we have 250 million page views per month. He is a leader with vision. He's very disciplined. He insists on excellence from those around him. He's also very open to debate and challenge as long as you bring facts and data to the table. And he has no prejudices, he treats people equally, and, in fact, during my time working closely with him at Breitbart for five years, he sought out people from diverse backgrounds and gave them a voice at Breitbart, so I think he's a fantastic choice.
INSKEEP: I want to mention, you know, actually putting controversial opinions out there is a perfectly fine idea. We've had David Duke on this program, but we fact-check, we try to question, we put in context. This particular article goes on to make a string of statements — there's a reference about President Obama and Kenya. There's also a statement, “The Confederacy was not a callous conspiracy to enforce slavery, but a patriotic and idealistic cause.” A little bit of research would show that Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, declared the cause was slavery. I mean, why put these things out there
POLLAK: I think that we can talk about individual articles out of the tens of thousands at Breitbart, but, you know, NPR is taxpayer-funded and has an entire section of its programming, a regular feature called “Code Switch,” which, from my perspective, is a racist program. I'm looking here at the latest article, which aired on NPR, calling the election results “Nostalgia For A Whiter America.” So NPR has racial and racist programming that I am required to, I'm required to pay for as a taxpayer.
INSKEEP: And let me ask another thing, and this is another Bannon quote, and we can pull out quotes, but it's a quote that he made in a 2011 radio interview that gets to maybe what he wants to do inside the country. He criticized feminists, he said, “women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children.” And I'm just reading the quote here, “They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools.” What's he driving at there?
POLLAK: I don't know. But there is a political correctness in this country that would say that if you said that once on a radio show that you should be drummed out of public life. I would defy you to find a person in the LGBTQ community who has not used that term, either in an endearing sense or in a flippant, jovial, colloquial sense. I don't think you can judge Steve Bannon's views. What you can judge him is how he's conducted himself at Breitbart, and he brought a gay, conservative journalist like Milo Yiannopoulos on board, and Milo has brought gay conservatives into the media, into the debate. At the Republican National Convention, Breitbart co-hosted a party for gay conservatives. So, that's not something you do if you're anti-gay, and Andrew Breitbart was the same.
UPDATE: In a post responding to critics of the segment, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen acknowledged that the “framing of the Morning Edition interview was problematic, starting as it did with ‘Let's hear a defense of Steve Bannon.’” Moving forward, Jensen recommended that interviews of white nationalists like Bannon “should not be done live.” Even in pre-recorded future interviews, Jensen stressed the need for NPR to “pay absolute attention that the questions asked are rigorous, the headlines and framing well thought through and the language very clear and precise from the beginning.”