Stephen Bannon

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  • Report: Congressional Trump/Russia Probe Looking Into Breitbart And Cambridge Analytica

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Time magazine reported that congressional investigators looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election are investigating both Breitbart and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

    Breitbart, which was formerly headed by current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for Russian bots allegedly pushing pro-Trump stories from the website. The website has also repeatedly tried to delegitimize stories of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica is primarily owned by major Trump donor Robert Mercer. Breitbart and Mercer have a symbiotic relationship; he finances the website, and Breitbart regularly promotes the Mercer family’s interests. Bannon also reportedly had a financial stake in Cambridge Analytica, and Federal Election Commission reports have indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to the firm were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The Trump campaign also hired the firm and reportedly paid it millions of dollars at the urging of Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Time, in a May 18 report titled “Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America,” reported that “congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role” in the 2016 election, “but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign.” The investigators, according to Time, are focusing on “two Trump-linked organizations,” Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. It added that investigators were specifically “looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” From the report:

    Russia plays in every social media space. The intelligence officials have found that Moscow's agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. "They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by--they do that just as much as anybody else does," says the senior intelligence official. (A Facebook official says the company has no evidence of that occurring.) The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, has said he is looking into why, for example, four of the top five Google search results the day the U.S. released a report on the 2016 operation were links to Russia's TV propaganda arm, RT. (Google says it saw no meddling in this case.) Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.

    As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon.

    The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. "Nobody can prove it yet," the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.

    There are plenty of people who are skeptical of such a conspiracy, if one existed. Cambridge Analytica touts its ability to use algorithms to microtarget voters, but veteran political operatives have found them ineffective political influencers. Ted Cruz first used their methods during the primary, and his staff ended up concluding they had wasted their money. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White House did not answer questions about the congressional probes. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica says the company has no ties to Russia or individuals acting as fronts for Moscow and that it is unaware of the probe.

  • HuffPost: Data Analytics Firm Tied To Trump And Bannon Threatening To Sue Guardian After Paper Investigated Links To Brexit

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On May 17, HuffPost reported that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica -- principally owned by Republican Party megadonor Robert Mercer -- has threatened to sue U.K. newspaper The Guardian for publishing “a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.” Mercer is also an ally of President Donald Trump and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

    The Washington Post reported in October 2016 that Cambridge Analytica was paid “millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” for its data analytics program. The program used “a psychological model for identifying voters that can ‘determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America’” by using “up to 5,000 pieces of data” per adult. According to at least three Republican strategists, the Trump campaign brought the firm onboard at the urging of Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Bannon was vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board at the time, and The New York Times reported in March that he “had a stake in the company that he valued at $1 million to $5 million, which he plans to sell.” Federal Election Commission reports also indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to Cambridge Analytica were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The firm has no publicly listed address in California.

    According to HuffPost’s May 17 report, Cambridge Analytica’s attorneys sent The Guardian a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation” after writer Carole Cadwalladr reported that the firm and its British affiliate “tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns … hadn’t disclosed a partnership” and potentially violated British election law. According to The Guardian’s Sunday edition, The Observer, Cambridge Analytica said that the reporting “contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients,” also alleging that the newspaper was “conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage.” From the report:

    Cambridge Analytica, a U.S. data analytics firm backed by Robert Mercer, and its British affiliate, SCL Elections Limited, have threatened to sue The Guardian following a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

    On Wednesday, The Guardian informed staff that the firms had threatened legal action and it added a disclaimer to more than a half-dozen articles and editorials, including “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” and “Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit” from February and this month’s “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked.” 

    “These articles are the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited,” the disclaimer reads.

    [...]

    The aforementioned articles were written by Carole Cadwalladr, who reported Sunday that two data firms tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns, Cambridge Analytica and Canada’s AggregateIQ, hadn’t disclosed a partnership, a possible violation of British election law. The firms denied such a relationship.

    That most recent line of inquiry appeared to especially rankle Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, as Cadwalladr tweeted that the firms’ lawyers approached the paper on Saturday.

    Cadwalladr said the firms’ attorneys, Squire, Patton & Boggs, sent the paper a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation.”

    And the firms’ displeasure with Cadwalladr’s reporting was made clear in the article, which was published in The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday newspaper.

    Lawyers for Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections wrote to the Observer on Saturday to complain about our previous stories, which they said contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients. They said we were conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage. They said their clients have done no wrong, broken no laws and breached no one’s rights and had not been part of a ‘shadowy’ or unlawful campaign to subvert British democracy or dupe the British public.

  • Report: Trump Associates Helped Former Fox Chief Monitor And Undermine Adversaries

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Stephen Bannon, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone
    Stephen Bannon, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone

    Politico Magazine reported that figures within President Donald Trump’s inner circle, Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon, helped former Fox News chief Roger Ailes monitor and smear his adversaries, a practice Ailes engaged in for years.

    Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who now serves as Trump's chief strategist, has a history of using his online platform to launch smear campaigns against his political opponents, including helping Breitbart staffer Peter Schweizer push the widely debunked Clinton Cash. Breitbart has also proved to be combative without Bannon at the helm, even going after Trump’s son-in-law to defend Bannon.

    Stone, a long time Trump ally and former campaign staffer has a history of racist, misogynistic, and conspiratorial commentary. Stone is also under investigation for possible ties to Russia after law enforcement and intelligence officials “intercepted communications” between Stone and Russian officials.

    Ailes left Fox News in 2016 after Gretchen Carlson and several other women who worked there said he had sexually harassed them. While at the network’s helm, Ailes had a history of spying on his employees and smearing his adversaries.

    According to a Politico Magazine report Stone “was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on [New York magazine’s Gabriel] Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy” while Bannon “coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.” From the May 14 Politico Magazine report:

    The network of operatives allegedly used by Ailes and other Fox executives to monitor and demean perceived threats also extends to Trump’s inner circle, according to several people with knowledge of those relationships. Trump’s longtime confidant Stone, a veteran practitioner of political dark arts, was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, according to three people familiar with the arrangement.

    “Stone would just write public articles when Ailes told him,” one of those people explained. In a March 2015 article for the Daily Caller, Stone accused Ruddy of being “in bed with the Clintons.” In an April 2015 piece for the publication, Stone attacked Ruddy for criticizing a Fox News special about the Clintons.

    [...]

    Stone said that his paid work for Fox consisted of writing Ailes “a shitload” of strategy memos about attracting more libertarian viewers and that his broadsides against Ruddy were motivated by anger over Ruddy’s donations to the Clinton Foundation, not monetary inducements.

    Ailes’ lawyer said her client was unaware of any paid work performed by Stone. “Roger doesn’t know anything about payments to Mr. Stone, and believes the allegations are untrue,” she wrote in an email.

    But three people familiar with the arrangement said Stone was also paid to keep tabs on Sherman as he worked on his biography of the Fox News chief. Stone said he was not paid to monitor Sherman but instead was motivated by friendship to act as a liaison between the two. “I would try to keep the two of them from killing each other because they’re both friends of mine,” he said. “They became obsessed with each other. It was really unhealthy. I think Gabe’s a great journalist. I think Roger Ailes is a genius.”

    The network of allies Ailes employed to neutralize threats also extends into the White House itself, according to three people familiar with the situation who said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.

    In the weeks before the release of Sherman’s biography, 2014’s “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Bannon huddled inside a Fox News conference room with Ailes, Ailes’ personal attorney Peter Johnson Jr., pollster Pat Caddell and former Fox journalist Peter Boyer to discuss discrediting the book, according to two people familiar with the meetings. (None of the participants would comment on the record.) True to form, Bannon advocated an all-out “go to war” approach during these sessions, while Boyer advised a hands-off approach, according to one of those people. Bannon described the resulting attacks on Sherman as “love taps,” according to an acquaintance he later told about the meetings.

    There is no indication that Bannon was paid to do this, though at the time he enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Fox, which promoted his conservative documentaries. Ailes’ lawyer said that Breitbart’s coverage of Sherman was taken of its own initiative. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

    [...]

    Bannon has also collaborated with Jim Pinkerton, a former Fox News contributor who for years authored the anonymous blog “The Cable Game” to tout Fox and attack its rivals on behalf of Ailes.

  • A Look At The Incestuous Alternative-Media Echo Chamber Winning Over Online Audiences

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    On the coattails of President Donald Trump’s successful election campaign and an anti-"political correctness" wave, an alternative right-wing media echo chamber successfully reverberated itself into virtual relevance on social media, where it now reaches millions of people every day. This new-media ecosystem exists outside of traditional newspapers and cable news networks, instead taking to social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Reddit, and YouTube to promote its far-right nationalist politics and conspiracy-laden worldviews to an audience it has isolated and now dominates as its preferred news source.

    Key players in this circular far-right alt-media echo chamber, such as online troll Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Alex Jones, have successfully crafted a false impression of credibility. They have synthesized a “new right” echo chamber from “alt-right” ideologies and orchestrated a media machine that disseminates content across multiple media platforms with extreme efficiency.

    Key voices in this ecosystem often work a redundant media circuit across allied platforms to reinforce each other’s worldviews and concepts of reality, cast doubt on mainstream media, and suggest widespread conspiracies along the way. Cernovich demonstrated this tactic as he circulated a faux scandal story that suggested Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, was responsible for improper unmasking of Trump officials caught in surveillance of foreign officials.

    Cernovich toured the Rice story around the alternative media sphere he occupies until it eventually broke into mainstream media. On April 2, Cernovich first tweeted the “breaking news” that Rice had ordered the unmasking. Later that day, Cernovich published his full story about the explosive allegations. On April 3, Cernovich promoted the story in a livestream broadcast to his tens of thousands of Periscope followers. The same day, “alt-right” thought leader Richard Spencer publicly slammed Cernovich in his own broadcast, granting the story a direct platform into the "alt-right" fanbase. On April 4, Cernovich took his story through the alternative media circuit, appearing on Infowars and Free Domain Radio and earning shoutouts from Stefan Molyneux, Lee Stranahan, and Donald Trump Jr. After riding the wave, Cernovich continued his self-promotion in a Reddit AMA thread and a post-story interview with Rebel Media.

    Members of the echo chamber attract and maintain a fan base by developing an abusive relationship with their audience members -- a process they label “redpilling.” They gaslight their audiences until readers and viewers feel unable to trust any media other than those particular outlets to deliver them “the truth.” As a result, these new-media companies have groomed rabid fan bases that turn to them as beacons of honesty in a media world that they believe is orchestrated to distract the public from this echo chamber’s version of “the truth.”

    Many media outlets disregard this new-media echo chamber, continuing to speak about the movement with the same blanket terms and condescension they used before the so-called “new right” distanced itself from “alt-right” leaders. But now, months later, this far-right alternative media apparatus is encroaching on its mainstream competition online. For example, Infowars recently surpassed CNN in its number of subscribers on YouTube, which marked a major milestone in far-right alternative media's encroachment on the video site’s news ecosystem.

    According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2016, about half of people age 49 and under said they get their news online. And as cable news viewership declines and as Americans’ trust in news media sinks to an all-time low, alternative new-media stars have leveraged a unique opportunity to redefine right-wing media and reach mass audiences once loyal to established journalism outlets. The alternative media ecosystem has also benefited from attention from top government officials and those close to them; presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway recently elevated Cernovich on Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. pushed an Infowars conspiracy theory, and Michael Flynn Jr., the son of Trump’s former national security advisor, has promoted Infowars and conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” sourced from the alternative media sphere.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • Congressional Credentialing Committee Deals Breitbart A Devastating Rebuke

    Website’s Bid For Congressional Credentials Was Just Rejected -- And Reporters Will Lose Their Temporary Passes

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for congressional reporters has denied Breitbart.com’s bid for permanent press credentials and declined to extend its temporary passes, a dramatic rebuke for the website, which has sought in recent months to burnish its reputation as an independent, legitimate news source.

    Since late last year, Breitbart has been seeking permanent credentials from the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, which would have allowed it to join the White House Correspondents’ Association and participate in the White House press pool. Obtaining the credentials would have represented a substantial step forward for a website that has recently sought to downplay its role as a platform for the white nationalist and misogynist “alt-right” movement.

    But Breitbart has been stymied by the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that news outlets be editorially independent of other organizations; the committee turned down their bid last month, seeking more information. Breitbart is actually part of a web of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and corruption, as Media Matters has documented, with top editors using the site to promote nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and personal clients who in turn pay them hefty salaries.

    Breitbart is inextricably linked to its former executive chairman, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon; the major right-wing donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who are part owners of the website; and the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit funded by the Mercers and previously run by Bannon, which employed several top Breitbart staffers. For these reasons among others, Media Matters called on the standing committee to deny Breitbart’s application.

    At a hearing this morning, the committee again rejected Breitbart’s bid, and said they would not extend their temporary passes, which expire May 31:

    The committee expressed concern that Breitbart had repeatedly offered inconsistent information about its operations, specifically about the end dates of employment for Bannon and Wynton Hall, the Breitbart managing editor who had simultaneously served as GAI's communications specialist. According to Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, Hall resigned in February, but he was listed in a masthead Solov provided to the committee in late March. As Media Matters reported last week, Hall created a mammoth conflict of interest by frequently using his position at the website to promote his private and nonprofit communications clients.  

    UPDATE: CNN's Oliver Darcy reports that according to a source, Hall is still "very involved" at Breitbart and plays a role in assigning stories. 

    Images by Sarah Wasko.

  • Smoking Gun: Breitbart Publicity Campaign Backed Obscure Bannon-Mercer Film

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com published nearly two dozen articles last year promoting a virtually unwatched documentary whose production company is owned by the website’s partial owners Robert and Rebekah Mercer and its then-executive chairman, Stephen Bannon.

    The website’s advocacy of the film is a case study in how Bannon and the Mercers use Breitbart to promote a web of nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies. The credentialing body for congressional reporters is currently investigating these ties as part of a review of whether the conservative website is sufficiently editorially independent to obtain official press credentials to cover Congress.

    Torchbearer is a Phil Robertson (of “Duck Dynasty” fame) vehicle whose thesis is that “God is the only meaningful anchor to a civilized society” and that purported efforts by progressives to cut God out of public life are destroying Western civilization. It received a limited October 7 release in 31 U.S. theaters.

    Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart chief and conservative filmmaker who took over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last summer and is now a top White House advisor, wrote, directed, and produced the documentary.

    One of the film’s production companies was Glittering Steel LLC, which was founded and is owned by Bannon, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and his daughter Rebekah.

    Bannon says he left Glittering Steel and Breitbart when he moved to the Trump campaign, but there’s reason to doubt that this is true, as Breitbart’s CEO has contradicted his claim, and Bannon retains an ownership stake in Glittering Steel worth between $100,001 and $250,000 (which he currently intends to sell), according to federal filings.

    The Mercers are also partial owners of Breitbart, and Rebekah Mercer reportedly “often points out areas of coverage [to the website’s editors] that she thinks require more attention.”

    Torchbearer attracted little attention from the public and was ignored by film critics. Robertson is a conservative media darling, but apart from a few scattered articles, the movie failed to make a big splash with Breitbart’s right-wing media competitors. After its brief turn in theaters, it moved to streaming services, where it was promptly forgotten (the film has 154 reviews on Amazon Video, for example, roughly one tenth as many as right-wing productions like Joel Gilbert’s Dreams From My REAL Father and Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party).

    But at Breitbart, where the site’s leaders had a financial stake in the film’s success, promoting it was a priority worthy of mentioning in at least 22 stories.

    In the months leading up to its debut, Breitbart highlighted the film’s trailer, its screening at the Republican National Convention and at the Cannes Film Festival, and news of its theatrical release. Robertson plugged the film in numerous interviews on Breitbart’s Sirius XM radio show that were then promoted on the website, sitting down with host Bannon -- or “Mr. Director,” as Robertson called him -- to discuss the “overwhelming feeling” of making the documentary and his support for Trump.

    Breitbart’s promotion of the film culminated with a pair of glowing reviews published shortly before the theatrical release.

    According to Breitbart’s Thomas D. Williams, the documentary was “groundbreaking” and “visually riveting,” with its Duck Dynasty star serving as “an unapologetic witness to the Christian faith as the cornerstone of Western Civilization” with such skill that “even his critics will be forced to reckon with a man whose simple, rough-hewn appearance masks a subtle intellect and a keen grasp of perennial truths.”

    For Ken Klukowski, the website’s senior legal editor, the “epic” film was “a clarion call for Christians” that “gives the viewer a whirlwind tour of world history with a focus on the Christian experience from apostolic times to the present, showcasing the pattern of how godless humanity descends into depravity, in stark contrast to the sublime virtues with which God’s people adorn their lives in the face of adversity—all narrated in the iconic voice of the Duck Commander.”

    Breitbart’s outlier coverage was not a typical editorial judgment, but rather the result of a conflict of interest in which figures with heavy influence over the website also stood to reap financial benefits from the film’s success through their ownership of Glittering Steel.

    And it’s not the only time Breitbart has been called upon to promote a Glittering Steel production. The company also produced the documentary Clinton Cash, based on a book authored by Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer and a screenplay by Bannon (Schweizer, Bannon, and Rebekah Mercer all received executive producer or producer credits).

    Breitbart writers authored at least 103 stories referencing the film, according to a Media Matters review of the website’s “Clinton Cash” tag. This includes articles alerting their audience to broadcasts of the documentary by the website and on the conservative One America News Network; endorsements of the film by conservatives like Fred Barnes, John Stossel, and Matt Drudge; and pieces hyping how many times the film had been viewed online.

    This web of financial interests playing out in the website’s editorial decisions should concern the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, the credentialing committee reviewing Breitbart’s bid for permanent congressional access.

    The body has to this point denied the website permanent credentials because it has failed to prove that it is fully independent of Bannon, the Mercers, and a nonprofit group that employs several top Breitbart editors.

    The committee is seeking more information from the website and will next convene on April 25.

    Glittering Steel has also drawn attention from campaign finance watchdogs that say it may have been used to subsidize Bannon’s salary on the Trump campaign. The payments in question originate with Make America Number 1, a super PAC led by Rebekah Mercer and heavily funded by her father.

    Images by Sarah Wasko, Shelby Jamerson contributed research.

  • Breitbart Is Not Independent, It's The Communications Arm Of The Mercers' Empire

    Top Editors Use Their Roles At Breitbart To Flack For Other Mercer Ventures They Also Work For

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Media Matters investigates the web of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and corruption surrounding Breitbart.com. Its top editors have used the site to promote nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and personal clients who in turn pay them hefty salaries.​

  • Don't Let Spicer And The Trump Administration Off The Hook For Winking At Anti-Semites

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media shouldn’t be so willing to let White House press secretary Sean Spicer off the hook for his comments comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler given the implicit and explicit ways President Donald Trump and his administration have embraced white nationalists. No matter how ineffective, Spicer’s comparison is another example of a wink and a nod to the type of hatred that is a part of this White House’s culture.

    During an April 11 White House press briefing, Spicer likened Assad to Hitler, telling reporters that unlike Assad, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When he was asked to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” when in reality the German SS and police used poison gas to asphyxiate millions of Jews in concentration camps (which Spicer called “Holocaust centers” in his comments). After repeatedly trying to explain his comments, Spicer ultimately apologized, calling them “inexcusable and reprehensible.” Meanwhile, white nationalists cheered the remarks, praising the press secretary for exposing the “Jewish gas chamber hoax.”​

    Media were quick to accept Spicer’s apology and let him off the hook. Fox News’ Kevin Corke called it “heartfelt and … very unequivocal” and added, “he should be able to move on … quickly.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “I’m going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt,” saying Spicer “got himself into a verbal trap and could not get himself out.” On CNN’s New Day, Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush, accepted Spicer’s apology, adding that “the notion that this is somehow nefarious or indicative of Holocaust denial, I dismiss.” Additionally, CNN commentator David Axelrod tweeted that Spicer has “apologized” for his comments and it’s “time to move on.”

    But this is hardly the first time that Spicer and the Trump administration used obtuse language or offered an implicit nod to the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • Trump hired Stephen Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a "platform for the” white nationalist “alt-right" movement as his chief strategist -- a move that was lavishly praised by white nationalists.

    • At the end of the presidential campaign, Trump ran an ad that Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall wrote was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary.” Naturally, Trump’s white nationalist supporters loved it, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”

    • The White House failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    This is in addition to the direct contact Trump and his aides have had with members of the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • According to The New York Times, Trump has “retweeted supportive messages from racist or nationalist” supporters, including “accounts featuring white nationalist or Nazi themes.”

    • Trump refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during an interview with CNN, drawing praise from his neo-Nazi supporters.

    • The Trump campaign gave press credentials to the white nationalist radio show The Political Cesspool. Donald Trump Jr. also appeared on the radio show to complain about “political correctness.”

    • Former Trump adviser A.J. Delgado retweeted a Trump endorsement from the anti-Semitic hate site The Right Stuff.

    • Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted “love you back” to an anti-Semitic Twitter account.

    Media figures are wrong to simply dismiss Spicer’s Holocaust comments as a hiccup. The connections between the Trump team and the white nationalist community are too strong for Spicer’s comments to be treated as a one-off. Spicer’s blunder is emblematic of the administration’s continuing effort to wink and nod at -- and sometimes openly embrace -- its white nationalist supporters.

  • To Defend Bannon, Breitbart Has Opened Fire On The President's Son-In-Law

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump propaganda outlet previously run by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is now being deployed against President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top White House staffer Jared Kushner as part of an internal power struggle.

    Over the past week -- as Kushner and Bannon have reportedly feuded -- the website has published articles highlighting Kushner’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, questioning the ethics of his business dealings, criticizing his “thin resume in diplomacy,” and speculating about whether he is leaking negative stories about Bannon.

    Those attacks represent a U-turn in the website’s coverage of the president’s family. Following Trump’s election and in the early days of his administration, Breitbart provided Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, with soft-focus celebrity coverage. The website chronicled their search for a home and synagogue in Washington, D.C., and lashed out at their critics.

    Kushner’s then-positive relationship with Bannon seems to have been a factor in Breitbart’s coverage -- in mid-February, the website aggregated a piece claiming that Kushner has “become a backer of chief strategist Steve Bannon’s nationalist-populist agenda” and that “Kushner has even proposed knocking down the walls between his and Bannon’s office, a sign of how close the two are.”

    But in recent days, the Kushner-Bannon relationship has reportedly soured. The New York Times and Politico both published April 5 stories detailing clashes between the two. The stories, which were driven by anonymous sources who seem to be part of Kushner’s camp, portray Kushner as deeply concerned with Bannon’s priorities and the way he “plays to the president’s worst impulses.”

    While Kushner seems to be using traditional media outlets to aid an internal fight with Bannon, the White House chief strategist’s defense has come from his former website. Breitbart -- which previously targeted White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan -- has trained its guns on the president’s son-in-law over the past week.

    Breitbart’s campaign against Kushner began with a March 28 aggregation of a Times article detailing how a Senate committee plans to question Kushner “concerning meetings he held with Russian officials close to the Kremlin, including an executive with Russia’s state-owned development bank.” The unbylined item stuck out at a website that has portrayed stories of ties between Russia and the White House as a conspiracy pushed by the so-called deep state.

    Two days later, Breitbart News Senior Editor-At-Large Peter Schweizer -- who also serves as president of a nonprofit that was until recently chaired by Bannon -- appeared on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show to criticize Kushner’s business dealings. Schweizer raised concerns that Kushner could use his role in the Trump administration to seek “sweetheart deals with foreign government entities,” calling the situation “worrisome.”

    Then on April 5 -- the same day the Times and Politico published their stories detailing Kushner’s burgeoning feud with Bannon -- Breitbart published four different stories attacking Kushner.

    One article detailed the “five surprisingly delicate problems” Trump has assigned Kushner -- including ending the Israel-Palestine dispute and destroying ISIS -- even though Kushner “boasts a thin resume in diplomacy.” The website also aggregated a column from the Times’ Frank Bruni making the same point. A third story highlighted Trump adviser and all-around-terrible-person Roger Stone’s theory that Kushner “is leaking negative stories” about Bannon. And Breitbart aggregated the Politico story on Kushner’s clashes with Bannon.

    Bannon still talks to staffers at Breitbart, though it's unclear if he asked for the attacks on Kushner or if his former employees knew to turn on his emerging rival without such a request. A “close Bannon ally outside of the White House” told Axios that following the Kushner camp’s attacks on Bannon, “I see some bad press in [Jared's] future." Bannon has reportedly told associates, "I love a gunfight."

    Breitbart’s attacks on its former boss’s White House rival come as the website seeks permanent congressional press credentials, a precursor to gaining access to the White House Correspondents’ Association and joining the White House press pool. The credentialing committee has raised concerns about Breitbart’s ties to Bannon and questioned whether the outlet is editorially independent of the White House.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • Someone Tied To Breitbart Is Lying About When Stephen Bannon Left

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com’s bid for the press corps big leagues has become ensnared by the shifting series of stories told about how -- and when -- the site’s leader officially left to work for President Donald Trump.

    White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon served as executive chairman of Breitbart.com “until resignation on August 16,” the day before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign, according to his financial disclosure forms.

    But that claim contradicts a Breitbart press release dated August 17, which stated that Bannon was taking “a temporary leave of absence from Breitbart and will resume work with Breitbart the evening of November 8, 2016.”

    And last month, as many have noted, Breitbart CEO Larry Solov sent a letter to the credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters claiming that Bannon had resigned “on or about” November 13 -- the date Bannon’s White House role was announced.

    Bannon’s date of resignation and possible ongoing ties to the website are key issues in the website’s bid for permanent congressional press credentials, a precursor to gaining access to the White House Correspondents’ Association and joining the White House press pool. The members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery have been skeptical of Solov’s February claim that Bannon had resigned by phone and of the letter he produced last month. The committee continues to deny the website’s bid for credentials and is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    Bannon’s financial disclosures show that the standing committee was right not to take Solov’s word; either Bannon lied on his forms, or Solov lied to the committee.

    Moreover, for roughly a month after even November 13 -- the date Solov claims Bannon resigned -- Breitbart staffers continued to identify Bannon as “on leave” from the website. Joel Pollak, the website’s senior editor-at-large, regularly referred to him using that language in articles defending Bannon from criticism -- meaning that if Bannon had left the website, that information was unknown even at the highest levels of the outlet’s staff. Breitbart did not consistently identify Bannon as a former employee until mid-December -- four months after Bannon claims in his disclosures that he resigned.

    From a November 17 article:

    (Bannon remains on a leave of absence from Breitbart after joining the Trump campaign as CEO in August.)

    November 20:

    Bannon has been on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News since being appointed CEO of the Trump campaign in August.

    November 21:

    In two separate interviews conducted since Bannon — on leave from Breitbart — was appointed Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Bannon has made his views explicit.

    November 22:

    Bannon is on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, and was recently appointed by President-elect Donald J. Trump as Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.

    November 24:

    Though Breitbart’s former Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on a leave of absence to serve as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, [Politico’s Nahal] Toosi writes that “foreign and domestic” observers “will likely scour Breitbart every day for clues about what the administration will do.”

    November 28:

    Bannon is currently on leave from Breitbart News.

    December 1:

    (Bannon is currently on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News.)

    December 1:

    (Bannon has been on leave from Breitbart since being appointed CEO of the Trump presidential campaign in August.)

    December 5:

    He also repeated false charges against Stephen K. Bannon, the Executive Chair of Breitbart News (on leave) who was appointed CEO of the Trump campaign in August and has been named incoming White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.

    December 8:

    So when Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon (on leave as Breitbart News Executive Chairman) gives his first interview to the Hollywood Reporter and says, “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” there is a method to the madness.

  • Daily Beast: Ex-Breitbart Staffer Alleges Illegal Relationship Between Outlet And D.C. Landlord

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A new report from The Daily Beast reveals that a former writer for the extreme-right website Breitbart.com filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging the site “was acting as an illegal influence operation for its Washington, D.C. landlord,” the Egyptian businessman and politician Moustafa El-Gindy.

    The Daily Beast reports that the complaint, which it uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request, was filed by an unidentified ex-writer for Breitbart with the Justice Department’s National Security Division “as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear.” As explained by The Daily Beast, the complaint alleges that “Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage.” The complaint also alleges that Breitbart is likely “benefiting from some substantial discount in its leasing costs” for El-Gindy’s property, which The Daily Beast notes could amount to an in-kind payment from a foreign official for friendly media coverage.

    Questions about Breitbart’s use of El-Gindy’s residential D.C. property as an office space were among the reasons cited when Breitbart was denied permanent press credentials to cover Capitol Hill earlier this week. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. El-Gindy previously told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt and he needed additional income. But El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes (or at least is claiming the property as a primary residence for a tax deduction), and he has been cited positively in Breitbart -- without any disclosure of his landlord relationship -- at least four times. The Justice Department complaint adds further credibility to conflict-of-interest concerns about El-Gindy’s relationship with Breitbart as the outlet's attempts to receive permanent press credentials stall.  

    From the March 29 article (emphasis added):

    Two sources with direct knowledge, including one former Breitbart writer, say a reporter for the pro-Trump news organization was behind a complaint to the Department of Justice implicating then-chairman Steve Bannon and Moustafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former legislator and the owner of Breitbart’s Washington office.

    Concerns about about (sic) that office, nicknamed the Embassy, dogged the organization Monday as it unsuccessfully sought permanent congressional press credentials. Breitbart faced conflict-of-interest questions regarding Bannon’s new role as one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers, a probe into its investors and corporate structure, and questions about El-Gindy and his property.

    [...]

    A complaint filed with the Justice Department’s National Security Division as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear alleged that Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage. The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request.

    [...]

    Even as Breitbart gave him favorable coverage, the DOJ complaint alleged that the media site was likely paying El-Gindy below-market rental rates on the site. If true, that would have amounted to an in-kind payment and, taken with friendly coverage of El-Gindy, could be seen as payments from a foreign government official in exchange for supportive media coverage.

    [...]

    It “appears [Breitbart] has been disseminating what FARA [the Foreign Agent Registration Act] would regard as propaganda on behalf of a foreign principal for financial benefit, and not merely as a financially unconnected news source,” alleged the complaint, which was sent to DOJ from a FedEx Office franchise in Arlington, Virginia, on July 2, 2015. It named both Breitbart generally and Bannon individually as alleged perpetrators.

  • Trump Just Blew A Hole In Breitbart’s Case For Editorial Independence

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump this morning urged supporters to watch a Fox News segment that was based on research overseen by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in his prior role as chief executive of the conservative group Government Accountability Institute (GAI).

    Last August, Bannon promoted the GAI report in an article he co-authored at Breitbart.com, which he was simultaneously running as chief executive. Breitbart is now fighting to gain permanent reporting credentials from the Senate Press Gallery in the face of criticism that the website lacks editorial independence because of its entwinement with GAI.

    This morning Trump tried to defuse criticism of his ties to Russia by encouraging his followers to “Watch @foxandfriends now on Podesta and Russia!”:

    During the segment in question, conservative activist Peter Schweizer detailed connections between former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and a Kremlin-backed bank.

    Schweizer is both president of GAI and a Breitbart senior editor-at-large, and he and Bannon promoted the Podesta allegations last year in their roles with both. Their story provides a case study in how top Breitbart editors use the website to promote the work of a conservative group that pays them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    The Podesta claims were first raised in a July 31 GAI report titled “From Russia with Money: Hillary Clinton, the Russian Reset, and Cronyism,” which purported to detail unsavory connections between Clinton and her associates and Russia. On August 1, Bannon and Schweizer co-bylined a story breaking the news on Breitbart, and discussed it on the Bannon-hosted SiriusXM program Breitbart News Daily.

    “It’s gonna cause a firestorm because they’re going to have to answer the question, and Mr. Podesta’s gonna have to answer the question, why he failed to disclose this, and we’re going to drill down on what all this means,” Bannon commented at the time. “We’ve got a lot more of this coming.”

    The GAI report and Breitbart article were released amid a slew of news stories detailing the Trump campaign’s friendly stance toward the Kremlin, and just days after The New York Times reported that “American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.”

    Sixteen days after the GAI report was released, Bannon took a leave of absence from Breitbart to become the Trump presidential campaign’s chief executive.

    Between its initial promotion of the GAI report and Election Day, Breitbart produced at least six more reports on GAI’s Podesta story. Meanwhile, the Bannon-headed Trump campaign issued a statement calling on Podesta to provide more information or step down.

    Following Clinton’s defeat, conservatives largely dropped the story. But after FBI Director James Comey announced during a March 20 congressional hearing that the bureau is investigating “whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” right-wing politicians and media outlets began casting about for angles they could take to mitigate that damaging narrative.

    The next day, fringe gadfly Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) called for a congressional investigation into Podesta, relying on information in the August GAI report. Over the past week, Breitbart has produced two reports on the allegations, both citing GAI’s August report as the original source of the claims. The story has apparently gained enough attention on the right to catch the eye of Fox & Friends producers, generating this morning’s Trump-promoted interview with Schweizer.

    The new revelation about Breitbart’s overlap with GAI comes at a bad time for the outlet.

    Yesterday, the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery announced that it would not approve Breitbart’s request for permanent Capitol Hill credentials, citing in part concerns that key editors on the masthead have received payments from GAI. This suggests that the website falls short of the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that outlets be “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” The committee has sought more information from the conservative outlet, with a deadline of April 14.

    Schweizer received $778,000 from GAI between 2012 and 2015 while simultaneously appearing on Breitbart’s masthead. And while serving as chief executive of both institutions, Bannon received $376,000 from GAI.

    As the Podesta reports show, top editors at Breitbart are getting paid by another organization and using their platform to produce and oversee reporting based on that organization’s work. This violation of the press gallery’s bylaws should lead to the rejection of Breitbart’s application.