Despite his extremism, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has drawn on-air praise from right-wing media figures for years, with terms like “true warrior,” “great mentor,” and “hero.” Fox News figure Tucker Carlson once defended King’s white supremacy by stating, “Everything you said I think is defensible and probably right," while Laura Ingraham has said she understood “his point.”
How many “exclusives” can one discredited crank give?
In late February, six months after he was unceremoniously fired from the White House, Steve Bannon sat down for a “wide-ranging and challenging conversation” with GQ, which wrote up the interview under the headline “Steve Bannon is hatching his comeback.” In early March, Bannon gave a “sprawling interview” to the New York Times about his “international mission” to “demolish [Europe’s] political establishment.” That same month he was a featured interviewee at a Financial Times Future of News conference.
On April 4, Bannon gave an interview to Reuters about tariffs. Less than a week later, he gave another interview to the New York Times, also about tariffs. A couple of days after that, Bannon talked to The Washington Post about the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. On May 22, Bannon talked to the Post again ahead of a debate in Prague. The next day, Bannon gave an “exclusive” interview to the BBC about the Russia investigation.
On June 1, he “spoke exclusively” to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for a program the network hyped as “The Steve Bannon Interview.” Two weeks later, ABC’s Jon Karl went “one-on-one exclusively” with Bannon in what was billed as “his first Sunday morning show interview since leaving the White House.” Three days later, Bannon gave an interview to The National Interest. On July 8, he was interviewed by The Sunday Times. Ten days later, CNBC snagged an “exclusive interview” with Bannon. Two days after that, Bannon talked to The Daily Beast. A few days later, he talked to Reuters (again). Less than a week later, Politico interviewed Bannon about the Koch brothers.
And tonight, Steve Bannon “will join anchor Ari Melber one-on-one for an exclusive television interview on MSNBC.”
Bannon on MSNBC tomorrow night. This ought to be fun. 🍿🍿 pic.twitter.com/BjDcUzXicR
— David Martosko (@dmartosko) August 16, 2018
That’s at least 22 interviews over the course of six months (it’s entirely possible that I missed a few Bannon interviews while compiling this list, since he will talk to literally anyone). By now it seems reasonable to ask what, if anything, we stand to learn from this many-times discredited former White House official who is hanging out with far-right European extremists and whose most recent foray into U.S. politics was his failed attempt to elevate an accused child molester to the U.S. Senate.
Back in March, I wrote that Bannon “is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.” Congrats, Steve: mission accomplished.
A May 29 Bloomberg story revealed that during the 2016 election, a Breitbart reporter worked as an “off-the-books political operative” for the Trump campaign, encouraging a former Bernie Sanders backer to help convince black voters to vote for Donald Trump or sit out the election entirely.
The Bloomberg report detailed how Breitbart’s Dustin Stockton recruited Black Men for Bernie founder Bruce Carter to work on behalf of the Trump campaign. Stockton introduced Carter to Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News who served as chief executive officer of the Trump campaign. Bannon subsequently put Carter in contact with Karen Giorno, a senior Trump campaign adviser. The three agreed that Carter would target swing states and work to convince black voters that “Donald Trump is the only option,” but if they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him, they ought to “simply stay home on Election Day.” From the May 29 report:
Carter’s unlikely conversion to cheerleader for Trump started in mid-summer 2016 with a call from Stockton. Broad-chested and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Carter had become something of a B-list celebrity on the campaign trail, showing up at Sanders’s events in a tour bus emblazoned with the Vermont senator’s photo and yelling through a bullhorn to rally anybody who would listen. He spent months on the road for Sanders, with three of his teenage daughters accompanying him, selling T-shirts and other merchandise to help fund their tour.
The two chatted regularly after the convention by phone. On Aug. 17, Bannon, then Breitbart’s executive chairman, was named chief of the campaign. The announcement coincided with a push by Stockton to formalize Carter’s role. He says Stockton dangled an intriguing promise—a chance to engage with Bannon. That pushed him over the top: He endorsed Trump.
While it’s impossible to precisely measure Carter’s effectiveness, Trump performed particularly well in the areas Carter targeted, says Dustin Stockton, the Breitbart reporter who recruited him.
The article also noted that after Stockton spent months recruiting Carter, Breitbart published a “carefully orchestrated” and “exclusive” story about Carter’s work in August “that went viral.” Bloomberg reported that Carter’s work for the Trump campaign and Stockton’s “unusual role” in the saga may also have violated campaign finance rules, and quoted a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission as saying, “There are some real problems here.”
But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon
Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.
In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”
Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.
When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.
Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.
Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.
The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.
It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.
Whistleblowers allege that top staffers at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency that oversees U.S. government-backed news outlets around the world, plotted to illegally replace the BBG’s CEO in an effort to slant the agency’s coverage in a manner more favorable to President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a letter from the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The board, through news outlets like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, promotes democracy and provides independent news coverage to people around the world, with a particular focus on countering propaganda by authoritarian governments. With an audience of 278 million people in 100 countries and 61 languages, the agency has tremendous power to shape the perception of the United States around the world -- or to serve as a Trump propaganda outlet.
In his letter to the agency, first reported on by CNN last night, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) wrote that according to whistleblowers, the Trump administration planned to remove current BBG CEO John Lansing and replace him with BBG Chief Information Officer/Chief Technical Officer Andre Mendes, “presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG's journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of the Trump Administration.” Mendes, BBG senior adviser Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, and White House Associate Director of Presidential Personnel Jennifer Locetta “allegedly prepared a memorandum for the White House outlining this scheme and are pushing for Presidential action,” Engel wrote, citing “multiple sources.”
According to Engel, the plot would be unlawful because only the board itself can name an interim CEO until one is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. He said that the whistleblowers described the alleged effort as “a coup at the BBG.” Engel requested that BBG provide his staff with the memorandum and all related documents by the end of the week.
Mendes and Locetta both denied to CNN that they had conspired to remove the BBG CEO. Lansing reportedly announced in a note to BBG staff on Tuesday that Mendes was leaving the agency and joining the Department of Commerce.
The BBG’s networks pride themselves on providing accurate information, not propaganda, stressing the “firewall” separating those news services from government interference. Conservative critics have complained that those outlets are insufficiently supportive of U.S. government policies.
Shapiro, a former Breitbart.com reporter who joined the agency in July, is one of the right-wing Trump appointees who have apparently been embedded in the agency to alter its coverage.
BBG sources told CNN in October that Shapiro represented himself to staff there as a close associate of Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO whose stormy tenure as White House chief strategist ended abruptly over the summer, with a mandate to purge the agency of personnel insufficiently loyal to the president and turn the BBG into a “Bannon legacy.”
Shapiro’s reporting at Breitbart raises questions about his view of the types of stories journalists should pursue. In an April 2011 piece published shortly after President Barack Obama responded to Trump’s birther attacks by releasing his long-form birth certificate, Shapiro criticized the press for being insufficiently dogged in questioning Obama’s citizenship.
“Journalists did not address the fact that the president was refusing to resolve an issue about his constitutional eligibility,” he wrote. “Instead, they covered the ‘birther’ movement in an effort to discredit any American who had a legitimate question.”
Shapiro, who got his start in journalism at the tabloid Globe, has most recently written for the conservative Washington Times, where he criticized “the tarring of Steve Bannon” as a white nationalist.
Shapiro joined Matthew Ciepielowski and Matthew Schuck, who were deputized to BBG to oversee the transition to the Trump administration in 2017 after serving on Trump’s campaign team. In his letter, Engel warns that Trump’s supporters at the agency appear driven “to remake the BBG into an agency aimed at promoting the Trump Administration’s agenda,” turning it into “a propaganda machine”
Even if the Mendes “coup” fails, Trump will have the opportunity to appoint leadership more to his preference. Michael Pack, a conservative documentarian who has worked with and praised Bannon, is expected to be Trump’s nominee to replace Lansing, though he would need to be confirmed by the Senate.
50 million reasons to be mad at Facebook
Tech companies have repeatedly failed to protect the consumers who use their platforms, and despite the outrage that arises when news of another failure breaks, remarkably little has been done to fix the problem. Consumers have been left to deal with fake news, predatory political ads, and data breaches largely on their own without assistance from companies, government, or other institutions. We’re dealing with systemic failures of the social media ecosystem, but the solutions offered largely call on individuals to sort out their online experience for themselves.
This past weekend, a series of stories broke that illustrate just how colossal those failures are. On Friday, Facebook abruptly announced that it had banned Cambridge Analytica, the firm that did data targeting for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, from using the platform for “violating its policies around data collection and retention,” as The Verge described it. On Saturday, The New York Times and The Observer broke the story Facebook was clearly trying to get ahead of: Cambridge Analytica had illegally obtained and exploited the Facebook data of 50 million users in multiple countries.
Via The New York Times:
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer worked with whistleblower Christopher Wylie for over a year to expose Cambridge Analytica’s practices and Facebook’s complicity in allowing them:
Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.
“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he says.
And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.
“Is it fair to say you ‘hacked’ Facebook?” I ask him one night. He hesitates. “I’ll point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.”
It’s particularly troubling that this stolen data was used in a political campaign. Cambridge Analytica has long had a reputation for being “shady”; during the 2016 Republican primaries, many GOP consultants complained about the company’s practices and methodology. Democratic data consultants have also speculated prior to this week’s revelations that Cambridge Analytica would have had to steal data in order to do the work its team has bragged about doing. Even the Trump campaign, despite having staff from Cambridge Analytica embedded in its headquarters, attempted to deny that the company had done what it had claimed: used psychographic profiling to help Trump win.
More troubling is the connection to Russia. In 2014, Chris Wylie was asked to help Cambridge Analytica prepare a pitch to Vagit Alekperov, a Russian oligarch and the CEO of Lukoil. “It didn’t make any sense to me,” he told The Guardian, "I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?” The eventual presentation “focused on election disruption techniques,” The Guardian reported. “The first slide illustrates how a ‘rumour campaign’ spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which the company worked – by spreading the idea that the ‘election would be rigged’. The final slide, branded with Lukoil’s logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its ‘deliverables’: ‘psychographic messaging.’”
An illegal data breach. Russian oligarchs. Psychographic profiling to manipulate voters. Social media is breaking democracy, aided by companies with shady practices and politicians who have turned a blind eye. By not disclosing the leak and allowing Cambridge Analytica to continue using its platform, Facebook failed us. By not asking more questions and considering regulations much earlier, political leaders on two continents, have failed us as well. What’s a social media user supposed to do? And remember, this is to say nothing about similar commercial practices on Facebook.
The only recourse we consumers have is to demand systemic changes. Tech companies must feel more pressure from us. Governments and regulatory bodies must be similarly pressured to force tech companies to protect consumers using regulations and legislation. We need more citizens like Parsons professor David Carroll, who is mounting a legal effort against Cambridge Analytica, to explore the potential of lawsuits.
We have 50 million reasons to be mad at Facebook. If that anger can be turned into action, the potential exists to create a global consumer movement on a scale never seen before. Social media is broken, but with the right amount of pressure we can force the tech giants, starting with Facebook, to fix themselves.
The media elite embrace Bannon even as he cozies up to far-right European extremists
The past several months have been difficult for Steve Bannon, the disheveled, wannabe Machiavelli of American politics. Late last summer he was unceremoniously fired from his senior post in the Trump White House, then the candidate he backed in the Alabama special Senate election suffered a historic defeat under the weight of credible reports of sexual assault, and then he was evicted from his chairmanship of Breitbart News. All throughout the long, dark winter he was relentlessly mocked and jabbed by opponents and erstwhile allies alike, including President Donald Trump, who rechristened him “Sloppy Steve” and blamed him for the Senate loss in Alabama.
But now it’s springtime for Bannon, and he’s plotting a comeback. Undaunted by his manifold defeats and humiliations, Bannon is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.
Next week, Bannon will be one of the keynote interviewees at a Financial Times forum on “Trust, Technology and Transformation in an Age of Upheaval.” He’ll be appearing alongside some of the biggest names in news media: New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, CNN President Jeff Zucker, HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen, and others. Per the Financial Times’ description of the event, lucky attendees will get to “hear insights from owners/editors of traditional media on how they are dealing with digital disruption.”
Earlier this month, the very same Steve Bannon was in the middle of a goodwill tour of Europe’s repugnant far-right political parties. Having stumbled in his efforts to lead an American political movement devoted to white resentment and xenophobia, Bannon hopped across the Atlantic to have a spirited wallow in the rising bog of European ethnonationalism.
In Italy, Bannon showed up just ahead of the country’s latest round of elections reportedly to support the far-right League party and its leader, Matteo Salvini. The League and Salvini are noxiously anti-immigrant and often openly bigoted -- Salvini campaigned on mass deportation of African migrants, advocates the “controlled ethnic cleansing” of Italian cities, and has called for segregation of public transportation. During a speech in France on March 10, Bannon referred to him as “Brother Salvini.”
That speech was delivered before a gathering of the National Front, France’s premier far-right, xenophobic political party. The National Front has been trying to worm into the mainstream of French politics by carefully distancing itself from the blunt racism and winking Holocaust denial of its founders. The modern National Front employs more guarded language and PR savvy while blending aggressive nationalism with hostility toward immigrants, Muslim immigrants in particular. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who has masterminded the reformation of the National Front’s image, still sometimes lets the mask slip, like when she compared public demonstrations of faith by Muslims to the Nazi occupation of France. Bannon was happily at home among the party faithful, telling them to embrace accusations of racism and xenophobia as “a badge of honor.”
This is who Steve Bannon is hanging out with these days, and these are the people whose influence he’s trying to borrow in order to mount some sort of comeback. And he, of course, has every right to choose “hero of European racists” as his next career move, although one could argue that it’s really the only place he has left to go after being excommunicated by Trump and Breitbart following the Alabama fiasco.
But it’s scummy and gross that Bannon, after declaring common cause with bigoted political movements in Europe, can head back to the United States and have the welcome mat laid out for him by the country’s media elite. I’m not even sure what insights the Financial Times forum expects to glean from Bannon. As a media executive he was a fraud and a failure -- when he wasn’t using Breitbart.com as his personal PR service, he deployed its resources to (ineptly) bolster the sagging fortunes of the lunatic candidates he picked as the vanguard for his political movement. He vilifies all media outlets that aren’t servile to the president, and he spins wild conspiracy theories about secret plots between journalists and politicians to sabotage his preferred candidates.
Steve Bannon is drifting deeper into the fringes as he grasps for relevance. He has done seemingly everything in his power to forfeit his credibility and render himself toxic, and he's still afforded elite deference despite being an extremist crank.
Although Steve Bannon announced he left Breitbart.com in mid-January and the site and its investors have publicly signaled a sharp split from the now-former presidential adviser, it appears Bannon may still be living in the town house that serves as Breitbart’s D.C. headquarters.
Bannon announced his resignation from Breitbart on January 9, and the site quickly moved to distance itself from its longtime chair. Earlier this month, far-right Breitbart donor Rebekah Mercer, formerly advised by Bannon, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Bannon “took Breitbart in the wrong direction” and that “now that Mr. Bannon has resigned, Breitbart has the opportunity to refine its message and expand its influence.”
But how much distance can Breibart really claim from Steve Bannon if he’s still living upstairs at the D.C. town house known as the “Breitbart Embassy”?
According to a new interview with GQ magazine, Bannon is still “holed up at the company's Capitol Hill headquarters, plotting the next stage of his right-wing populist revolution and brooding over the course of human events.” From the February 28 piece:
These days, he no longer runs Breitbart News, but Bannon remains holed up at the company's Capitol Hill headquarters, plotting the next stage of his right-wing populist revolution and brooding over the course of human events.
That's where, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I found him—wearing a beige-khaki shirt over an orange polo, the collar down on one side and popped on the other. Amid the clutter sprawled in front of him on the dining room table at Breitbart's townhouse lay two totems of his current thinking. One was a copy of The New York Times, showing coverage of the Women's March protests that greeted the one-year anniversary of Trump's inauguration. He's been studying the movement closely, he explained. The other was a sheet of paper on which he'd sketched a triangle, labeling its vertices China, Persia, and Turkey. Invoking the 1930s and '40s, Bannon told me that he believes the triumvirate is forming a "new Axis," one that he thinks the U.S. and its allies must confront and defeat.
Writer Michael Lewis also appeared to have visited Bannon at the “Embassy” for a Bloomberg View piece published earlier in February. According to that profile, Bannon hosted some Breitbart staffers at the house to watch the January 30 State of the Union address.
Breitbart has used the Capitol Hill town house as its headquarters since at least 2011. In various interviews and reports over the years, the property has been referred to as “offices,” a “workspace,” and Bannon’s “living quarters.”
In November 2017, Olivia Nuzzi reported in New York magazine that Bannon was “unwilling to admit that he calls the Breitbart Embassy home,” though a source agreed with what Nuzzi described as “the general consensus here in D.C.,” saying that Bannon lives “on the top two floors” of the town house. He also reportedly treated the property like a home, leaving family photos on the mantel and diet instructions on the fridge. A December application to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office also described the property as “the home of Stephen K. Bannon.”
And in September, Bannon sat for an interview with 60 Minutes at the Breitbart Embassy. The resulting package described the property as Bannon’s “home in Washington, which doubles as the headquarters of Breitbart News,” and it showed footage of Bannon meeting with editorial staff at the dining room table.
As USA Today’s Paul Singer reported in March, a local elected official familiar with zoning rules stated that Breitbart’s various uses for the town house “appear to violate” zoning regulations for the neighborhood. The house is zoned for residential use only -- and its actual owner, Egyptian politician Moustafa El-Gindy, was, until recently, receiving a deduction for the house that owners get if they maintain residence in the property -- but it’s clearly used as a commercial workspace.
At the time of Singer’s investigation, a Breitbart spokesperson told the reporter -- and the standing committee that oversees Senate press coverage -- that the site was “transitioning” out of the house and actively looking for a new workspace in downtown D.C. According to Nuzzi’s profile eight months later, Breitbart News was still “headquartered in the basement” though most staffers worked there only when they were required to attend meetings.
Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon: The alpha male power duo is no more
Sebastian Gorka worked with Stephen Bannon at Breitbart.com both before and after his brief stint in Trump's White House. In numerous television appearances since leaving the White House, Gorka bragged that he and Bannon are “far more dangerous on the outside,” that “the alpha males are back,” and that he and "Steve" would be great at "the long game" of working outside the White House.
Bannon has since been fired from Breitbart after reportedly suggesting that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a group of Russians in Trump Tower was treasonous.
What Steve Bannon’s humiliating ejection from Breitbart means for the pro-Trump movement
Steve Bannon is out at Breitbart.com and everything about that is hilarious. Bannon has completed one of the most rapid implosions you’re ever likely to see from a public figure, going from high-powered presidential adviser to disgraced and universally reviled pariah in less than a year. His (largely self-created) reputation as a shadowy master political tactician and dangerous “revolutionary” has been ground to powder. Last April, Time magazine profiled Bannon as "The Great Manipulator," and since then he's manipulated himself into a historic electoral defeat and out of two jobs.
At every step along this ignominious journey, Bannon showed terrible judgment and sabotaged his own interests with his vanity and relentless need for validation from the "left-wing media" he professes to loathe. He got fired from the White House after volunteering an interview to the liberal American Prospect in which he trashed the administration's China policy. He tried to anoint himself the true leader of Donald Trump's political movement by defying the president and endorsing bigoted lunatic Roy Moore for Senate in Alabama. Bannon redoubled his support for Moore after the candidate was credibly accused of sexual assault, and he absorbed the blame for Moore's shocking defeat to Democrat Doug Jones.
Then came Michael Wolff’s book and its insider account of the Trump administration’s dysfunction, which featured Bannon attacking Trump’s son and other top campaign officials for the “treasonous” June 2016 Russia meeting. Bannon dished so many on-the-record quotes because he wanted to burnish his own reputation and because he had someone who would listen. The Russia quote went too far, though, and Bannon came under attack from the president and his former patrons, hedge fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Bannon, the self-described street-fighting, take-no-prisoners political war machine, meekly attempted to worm his way back into Trump's good graces, but to no avail.
Getting tossed from Breitbart like a Depression-era hobo from a freight train is obviously bad news for Bannon, especially since he had tried to spin his post-White House return to the site as a power move. "I've got my hands back on my weapons," he told the The Weekly Standard at the time, adopting the nickname "Bannon the Barbarian.” But what does Bannon's exit mean for Breitbart.com and the broader pro-Trump coalition?
What needs to be stressed here is that Bannon was excommunicated largely for his tactics, not his politics. Bannon tried to position himself as an independent leader of the Trump coalition, which obviously was not going to sit well with a president who fancies himself a Messiah-like head of a historical movement. He earned Trump's opprobrium not by challenging him on policy, but by calling his son's actions treasonous and unpatriotic. The swiftness with which the entire MAGA leadership reoriented to cast Bannon as an insignificant un-person makes clear how much of the movement is driven by personality as opposed to policy.
And that brings us to Breitbart, which fired its leader after determining that, as an ostensible purveyor of journalism, it could not have someone critical of the sitting president on its masthead. The Atlantic quoted a “source close to Bannon” saying that he had to go because “him being involved in politics was interfering with Breitbart’s ability to act as a news organization.” That’s obvious bullshit, given that Breitbart owed much of its post-2016 relevance to Bannon's alleged ability to elevate candidates who could challenge the Republican establishment.
The problem wasn't Bannon's activism, but the fact that he was terrible at it and chose awful candidates whom Breitbart would eagerly debase itself to defend. No one in the MAGA movement had any public grievance with Bannon’s meddling in elections or his use of Breitbart resources to bolster his candidates until Roy Moore lost.
As for Breitbart.com itself, the website had been functioning as Bannon's personal public relations shop; his every public utterance was given a splash headline, even when the story was literally “Steve Bannon has read a book.” Now it will have to fall back on its core missions: stoking racial resentment, failing badly at pretend journalism, and slavishly defending Trump. For conservatives, Breitbart will almost certainly be a go-to source for immigration news as the immigration policy debate spins up, much as it was during the 2016 presidential campaign.
For Bannon, the future is (to put it charitably) uncertain. His power and reputation were always oversold, and his egotism, hard-charging extremism, and seemingly total lack of political intelligence mean that he’ll always be prone to self-destruction. Right now he looks to be a persona non grata to just about every conservative power center. But the right has a proud tradition of failing up, and there are always more right-wing billionaires with little sense but lots of money to throw around, so even after a public humiliation as long and total as the one he’s brought on himself, Steve Bannon might just be OK.
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Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after news broke that Steve Bannon would step down from Breitbart.
Media Matters has closely tracked Breitbart since the site’s inception and has written countless pieces about the site and Steve Bannon. Nobody knows Breitbart better than we do. Breitbart will be as odious, contemptible, and awful without Steve Bannon as it was with him at the helm. If anything, Breitbart showed that it is now committed in total devotion to Trump and can be best identified as a mere PR apparatus serving the Mercers' agenda. Without Bannon, Breitbart will remain just as disreputable and disgusting as ever. We’ll be watching.
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Leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars website are positioning themselves to capture Breitbart.com’s readership if the website doesn’t fire its Trump-scorned chairman Steve Bannon.
On January 3, President Donald Trump publicly dissociated himself from Bannon following reporting that Michael Wolff’s newly released book quotes Bannon as saying that the actions of the Trump presidential campaign were “treasonous.” The president slammed Bannon in a statement, accusing his former chief advisor of “leaking false information to the media” during Bannon’s time in the White House, and saying he had “lost his mind.”
This new controversy could exacerbate financial questions that continue to swirl around the Breitbart operation. A 2017 ad boycott rooted in disgust over the site’s extremism caused the outlet to lose nearly 2,600 advertisers. And now, following the presidential disavowal, Bannon’s biggest patrons, billionaires Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, are reportedly uncomfortable with supporting his ventures and are reportedly looking into ousting Bannon from the website. Rebekah Mercer publicly rebuked Bannon the day after Trump’s statement was released. Matt Drudge, a major narrative driver in the conservative media apparatus whose contempt for Bannon predated the presidential spat, supported ousting Bannon.
Breitbart’s coverage of this schism failed to provide meaningful pushback or provide any defense of the disgraced chairman. The site’s readers, for the most part, sided with Trump, expressing their repeated support with comments that Infowars compiled and published such as, “I didn’t vote for Bannon,” and “Bannon blew any credibility he had by backing Moore.” Infowars quickly compiled and published the comments.
Infowars and Jones are currently exploiting the commotion to position themselves to fill the void Breitbart’s weakening and Bannon’s fall from grace might create. Now, nearly a year and a half after Infowars reporter and host Roger Stone bragged that he advised candidate Trump to hire Bannon, Jones is focusing his rage on the beleaguered Breitbart chairman, claiming he “stabbed the president and America in the back” and accusing him of being “at the heart of the attempt to take [Trump] down.” During other comments in the January 4 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones lobbed insults at Bannon (saying “Mr. Dandruff” has “big giant red swollen eyeballs that look like an owl on PCP that you poured 14 bottles of scotch on top of” and is a “pile of feces”) and suggested he be investigated for espionage. On Twitter, he attacked Bannon’s initial lack of response to Trump’s rebuke and praised Trump’s anti-Bannon statement.
The MAGA base has come to expect specific things from its news content, which Breitbart provided in relentless streams: a strong anti-establishment stance that included targeting the media and both major political parties, and a penchant for “triggering the libs,” a phrase used to ridicule progressive stances on cultural and social issues. Those are the elements that Trump weaponized to help him achieve victory.
After Trump took the White House, and following a year of reported chaos within the administration, the audience’s ethos now also includes unapologetic Trump loyalty, a defense mechanism that serves as a validation of their electoral choice. If Breitbart’s readers ultimately side with Trump and flee the website, Alex Jones’ Infowars seems like a prime candidate to pick up the disgruntled MAGA crowd by providing those readers the fix they’re looking for.
The fact is that Infowars has fewer constraints than Breitbart because it’s a financially independent outlet reportedly grossing close to $10 million a year -- not from advertisers, but from selling nootropic supplements and other merchandise. And this relative independence will only incentivize Jones to push forward on the path of bigotry, homophobia, and lies by pushing even more conspiracy theories and Trump propaganda that captivate the MAGA audience.