There is no doubt that President Evil Cheeto Head’s unanticipated victory during the 2016 Election shook the foundations of American politics. And the media wasted no time trying to find an explanation for it such as Russian hacking and “fake news.” Both are major concerns but neither theories seem to explain the whole story. Some attribute to polarization through social media in which people choose which media outlets to follow. Yet, that doesn’t explain everything either. Nevertheless, if anything’s for certain, it’s that Trump could never have ended up in the White House without the help of Breitbart News. Founded in 2005 by the late Andrew Breitbart, this is a conservative website the New York has described as an organization with “ideologically driven journalists” that generates controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist.” And it has a reputation for publishing a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, incendiary headlines, as well as intentionally misleading stories. However, it’s a site that makes Fox News seem like the BBC and it’s for people who think the cable news network is too polite and restrained. Yet, thanks to the Trump campaign and the 2016 Election, Breitbart has stepped out from the fringes of American politics and became a leading voice in the conservative media. This March, Breitbart tried become a credentialed member of the Senate Daily Press Gallery alongside mainstream outlets like the New York Times and USA Today. Had it got its way, then they’d have access to the Capitol on par with congressional staff and a place in the White House press pools. So far the Standing Committee of Correspondents has denied their request, for good reason. Because Breitbart News shouldn’t have any press accreditation as mainstream news outlet for various reasons. But first, a bit of background.
This March, a Harvard and MIT study reported in the Columbia Journalism Review offers a less exotic and far more disturbing explanation. Yet, it’s one that makes far more sense. Their study consisted of tracking over 1.25 million online stories from 25,000 sources published between April 2015 and Election Day using an open-source platform for media ecosystems called Media Cloud. They also analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and content topic and language patterns within the stories. Their work showed a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed a distinct and insulated media system. Harnessing social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective of the world, this pro-Trump media sphere seemed to not only successfully instill a right-wing media agenda, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, particularly in covering Hillary Clinton. Though political and media polarization existed online, the Harvard study suggests that it was asymmetric. According to them, Clinton supporters were highly attentive to traditional media outlets alongside more left-wing sources. By contrast, Trump supporters paid most of their attention polarized outlets catered to affirming their political worldviews. Since one of the right-wing media’s central themes is attacking the “opposing” media’s integrity and professionalism, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Or at least whenever the so-called “liberal” media published stories containing information the right-wing media didn’t like such as negative press about Trump. And their vehement attacks on traditional journalism usually convince their audience to only trust them as if it’s the mainstream media’s mission to deceive rather than inform.
Although it’s often said that the internet can fragment public discourse and polarize opinions by allowing us to filter news suiting our views, the Harvard and MIT study challenged that simple narrative. They concluded that had technology been the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we’d expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and right. But instead, they found that different internal political dynamics within the left and right-wings leading to different patterns in reception and technology use. Sure Facebook and Twitter enabled right-wing media to circumvent the traditional media’s gatekeeping power. But the pattern wasn’t symmetric. And in a way, the Harvard and MIT study seemed to confirm what many of us knew all along. For one, right-wing media outlets like talk radio and Fox News have contributed to increasing political polarization way before Facebook and Twitter even existed. Second, another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found polarization increasing faster among those using social media the least: white senior citizens. Third, the fact the Harvard and MIT study found the same asymmetric patterns on Facebook and Twitter suggested that human choices, culture, and politics played more of a role.
Nor did the study find many of the most-shared stories qualifying as “fake news” in the context of wholly fabricated falsities created by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck on Facebook. Rather many of these most-shared stories would be more accurately understood as disinformation. For those who don’t know, disinformation is the deliberate combination of decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of paranoid logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. Again, this is no surprise since people are much more likely to believe in distorted news stories than fake ones altogether. Disinformation is a classic propaganda technique employed by authoritarian regimes and conspiracy theorists. Though partisan media use of disinformation is neither new nor limited to the right-wing, it is a much bigger problem than mere “fake news.” Nevertheless, over the course of the election, the right-wing media’s use of disinformation turned it into an internally coherent, relatively insulated knowledge community which reinforced their readers’ shared worldview and shielded them from the journalism challenging it. Through repetition, variation, and circulation, these right-wing media outlets made their claims familiar to their audiences. And their fluency with their core narrative gives credence to the incredible. The prevalence of such material created an environment where President Pussygrabber and his White House swamp cronies can tell their supporters anything and they’d still cheer for him. Yet, once again, since the right-wing media sphere has usually functioned this way well before the 2016 election as demonstrated by Fox News and Talk Radio.
Nevertheless, when the folks at Harvard and MIT mapped their media sources through their methodology, they saw Breitbart as the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed. Their maps also show that the hyper-partisan attack pattern was set during the primary season within this right-wing media system. Not only did Breitbart and co. attack opposing candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio but also media that didn’t support Trump’s candidacy like Fox News. In early 2016, Breitbart aimed to delegitimize Fox News as conservative media’s central arbiter through sustained attacks tying it to immigration, terrorism, Muslims, and corruption. As a result, Fox News was effectively sidelined only to revive and integrate more closely with Breitbart and the rest of the right-wing media sphere once the primaries ended. From then, their target became all traditional media, Hillary Clinton, and immigration.
As Breitbart assumed its role of central arbiter of conservative news, the right-wing media was able to bring focus on immigration as well as Hillary’s e-mails and other scandals to a broader media environment. Trump’s heavily substantive agenda on immigration and his direct attacks on Hillary would dominate public discussions. Coverage of Clinton overwhelmingly focused on her e-mails, the Clinton Foundation, and Benghazi. Whereas, Trump’s stories centered on immigration along with arguments on jobs and trade received more attention than his far more mind-boggling corruption scandals (which the Washington Post appropriately called out). Such coverage gave many Americans impression that Hillary Clinton was corrupt and untrustworthy and that Donald Trump cared for struggling working class whites. But it was a highly misleading one at its core. It was one newspapers, magazines, and several online media outlets immediately saw through, especially if they were extremely familiar with Trump. Because a lot of them wasted no time covering his long record of dirty business practices. However, that false impression convinced enough voters in critical swing states to choose Trump, vote third party, or not vote at all. Why? Because many of these Americans usually get their news from mainstream outlets, TV, radio, and/or the local paper. And while they’ve been familiar with Hillary Clinton’s baggage for decades, they mainly saw Trump as a rich successful businessman and reality TV star instead of the sociopathic con artist and demagogue he truly is.
Nevertheless, while the mainstream media was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around where Trump and Breitbart had common cause: immigration. Trump’s campaign and Breitbart’s coverage on immigration have made overt racism and xenophobia more acceptable to mainstream conservatism. Breitbart and other right-wing outlets would frame it in terms of terror, crime, and Islam with their immigration stories were among the most widely shared on social media and the site devoted disproportionate attention to it. And it didn’t help that many of the immigration issues they brought up weren’t very well understood. Take sanctuary cities, for instance. According to right-wing media, they’re consistently vilified as criminal hellholes where undocumented immigrants are free to roam around the streets and can get away with murder. The 2015 shooting death of Kathyrn Steinle was a frequent feature in Republican campaign ads, particularly Senator Pat Toomey’s. Sure San Francisco released her shooter from prison who had 5 deportations. But Juan Lopez-Sanchez’s record mostly consisted of unauthorized reentry and drug possession and had no outstanding warrant for his arrest. There was no way San Francisco could foresee Lopez-Sanchez killing someone. Furthermore, it’s possible Lopez-Sanchez killed Steinle by accident, which might explain everything. Yet, when you hear about the Steinle case, you get the impression Lopez-Sanchez was a violent thug whom San Francisco should’ve handed over to ICE for deportation. Trump’s hardline position on immigration has deeply resonated with conservative voters that within a week of Steinle’s death, his poll numbers shot up which placed him as the GOP frontrunner. Along with Breitbart and the RNC, Trump has made “sanctuary cities” a scapegoat embodying injustices falling upon Americans out of a perceived laissez-faire approach to immigration enforcement. Trump would often illustrate this by parading grieving families onstage at his rallies and at the Republican National Convention. And it’s one he’s used to justify shutting the US-Mexican border and deporting America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The fact Breitbart has become one of the most popular news outlets on the right as well as played a critical role in the 2016 Election should be particularly troubling. Today, according to Alexa, it ranks as one of the top 1,000 most popular sites on the Internet as well as just outside the top 200 most popular sites in the US. As I’ve said before, Breitbart is a right-wing news website once run by now current Trump adviser Stephen Bannon who openly admitted the site as “the platform for the alt-right.” Under his watch, the outlet had undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing right-wing extremist ideas associated with the alt-right, Bannon’s target audience. I have written before that the alt-right is a loose set of far-right ideologies that share the core belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness, and social justice. And that white identity must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states. Since 2015, Breitbart has openly promoted the Alt-Right’s core issues and introduced their racist ideas to its readership, much to white nationalists’ glee for they could never dream of reaching a vast audience. Breitbart’s comment section is filled with white nationalist and anti-Semitic language reflects this. Since Bannon took over after founder Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012, Breitbart has cheered on white nationalist groups as an “electric mix of renegades,” accusing President Barack Obama of importing “more hating Muslims,” and waging a war against the so-called purveyors of “political correctness.” As Occidental Dissent’s Brad Griffin put it, “I think Breitbart has had a positive impact on our culture and politics. It is unwittingly engaging in what I call ‘discourse poisoning’. I assume the profit motive is at work here – anyway, it benefits us to erode taboos, so I don’t really care how much money they make. You could also say that we can look at Breitbart as a model that those of us who are further to the Right ought to be doing instead of writing history lectures or boring essays about obscure philosophers no one cares about.” Throughout the 2016 Election, outlinks to Breitbart steadily grew over the course of 2016 on the most prominent white supremacist websites. By late that year, the conservative website was topping media outlets like the UK’s sensationalist tabloid style Daily Mail and the neo-Nazi The Daily Stormer. It’s said the far-right boards of 4chan regularly linked Breitbart stories over 1,000 times a month.
Breitbart has always given a platform to some radical right movements even before Bannon took over. And this applied particularly those in the nativist and anti-Muslim set, which given the high rate of American Islamophobia isn’t completely unacceptable. Breitbart organized conferences featuring nativist speakers and published op-eds and interviews with movement leaders. Yet, since 2015, the right-wing news site started publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants. In May of that year, Breitbart published an article defending Pamela Geller for hosting a “Draw Mohammed Cartoon Contest” in Garland Texas. Geller’s drawing contest was a tactic many viewed as an act to incite and anger American Muslims. In fact, 2 armed men linked to ISIS targeted the event and were killed by police for attempting to storm the venue. Breitbart’s article was titled, “6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Cartoon Contest is No Different from Selma” and it came with Geller’s photo alongside that of Martin Luther King Jr. in order to liken the notorious Muslim-basher with the great civil rights leader. Bannon has praised Geller as “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam, while the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed her American Freedom Defense Initiative as an Anti-Muslim hate group. In February of 2016, Breitbart produced a 51-second anti-Muslim video about South Carolina introducing an anti-Shariah law bill depicting stoning executions and harsh punishments as warning that Shariah Law would undercut American justice. It was a claim echoing similar Anti-Muslim sentiments by activists fearing “creeping Shariah” will preempt the Constitution. A month earlier, Breitbart published an article by longtime anti-immigrant politician Tom Tancredo titled, “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture” which almost resembled a white nationalist screed. In it, Tancredo warned about an “epidemic” or rape across Europe and concluded with, “The Muslim rape culture is not a ‘dirty little secret — it is widely recognized as integral to Islam as taught in the Koran and the Hadith. Like honor killings and other parts of Sharia, it will not be wished away. And like honor killings, with massive Muslim immigration on the horizon, it could be coming to a town near you all too soon.” And in September of 2015, Breitbart attacked Pope Francis for his comments about the US welcoming more refugees by invoking a popular Alt-Right novel Camp of the Saints and lauding it with a quote by Pat Buchanan. Now the book depicts an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of dark skinned refugees, characterized as horrific and uncivilized “monsters” stopping at nothing to greedily and violently seize what rightfully belongs to the white man.
But Breitbart doesn’t just target Muslims and immigrants. Another popular racist conspiracy it propagates is the notion that African Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates. Of course, linking blacks to crime isn’t unusual in right-wing media since Fox News does this all the time like calling Black Lives Matter protestors as a bunch of cop-killing lawless thugs. So does Breitbart which published a piece titled, “A SHORT LIST OF BLACK LIVES MATTER’S COP-KILLING HEROES.” Nor was Breitbart a stranger to this either. In 2009, the news outlet played a central role in promoting the ACORN undercover videos and had one of their reporters dressed as a prostitute, which led to the community organizing network’s demise. In 2010 released the edited Shirley Sherrod video titled “Proof NAACP Awards Racism” which got her fired from the Department of Agriculture. Oh, and in 2014, they reported that then Obama attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch served in Bill Clinton’s defense team during the Whitewater scandal when she didn’t. And they’ve also promoted Obama conspiracy theories like the often repeated falsehood that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim. In July 2015, following the Charleston church shooting, Breitbart published a piece entitled: “Hoist it high and proud: the Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage,” reeking of the white supremacist sentiment shooter Dylann Roof embraced. The next month, after the murder of a white journalist and cameraman live on air by a disgruntled African American former co-worker, Breitbart published the race-baiting headline, “Race Murder in Virginia: Black Reporter Suspected of Executing White Colleagues – On Live Television!” It is remarkably similar to ones seen on the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens’ website, which his dedicated to spreading falsehood to the public about the black crime “epidemic.” Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof credited the CCC website as being his gateway into white nationalism after stumbling upon it during a Google search on black on white crime. In addition, Bannon has credited now US Attorney General Jeff Sessions who’s referred to civil rights advocacy groups as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” And in July 2016, he accused the “Left” of a “plot to take down America,” by fixating on police shootings of black citizens and arguing that the 5 fallen police officers in Dallas were murdered “”by a #BlackLivesMatter-type activist-turned-sniper.” He even accused the mainstream media of an Orwellian “bait-and-switch as reporters and their Democratic allies and mentors seek to twist the subject from topics they don’t like to discuss—murderers with evil motives—to topics they do like to discuss, such as gun control.” He then added, “[H]ere’s a thought: What if the people getting shot by the cops did things to deserve it? There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.”
Though Breitbart editors have repeatedly attacked critics connecting their website to the alt-right’s anti-Semitic elements by pointing to Jewish writers on their staff and embrace for far-right Israeli politics, the comment section analysis shows they don’t have a zero tolerance policy for anti-Semitic views. Of course, this isn’t surprising since Bannon is a well-known anti-Semite. His ex-wife claimed he didn’t want their daughters attending a private girls’ school in Los Angeles because he didn’t want them going to attending a school with Jews. According to her from court documents, “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’.” Bannon has denied these allegations. Nevertheless, anti-Semitic or not, far right extremists like what they see on there. A focus on “globalist elites” was a traditional anti-Semitic dog whistle used by the radical right to a core appeal embraced by American and European right-wing populists. And it’s been a “rolling narrative” Breitbart extensively covers. One of its London pieces attacked Washington Post writer Anne Applebaum referring to her as a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist” with “global media contacts.” It was roundly criticized as being anti-Semitic. Breitbart’s similar inflammatory coverage of the migrant crisis and terrorism resonates with the hard right which includes anti-Semitic fellow travelers. And by 2016, the phrase “Jewish” on the Breitbart comments section had morphed into an epithet used in similar contexts as “socialist” or “commie.”
Though right-wing media has a very terrible reputation for sexism, Breitbart has no shortage of deeply misogynistic stories and headlines with feminists regularly targeted. On a story about online harassment, Breitbart published a piece titled, “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off” which read, “Women are — and you won’t hear this anywhere else — screwing up the internet for men by invading every space we have online and ruining it with attention-seeking and a needy, demanding, touchy-feely form of modern feminism that quickly comes into conflict with men’s natural tendency to be boisterous, confrontational and delightfully autistic. Feminism never brings men and women together in equality. It drives the sexes apart through acrimony, constant suspicion and antagonism like ‘teach men not to rape’ and illogical generalities and conspiracy theories like the ‘patriarchy’.” Though to be fair, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos has gained notoriety for Gamergate. Nevertheless, this is typical garbage that’s basically blaming telling women to put up or shut up. Not to mention, blaming feminism for men’s conduct toward women that receive little to no consequences which is appalling. We should also account that Bannon’s ex-wife brought charges of domestic violence against him in 1996 as well as referred to feminists as “a bunch of dykes of the 7 Sisters schools.” Or how about birth control? In that case, a 2015 Breitbart article stated that “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” which stated that, “your birth control injection will add on pounds that will prevent the injection you really want — of man meat.” On women in tech: “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.” Other headlines consist of, “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?,” “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?,” “Lesbian bridezillas bully bridal shop owner over religious beliefs,” and “Teenage boys with tits: Here’s my problem with Ghostbusters.” LGBT people, the disabled, the overweight, and pretty much anyone who disagrees with Breitbart’s agenda are often targets as well.
However, Breitbart’s most disturbing piece to date was its Alt-Right primer published in March 2016. The piece ignores Alt-Right founders Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and others’ racist views and referred to them as the movement’s “intellectuals.” Though they do note that these men have been accused of racism. It’s a striking example of how the website has moved over since 2015 and how Breitbart has become the alt-right’s platform. But even to this day, Breitbart’s owners continue to deny their website has any connection to the Alt-Right or has ever supported racist or white supremacist views. Yet, you wouldn’t know from some of their journalists’ Twitter pages who support the Alt-Right’s core tenets. The most notable was former tech editor and star writer Milo Yiannopoulos who was permanently banned from Twitter for his online abuse of Leslie Jones and others. Though to be fair, this is a guy whose claim to fame was leading a massive troll war over misogyny in the video game world called Gamergate. And he was called by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the person who propelled the alt-right movement into the mainstream.” When asked on how he, Breitbart, and other sites mobilized the alt-right community, Yiannopoloulos replied, “I don’t pander to anyone. I just gave the alt-right a fair hearing. That was considered heretical by the virtue-signaling leftist media, so now they call me a white nationalist and anti-Semite, despite the fact that I’m a gay Jew with a black boyfriend. To the American media, anyone who is not a far-left social justice activist is a racist and sexist. This has had a predictable consequence: no one cares about their name-calling and hysteria anymore.” He’s basically denying that the alt-right is nothing like the white nationalist extremism it certainly is. That’s just the leftist media talking. However, he then added, “Trump’s voters, and I would wager in fact most of America, are repulsed by the Lena Dunham, Black Lives Matter, third-wave feminist, communist, ‘kill all white men’ politics of the progressive left. Which is in large part why this election went the way it did. Some of us saw it coming a while ago. Most didn’t.” This is basically what you’d expect from Yiannopoulos. Yet, it’s disturbing to even imagine what kind of people would attend his campus talks during his “Dangerous Faggot” tour which coincided with a rise of hate crimes around the country following Trump’s victory. But tickets usually sold out fast though his events included security as well as angry protests. And for awhile, his star seemed on the rise since he signed a $250,000 book deal with Simon and Schuster as well as an invitation to speak at CPAC. But he would later suffer a massive fall from grace after his pedophilia comments and be forced to resign from Breitbart as well as have his deals with Simon and Schuster and CPAC cancelled.
What’s also disconcerting is Breitbart’s unabashed support for Donald Trump whose campaign helped mobilize and mainstream racist activists online which had internal ramifications for the site. In March 2016, then Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and site published an article questioning Fields’ account. Editor Ben Shapiro and a number of journalists including Fields quit as the New York Times said that, “Breitbart’s unabashed embrace of Mr. Trump, particularly at the expense of its own reporter, struck them as a betrayal of its mission.” Former employees accused Bannon of having, “turned a website founded on anti-authoritarian grounds into a de facto propaganda outlet for Mr. Trump.” However, we should know that Breitbart’s support for Trump was known since August 2015 when Buzzfeed reported that several anonymous staffers claimed he had paid for favorable coverage on the site, which management denied. Though Newsweek and The Washington Post have both reported that owners Robert and Rebekah Mercer have deep ties to Trump and were among his earliest and most generous backers as well as recommended Bannon to him. Nevertheless, the partnership was mutually beneficial. Trump would secure the support of Breitbart’s core readership as among his most steadfast supporters. Breitbart’s traffic would more than double while Trump would also appear on Steve Bannon’s Sirius XM radio show as well as cite Breitbart on his website more than any other source. As the Trump campaign’s propaganda machine, Breitbart provided positive coverage for him. They regularly featured opinion pieces by Trump supporter Ann Coulter. They covered his rallies and rarely questioned his policy proposals. They even published some articles bolstering Trump’s claims that independent fact-checkers rated as false. And in July 2016, Trump appointed Bannon to run his presidential campaign which eventually earned him a place in his administration. Having Trump and Bannon in the White House only legitimizes Breitbart’s agenda as well as gives them a direct conduit of power they’ve never had before. Inside the Trump administration, Breitbart is likely to be the most read publications inside the White House over the next 4 years, giving it even more legitimacy and policy. And Breitbart would continue publishing articles espousing the Trump White House views, making it a powerful messaging tool to influence conservatives who voted for him.
While Bannon may no longer be at Breitbart, his legacy remains. We must not forget that Bannon’s editorial vision has demonstrably mobilized a grassroots fighting for a white ethnostate and in many cases, another Holocaust. After all, if they consist of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, it’s not surprising. And longstanding far right leaders haven’t ignored Breitbart’s ascension made possible by the Trump campaign who’ve reacted with the shock at how their editorial bent resembles their own. We should understand that these extremists’ hate is real and thriving on Breitbart, which has helped expand their influence on the American political right. And for many their propensity to inflict terror on Americans is a real threat. As a media organization, Breitbart has absolutely no journalistic integrity and its influence in the mainstream press during the 2016 Election was an extremely negative one styles itself as a website catering to the worst in American conservatism. Having Trump appoint Bannon to his administration signals that white supremacists are represented at his White House. I have already written a post on the alt-right and highlighted how their influence might lead to more domestic terror attacks. And the fact the Trump administration has a terror policy focused solely on Islam sends a clear signal that would only embolden these radical right-wing degenerates. Though Breitbart has failed to gain legitimacy in Washington, Trump still uses it as a news source as it becomes the central arbiter in the American conservative media ecosystem and therefore, giving it some degree of mainstream legitimacy. And as long as both things are true, then Breitbart has every opportunity to rear its ugly head and permeate its toxic influence into White House policy.