It is usually the custom of businessmen and groups to pressure newspapers and website to portray them in a positive light, whether politically or commercially. It is rare however for a media outlet to succeed in infiltrating the political realm, the most powerful administration on the planet no less. This is exactly what the Breitbart media network did in a relatively short time after it was initially shunned by the majority of the political elite in Washington due to its views that leaned towards violence and discrimination.
Its executive chairman Steve Bannon had even served as director of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign before he was later appointed White House chief strategist for a period that did not exceed eight months. Bannon was behind many of Trump’s electoral slogans and he helped in devising his presidential priorities. These are the same priorities that were adopted by Breitbart.
While this right-wing news site does not enjoy the popularity and credibility of other media, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and even Buzzfeed, it has become the most popular conservative site after Trump’s election as president.
But what is Breitbart and has it really become an indication of the US administration’s policies? Is it really the White House’s unofficial spokesman?
Israeli idea and American birth
Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart chose in 2007 to establish his own news website. He had previously worked with famous media pioneers, such as Ariana Huffington and Matt Drudge.
Co-founder of Brietbart, Larry Solov revealed in a 2015 article that Andrew Breitbart had the idea to establish his website while they were on a media trip to Israel in 2007. He said that Breitbart got the idea to set up a media network that “backs freedom and Israel.”
Solov said: “Andrew turned to me and asked if I would de-partner from the 800-person law firm where I was practicing and become business partners with him.”
“Maybe it was the impact of the historical place that we were in, but I agreed,” he said.
“I remember that we discussed that night our desire to set up a site that supports freedom and supports Israel,” recalled Solov.
Andrew Breitbart, who realized the importance of digital media, first set up a website that offers news from various agencies, such as Fox News. He republished them on his website before establishing in 2008, 2009 and 2010 three related news websites that reflect his editorial policy. A number of journalists who shared an opposition to the left, moderate right and traditional media soon joined these outlets.
Breitbart gained notoriety in 2010 and 2011 for publishing a series of false stories that relied, on several occasions, on manipulating videos. One such incident involved USDA official Shirley Sherrod. The site aired a video of her that showed her making racist comments. This led to her sacking from the USDA, but the video was later revealed to have been tampered with.
In 2011, Breitbart restored some of its credibility when it reported New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s scandal involving sexually explicit photographs. The scandal eventually led to his resignation.
The right’s Huffington Post
Breitbart gained further notoriety by publishing a series of scandals involving liberal and bureaucratic politicians and organizations. It became shunned by the Democrats and centrists, and even some Republicans, who said that the website sought to create political sedition and hate to promote its misleading stories.
After joining Breitbart, Bannon declared that he wanted the outlet to become the right’s Huffington Post. Bannon did not rise to prominence until after Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack in 2012. He continued in his predecessor’s footsteps and worked on expanding and updating the website. It now has offices in Texas, Florida, California, London, Jerusalem and Cairo.
Bannon, Breitbart’s godfather
Bannon served four years in the navy in the 1980s as he pursued his studies in national security from Georgetown University. Given his admiration of then US President Ronald Reagan, he pursued business management at Harvard University. He worked at Goldman Sacks before leaving it to establish a small investment bank, Bannon & Co., which was later purchased by Societe General in 1998.
Bannon then shifted careers and turned his eyes on the media and Hollywood. He soon produced a documentary that highlighted the political development during the Reagan years. He followed that with more movies that reflected his right-wing interests.
He met Andrew Breitbart in 2004 and they discussed forming a news website. After Andrew’ death, Bannon took over the site, which many said became a mouthpiece of the Tea Party, especially in wake of Barack Obama’s election as president.
Even though Bannon managed to develop the website, many among Andrew’s team criticized him because he had steered away from the “founder’s legacy.” Ben Shapiro, a major editor and one of Andrew’s friends, said that the founder sought to confront the bullies in politics and he used Breitbart to do so. He eventually resigned from the site in objection to Bannon’s leadership and direction he was taking.
Protecting the president from his enemies
Bannon’s return to the media after his brief stint in Washington sparked controversy in the media and political fields because he was privy to top secret meetings at the White House. His return was also seen as an opportunity to detect Trump’s interests and leanings.
Shortly after his departure from his White House post, Bannon held an editorial meeting at Breitbart after which he held a rare press conference during which he declared that he will “fight his enemies alongside President Trump.” He made his statement in reference to the so-called “fake” media, as labeled by the US president.
Many believe that Breitbart is leading media wars that the president cannot take on himself. It has even gone after some of Trump’s closest aides due to their “vague” positions. Breitbart attacked Trump’s daughter Ivanka and later her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom it described as the “Democrats” at the White House. The website also attacked Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, but it soon came back to support him when it came to his goal to build a border wall with Mexico and end the Obamacre health program.
Bannon asserted once again that he will continue to protect the American president from his “enemies”. He focused on immigration and defended Trump’s views, accusing the Catholic church of backing immigration for economic purposes.
Conditional White House ally
The number of readers of Breitbart rose from 2.9 million in 2012 to 17 million in 2016, revealed data published by the Washington Post, making it the most popular conservative American news site. The massive jump in readership can be attributed to exclusive interviews it made with Trump during his electoral campaign.
This has not gone without criticism, as Shapiro explained that he decided to resign from Breitbart after it became clear that the website had become more loyal to Trump than its own employees.
Bannon responded to the claims, saying that “our loyalty is not to Trump, but our readers and values.”