How Breitbart News went from fringe conspiracy site to the presidential stage

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

"My entire business model is to go on offense. They don't like our aggressiveness. They want to portray me as crazy, unhinged, unbalanced. OK, good, fine. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you."

This is how Andrew Breitbart, the late right-wing commentator and provocateur, once described the founding vision of his media empire, the many-headed conservative hydra that would become Breitbart News.

But cut the fuck yous from that mission statement and it begins to sound a lot like the ethos of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. (Trump may be an unapologetic racist and xenophobe, but he is not one to use excessive profanity.)


The most recent fuck you—at least to Republicans like Paul Ryan who have spent the last several months hoping they could harness the momentum behind the campaign while also disciplining their nominee into trading out explicit racism for familiar dog whistles—is Trump’s selection of Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon to head his campaign.

It was not the pivot that the mainstream Republican Party wanted, it was a re-entrenchment of the Trump campaign’s very DNA: the white nationalism, the anti-Muslim bigotry, the sneering xenophobia, the flirtation with anti-Semitism, and the embrace of conspiracy theories big and small.

The campaign, already a narrow cross section of an increasingly narrow Republican Party, has gone all-in on the anti-cuckservative vote. (A cuckservative, according to the alt-right corners of the internet, is a conservative with no principles. Or a small dick. Whatever.)

So what does it all mean? Sit back and relax, baby. I will explain it to you.

I don't read Breitbart News. What is it?

This is Breitbart News.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.
This image was removed due to legal reasons.
This image was removed due to legal reasons.

According to a 2014 report on news audiences and media polarization from the Pew Research Center, just 3% of respondents said they got their news from Breitbart in an average week.

But Breitbart's audience was found to be, unsurprisingly, far more conservative than the average news reader. According to Pew, 79% of Breitbart readers identified as right-of-center compared to 26% of the entire survey sample.


According to comScore, after consistent traffic gains throughout its coverage of the Trump campaign, Breitbart News saw 18.3 million unique visitors in July, roughly putting them in the same audience size as New York Magazine (17 million uniques), Politico (18 million uniques), and (19 million uniques).

White resentment is, among a great many other things, very good for business.

Has Trump always had a thing for them?

Not all of Breitbart News' coverage of Trump over the years has been positive, but the romance between the two started long before this presidential campaign.


And that relationship, going back to when Trump was just a reality television personality spouting racist birtherism about President Obama, has been pretty symbiotic.

Breitbart made its name with a handful of scoops: the “investigation” into ACORN that falsely alleged the community organization was involved in criminal activity and a series of topless photos of a sexting Anthony Weiner. But Breitbart began as, and largely remains, an aggregation and commentary site.


Which meant that Trump, in one of his many appearances on CNN or Fox News, could reference something he might have read on Breitbart in order to claim that, say, Hawaii had no record of Barack Obama’s birth (this is a lie). Then Breitbart could aggregate the clip or some other inflammatory thing Trump said as part of its daily news cycle.

It is the media equivalent of the ouroboros—or the Crass logo—a beast in perpetual consumption of its own tail. Trump swam in Breitbart News' alt-right conspiracy pool. They made for natural, if unintentional, allies.


But the relationship became much more involved after Trump declared that he was running for president.

When did the site go all-in on Donald Trump?

The extent to which Breitbart has approvingly covered Trump's campaign—egging on his racist pronouncements and even siding with the Republican nominee when former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewendowski was accused of assaulting former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields—has been pretty well documented.


Even former Breitbart staffers, including former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, who resigned after the Fields incident, have criticized the site for its uniformly fawning coverage of the campaign.

"In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew’s mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump," Shapiro told Politico in March. "He has shaped the company into Trump’s personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter, Breitbart News’ Michelle Fields, in order to protect Trump’s bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who allegedly assaulted Michelle."


Shapiro concluded by saying Bannon and his supporters should be "ashamed of themselves." (For some additional perspective: Shapiro is a guy who applauded the detention of a Muslim teenager who built a clock for his science class.)

A BuzzFeed News report from around the same time also alleged financial ties between Trump and Breitbart:

One current editor called the water-carrying [for the Trump campaign] “despicable” and “embarrassing,” and said he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump. A second Breitbart staffer said he had heard a similar description of the site’s relationship with the billionaire but didn’t know the details; and a third source at the company said he knew of several instances when managers had overruled editors at Trump’s behest.

Additionally, a conservative communications operative who works closely with Breitbart described conversations in which “multiple writers and editors” said Trump was paying for the ability to shape coverage, and added that one staffer claimed to have seen documentation of the “pay for play.”


Steve Bannon has firmly denied the existence of such an arrangement.

So who is Steve Bannon?

Bannon took over the Breitbart enterprise after Andrew Breitbart died of a sudden heart attack in 2012. He is a former naval officer, investment banker, and one of the people who got very rich off of Seinfeld. (An early investment deal gave him an ownership stake in the show, according to Bloomberg Politics.)


He was also, according to a report from Vanity Fair, the architect of Breitbart's Trump coverage. A source told the magazine that “everything that is written about Trump must be approved by Bannon.”

But mostly, Bannon is the completion of a circuit connecting the Trump campaign to Breitbart News. Rather than just ride the whispers that Breitbart was in the tank for his candidacy, Trump—in what appears to be an unprecedented move for a head of news organization—just brought him on to steer the ship.


All of which is to say that Trump has once again made subtext into text. The dog whistles of Republican politics quickly became explicitly racist stump speeches. The punishing consequences of restrictive abortion laws became an endorsement of actual punishment. An increasingly militarized border became a literal wall. And breathless conservative media coverage moved from a supporting role to the payroll.

Don't like it? OK, good, fine. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter