What Is Breitbart?
A look at the website that wants to ‘bitch slap’ the GOP.
Welcome to the Glad You Asked series, a shame-free zone where we tackle topics you’re too embarrassed to ask even your BFF about. Don’t worry, we gotchu.
On Tuesday, far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from his editor position at Breitbart News after a conservative blog unearthed video of him saying that there are certain merits to pedophilia. “I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting,” he said in a statement. “So today I am resigning from Breitbart, effective immediately.”
Yiannopoulos and Breitbart have been in the news a lot recently, and this resignation is bound to keep their names trending on Twitter for some time — so we decided it’s time to explain exactly what Breitbart is and why you should care.
Breitbart is a far-right media company that defines itself as a “conservative news and opinion website” with 45 million readers a month. It is, far and away, the most popular conservative news outlet in America. Since getting its start in 2007, Breitbart has forced government officials and congressman from office, brought liberal non-profit groups to their knees, given a platform to America’s most hateful groups and helped get Trump elected to the most powerful office in the Western world.
The site is headquartered in an unmarked building in LA’s Westside area, and has bureaus in Texas, London and Jerusalem. It’s supported partly through advertising revenue and partly by private funders. Breitbart executives have kept mum about who those private funders are. The hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer is one. (Mercer’s daughter Rebekah has worked for Trump’s transition team.) But who the others are is anyone’s guess.
A lot of people have criticized Breitbart for encouraging extremism and white supremacy. They point out that the site has an entire section titled “Black Crime” and that past headlines include “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It’s Time To Get Back In The Closet” and “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.” Breitbart’s editors landed in hot water in May for calling the columnist Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew.”
During the presidential campaign, the site served as a booster for Trump, providing more favorable coverage to his campaign than any other major news outlet. In 2015, anonymous sources at Breitbart, speaking to a BuzzFeed reporter, alleged that there was pay-for-play kind of financial relationship between Trump and the news site. When a female Breitbart reporter said she was assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager at an event in Florida, Breitbart took the Trump campaign’s side, prompting a number of Breitbart reporters and editors to resign in disgust.
None of this, however, appears to have discouraged the site’s fan base. While mainstream media organizations have had to lay off reporters and editors by the dozens, Breitbart continues to break its own traffic records.
Turning the web into an assault rifle
Breitbart was started in 2007 by the charismatic entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart as a simple Drudge Report-style news aggregator, pulling in stories reported by other outlets. Over time though, Breitbard hired journalists to do original reporting and commentary. He had a deep distrust of both the mainstream media and politicians, and used Breitbart as a way to “fight bullies,” no matter what side they were on. As the late New York Times media columnist David Carr put it: Breitbart “turned the Web into an assault rifle.”
The site’s first victim — or the first big one, anyways — was ACORN, an NGO that advocated for low-income people in communities across the country. (They helped poor people get access to mortgages and lobbied to raise the minimum wage, among other things.)
In 2009, a conservative activist — dressed as a pimp — secretly filmed himself getting advice from ACORN employees about how to set up a brothel. Breitbart published the videos on its site shortly afterward. Since ACORN received taxpayer money, the videos ignited a scandal. Donations to the group nosedived, and it closed the following year.
Breitbart’s next victim was a Department of Agriculture official named Shirley Sherrod. The site published a heavily-edited video that seemed to show Sherrod, who is black, making racist comments about white people at an NAACP event. The Department of Agriculture fired Sherrod over the video, then — after reviewing unedited video from the event that showed Sherrod was actually talking about why racism is bad — apologized. The agency offered Sherrod a new job, which she declined.
But Breitbart’s biggest coup came in 2011, when it published a bunch of photos of Anthony Weiner, a liberal Democratic congressman who was gearing up to run for mayor of New York City. In the photos, Weiner posed half naked and sometimes fully naked. Breitbart’s reporting alleged that Weiner, who was married with children at the time, had sent the photos to a number of different women he’d met online.
Weiner denied the photos were real, and the press criticized Breitbart for having published unsubstantiated allegations. When a lewd pic of Weiner was posted to his public Twitter feed, the narrative began to shift.
Weiner called a press conference in New York, but was late to arrive. While the media waited for Weiner to show up, a journalist noticed that Andrew Breitbart was in the room and urged him to speak. He did — I was there — and it was incredible to watch. He excoriated the media for not believing his story, for blindly supporting a perverted politician just because he was a Democrat, and for outing two of the women involved in the scandal, whose identities Breitbart had kept hidden to preserve their privacy. The media hung on his every word. He was theatrical, pugnacious. And when Weiner finally arrived 20 minutes later and admitted publicly that he had, in fact, sent all those dick pics, Andrew Breitbart was vindicated. Weiner resigned from office 10 days later.
‘Bitch-slapping’ the GOP
Less than a year after the Weiner scandal, Andrew Breitbart died of a massive heart attack. He was 43 years old.
His death cleared the way for Steve Bannon to take the helm of Breitbart. Bannon — a Gatsbyesque businessman and ultra-conservative political strategist — actually grew up as a Democrat in Virginia, in a “blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy” family. But he became disillusioned with the Democratic Party when he joined the Navy as a young man and “saw how badly Jimmy Carter had fucked things up” around the world.
Around the time of the 2008 election, Bannon became disillusioned with the Republican Party, too: He told a Bloomberg reporter in 2015 that “what turned me against the whole establishment” was returning to the US after living in Asia and seeing that Bush “had fucked up as badly as Carter.”
That anti-establishment view made him perfect for Breitbart, which was beginning to court a slice of American society that was so conservative it loathed Democrats and Republicans alike. Bannon has said his goal at Breitbart is to “bitch slap” the GOP, and to “destroy the state … like Lenin” did.
When he took over Breitbart in 2012, Bannon capitalized on the rage a lot of low-income white Americans were feeling about Obama’s liberal policies. It paid off: When Bannon took over, the site had 20 employees and received about 12 million pageviews a month; today, it has 100 staffers and claims to have 16 times as much traffic.
Last year, Bannon took a leave of absence from Breitbart to advise the Trump campaign. He reportedly resigned from Breitbart after Trump won in November in order to work as a chief strategist for the White House.
But even with Bannon gone, the site is poised to grow more and more. In Bannon’s wake, Breitbart president and CEO Laurence Solov — an LA lawyer who’s been on the site’s board of directors since its inception — will inevitably take on a larger role. Solov told the Los Angeles Times in January that he wants Breitbart to expand into TV and to eventually become “a global news network.” The site reportedly has plans to expand into European countries where anti-immigrant groups have become increasingly influential lately.
Whatever happens, get ready to see a lot more from Breitbart in coming years.