Bloomberg Businessweek: Breitbart News the Center of the ‘Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’

From Joshua Green writing at Bloomberg:

It’s nearing midnight as Steve Bannon pushes past the bluegrass band in his living room and through a crowd of Republican congressmen, political operatives, and a few stray Duck Dynasty cast members. He’s trying to make his way back to the SiriusXM Patriot radio show, broadcasting live from a cramped corner of the 14-room townhouse he occupies a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court. It’s late February, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is in full swing, and Bannon, as usual, is the whirlwind at the center of the action.

Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the crusading right-wing populist website that’s a lineal descendant of the Drudge Report (its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, spent years apprenticing with Matt Drudge) and a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained. He’d spent the day at CPAC among the conservative faithful, zipping back and forth between his SiriusXM booth and an unlikely pair of guests he was squiring around: Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s right-wing UKIP party, and Phil Robertson, the bandanna’d, ayatollah-bearded Duck Dynasty patriarch who was accepting a free-speech award. CPAC is a beauty contest for Republican presidential hopefuls. But Robertson, a novelty adornment invited after A&E suspended him for denouncing gays, delivered a wild rant about “beatniks” and sexually transmitted diseases that upstaged them all, to Bannon’s evident delight. “If there’s an explosion or a fire somewhere,” says Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, “Steve’s probably nearby with some matches.” Afterward, everyone piled into party buses and headed for the townhouse.

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As befits someone with his peripatetic background, Bannon is a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde figure in the complicated ecosystem of the right—he’s two things at once. And he’s devised a method to influence politics that marries the old-style attack journalism of Breitbart.com, which helped drive out Boehner, with a more sophisticated approach, conducted through the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute, that builds rigorous, fact-based indictments against major politicians, then partners with mainstream media outlets conservatives typically despise to disseminate those findings to the broadest audience. The biggest product of this system is the project Bannon was so excited about at CPAC: the bestselling investigative book, written by GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Published in May by HarperCollins, the book dominated the political landscape for weeks and probably did more to shape public perception of Hillary Clinton than any of the barbs from her Republican detractors.

Jeb Bush is about to come in for the same treatment. On Oct. 19, GAI will publish Schweizer’s e-book, Bush Bucks: How Public Service and Corporations Helped Make Jeb Rich, that examines how Bush enriched himself after leaving the Florida governor’s mansion in 2007. A copy obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek examines Bush’s Florida land deals, corporate board sinecures, and seven-figure salary with Lehman Brothers, whose 2008 bankruptcy touched off the financial crisis. “It’s not as cinematic as the Clintons, with their warlords and Russian gangsters and that whole cast of bad guys,” says Bannon. “Bush is more prosaic. It’s really just grimy, low-energy crony capitalism.”

While attacking the favored candidates in both parties at once may seem odd, Bannon says he’s motivated by the same populist disgust with Washington that’s animating candidates from Trump to Bernie Sanders. Like both, Bannon is having a bigger influence than anyone could have reasonably expected. But in the Year of the Outsider, it’s perhaps fitting that a figure like Bannon, whom nobody saw coming, would roil the national political debate.

Most days, Bannon can be found in his Hyde persona, in the Washington offices of Breitbart News. Operating from the basement of his townhouse—known to all as the Breitbart Embassy—Breitbart’s pirate crew became tribunes of the rising Tea Party movement after Barack Obama’s election, bedeviling GOP leaders and helping to foment the 2013 government shutdown. The site has also made life hell for Democrats by, for example, orchestrating the career-ending genital tweeting misfortune that cost New York Representative Anthony Weiner his seat in Congress in 2011. Tipped to Weiner’s proclivity for sexting with female admirers, Bannon says, the site paid trackers to follow his Twitter account 24 hours a day and eventually intercepted a crotch shot Weiner inadvertently made public. The ensuing scandal culminated in the surreal scene, carried live on television, of Andrew Breitbart hijacking Weiner’s press conference and fielding questions from astonished reporters.

On occasion, this partisan zeal has led to egregious errors. Just before our lunch in January, a Breitbart reporter published an article assailing Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch—but went after the wrong woman. She wasn’t, as the site reported, the Loretta Lynch who was once part of Bill Clinton’s defense team. The embarrassed reporter asked for time off. Bannon, allergic to any hint of concession, refused: “I told him, ‘No. In fact, you’re going to write a story every day this week.’ ” He shrugs. “We’re honey badgers,” he explains. “We don’t give a s—.”

But Bannon realizes that politics is sometimes more effective when it’s subtle. So he’s nurtured a Dr. Jekyll side: In 2012 he became founding chairman of GAI, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) research organization staffed with lawyers, data scientists, and forensic investigators. “What Peter and I noticed is that it’s facts, not rumors, that resonate with the best investigative reporters,” Bannon says, referring to GAI’s president. Established in Tallahassee to study crony capitalism and governmental malfeasance, GAI has collaborated with such mainstream news outlets as Newsweek,ABC News, and CBS’s 60 Minutes on stories ranging from insider trading in Congress to credit card fraud among presidential campaigns. It’s essentially a mining operation for political scoops that now churns out books like Clinton Cash and Bush Bucks.

Read the rest of the story at Bloomberg.


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