Breitbart London’s Editor in Chief Raheem Kassam has hit back at crude characterisations of Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon, telling the BBC that Bannon “really cares about the people around him [and] his country”.
Laying bare the establishment perspective in a segment the on the flagship news programme Newsnight, the BBC portrayed Bannon — recently hired by President-elect Donald Trump as his chief strategist and senior counsellor in the White House — as anti-Semitic, sexist, and beloved by Nazis.
But Kassam hit back, telling the BBC that Bannon was “nurturing”, a “competent businessman”, and a man who “really cares about his country”.
“Steve was the first person to come over to England to recruit me to run the Breitbart London bureau,” Kassam said. “I found him to be a very competent businessperson and also a very nurturing boss.
“He has helped us, me and my colleagues, for the last couple of years, to develop as journalists, and even as human beings, quite frankly. He’s a very fathering figure inside the organisation.
“That is not to say that as a boss he is not tough – he is very tough – but I also want to stress that here is a man who really cares about the people around him and more important than anything, cares about his country.”
Refusing to apologise on behalf of Bannon for the publication of headlines such as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”, and articles calling liberal women “dykes”, Kassam said: “The headlines you’re reading there are satirical opinion pieces rather than news items.
“And they are satirical if you go ahead and read them. They’re using shock headlines to poke a bit of fun.
“Bear in mind Stephen K Bannon isn’t responsible for the day to day output for Breitbart News, there’s an editorial team.”
Newsnight host Evan Davis countered that Bannon “scares the hell out of a lot of people because they don’t think those headlines are funny, jocular stuff”, putting it to Kassam that there has been a “coarsening of the public discourse, and that [Bannon] has been a big figure in that”.
“Yeah. And I’m a big figure in that coarsening, as well, Evan. People are fed up. People are tired. People don’t want to do things the nice, polite, wishy-washy way anymore. You know, their wages are going down. They find their mortgage is being foreclosed on. They’ve found themselves out of jobs.
“People are angry. And it’s about time people started reflecting that anger. There was a big, gaping hole in the news and commentary market for a news organisation like Breitbart who actually reflected how people were feeling.
“Is it ugly? Yes. Is it varnished? No. But is it truthful? Absolutely.”
Davis was then forced to ask Kassam for an inside view on the mood of President-elect Trump, as along with UK Independence Party interim leader Nigel Farage, Kassam is one of the few British people to have had an audience with Trump since his election, meeting with him in Trump Tower for over an hour on Saturday night.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May, by contrast, was afforded a twenty-minute telephone conversation, eleventh in line behind the leaders of Egypt and Mexico, among others, prompting speculation that disparaging tweets from Downing Street staffers during the presidential election had soured relations between the administrations.
“Does [Trump] know who Theresa May is? Did he express an opinion on the British government and the British government’s treatment of him in the campaign?” Davis asked Kassam.
Kassam said that May was “very congratulatory and polite” during the telephone conversation, but added: “Mr. Trump’s team was not really impressed with some of the statements that have come from some Downing Street staffers like Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill during the campaign. They’ve been very rude about the President-elect. So there will be fences that will need to be mended along that way.”
And he urged Downing Street not to ostracise Nigel Farage as a potential link between the two administrations, saying:
“People like Nigel put their country first. He’s done it his entire life. This situation would be no different. He would work in the best interests of the country and if the government asked him to do something for them like forging links with the new administration then he would make sure those links happen.”