An extensive study that professors and data scientists at Harvard and M.I.T. conducted has concluded that Breitbart News does not represent the “alt-right,” undercutting the legitimacy of left-wing activists, Democrats, reporters in the legacy media, Never Trumpers, and establishment Republican bobbing heads and mouthpieces who rushed after Charlottesville to reflexively smear, malign, and defame Breitbart News as an “alt-right” outlet associated with white supremacists and Nazis.
In a New York Times magazine cover story explaining how there is “no real precursor for Breitbart” of an outlet that has so quickly emerged to “dominate the political conversation in a pivotal election,” renowned essayist Wil S. Hylton spoke to Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, who has studied the “rise and influence” of Breitbart News in addition to the news media ecosystem with colleagues at Harvard and M.I.T. with a “colossal database.” Their Media Cloud database has at least ten years worth of articles and websites that enables them to study how information and news travel.
According to Hylton, “the last thing Yochai Benkler noted before” Hylton “left his office at Harvard was that his team had performed a textual analysis of all the stories in their database, and they found a surprising result”:
“One thing that came out very clearly from our study is that Breitbart is not talking about these issues in the same way you would find on the extreme right,’’ he said. ‘‘They don’t use the same language you find on sites like VDARE and The Daily Stormer’’ — two sites connected to the white-nationalist alt-right movement. He paused for a moment, then added: ‘‘Breitbart is not the alt-right.’’ (emphasis added)
Benkler told the Times that his extensive scientific study of Breitbart News was the “the collaborative undertaking of more than a dozen interdisciplinary colleagues throughout Harvard and M.I.T.”
Legacy media reporters, Democrats, left-wing activists, Never Trumpers, and establishment Republicans have–revealing their laziness, ignorance, or malice–taken former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon’s “platform for the alt-right” comment during the 2016 election out of context and wielded it as a club to bash Breitbart News and its readers of all backgrounds. Nearly all those who have done so perhaps not-so-coincidentally have opposed Breitbart News’ America-first positions on issues like immigration and trade.
In his New York Times magazine essay, Hylton emphasizes that critics who reflexively criticize and malign Breitbart News have not even taken the time to figure out the context of Bannon’s remark.
“Take a quick survey of your friends and see how many visited Breitbart last week or can name two articles that appeared on the site in the past three months. Then ask the same people what they think of Breitbart’s influence on the election, and watch how loud the room becomes. It’s startling the way the word ‘Breitbart’ has become iconographic, referring not really to the website or the company but to an amorphous mass of revanchist opinions for which Breitbart receives credit or blame,” Hylton writes. “We’re all so certain that Breitbart is spewing a fountain of bigotry every day — denigrating women and riling up anti-Semitism, wailing about ‘black crime’ and ‘trannies’ — that few of us devote much time to observing it for ourselves. As a result, we haven’t done a great job of figuring out what exactly Breitbart is or what Steve Bannon meant when he described it as a ‘platform for the alt-right.’”
Even the left-wing Mother Jones article in which Bannon was quoted explicitly noted that “exactly who and what defines the alt-right is hotly debated in conservative circles.” The piece also emphasized that Bannon “describes its ideology as ‘nationalist.'”
In other words, Bannon’s “alt-right” comment indicates he apparently thought it consisted mainly of computer gamers and blue-collar voters who hated the GOP brand associated with George W. Bush’s brand of “conservatism” or “Bushism” that sought nation-building adventures abroad while allowing crony capitalism to fester in D.C.
And as he explained to the Wall Street Journal in 2016, Bannon explicitly rejected and disavowed “ethno-nationalism” and “white supremacism.”
“I’m an economic nationalist. I am an America first guy. And I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world, have said repeatedly strong nations make great neighbors,” he said. “I’ve also said repeatedly that the ethno-nationalist movement, prominent in Europe, will change over time. I’ve never been a supporter of ethno-nationalism.”
Bannon’s definition of “nationalist” has been inclusive and shorthand for “America-first” economic nationalism. U.S.-born Americans and legal immigrants of all backgrounds can be “nationalists” whose interests are often sold out by card-carrying members in Bannon’s so-called “Party of Davos” who always put the interests of the global elite—who want to see no borders and view workers, especially blue-collar ones, as mere commodities—ahead of what is best for the United States of America.
In a Facebook post that may be even more relevant now about the various definitions of “alt-right,” YouTube star Paul Joseph Watson wrote in November of 2016 that the media like to obsess over a “tiny fringe minority” who had “no impact on the election” and just “likes to fester in dark corners of sub-reddits and obsess about jews, racial superiority and Adolf Hitler.”
Watson tried to inform the media that the so-called “alt-right” that helped Trump win the White House, as Breitbart News reported, can be “more accurately described as the New Right.”
“These people like to wear MAGA hats, create memes, and have fun,” Watson explained. “They include whites, blacks, Asians, latinos, gays and everyone else. These are the people who helped Trump win the election.”
The extensive Harvard/M.I.T. study of Breitbart News’ articles and the news ecosystem found that Breitbart News was indeed not “the alt-right” associated with Nazis and white supremacists who have attacked Breitbart News for having been conceived in Israel and its pro-Israel Jerusalem bureau.
— Richard Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) June 6, 2017
Benkler, the Harvard professor, told the Times that he inadvertently started to study Breitbart News because of the influence the outlet was having among voters who felt that establishment politicians and media outlets across the spectrum were out of touch with their concerns. And unlike legacy media outlets who do their best to conceal their left-wing activism under the false pretense of “objectivity,” Breitbart News resonated and gained credibility with so many Americans because Breitbart News has always been honest and transparent about where it has stood on issues like illegal immigration, radical Islamic terrorism, and policies that benefit American workers.
‘‘We didn’t set out to study Breitbart,’’ Benkler said. ‘‘Breitbart came from the data, not the other way around.’’
During the 2016 election, Benkler’s “team developed a method to determine the political association of any website’s audience,” with blue dots representing liberal readership and red dots representing conservative readership.
“Looking at the blue parts of the image, nothing was surprising: The largest circles were CNN and The New York Times, each shaded pale blue to indicate a center-left association. But the other side of the image showed just one big red circle: Breitbart,” Hylton writes in the Times magazine essay. “It was three times the size of Fox News and maybe a dozen times larger than any other news source on the right. If you wanted to know who was driving the Republican agenda in 2016, you didn’t need to look much farther than the massive crimson orb parked on Benkler’s screen.”