Fact Check: 6 Claims from Politico’s Smear Job on Breitbart News for Defying Media Cartel Bill

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Politico, the liberal magazine that aims to influence D.C. politics but is owned by a foreign media conglomerate, has published a hit piece on Breitbart News over its opposition to the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), a bill that aims to protect the discredited corporate media — including outlets like Politico — from online competition.

The JCPA, which Breitbart News has covered extensively, would create an antitrust exemption for media companies, protecting widely distrusted media companies from competition by allowing them to form a legal cartel to collectively bargain with Silicon Valley.

If the bill passes, big media companies would be able to strike deals with Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other tech giants that would prioritize their content to the detriment of podcasters, YouTubers, Substack authors, and other forms of independent media.

Dr. Dietrich Von Klaeden, VP of public affairs at Politico’s parent company, German media conglomerate Axel Springer SE, is on the board of directors of the News Media Alliance. The lobbying organization has led the charge for the JCPA, pouring millions of dollars into the bid to create a national news media cartel in the United States.

Seemingly desperate to rescue the legislation, Politico has lashed out at Breitbart News, the only news organization effectively standing in the way of the cartel’s formation. This article will serve as a fact-check of Politico’s claims.

CLAIM: 

Breitbart News is an “unlikely antagonist” of the JCPA, “on the same side” as Google and Facebook.

VERDICT: FALSE

For years, Breitbart News has exposed Google and Facebook’s efforts to artificially prop up the discredited corporate media, including rigging search results to favor establishment media, censoring independent media, and directly paying sums of hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to the likes of the New York Times and CNN.

It is entirely consistent with its prior coverage that Breitbart News would critically report on the JCPA, which would give the establishment media even more power to demand special treatment from Silicon Valley. Whether Big Tech is voluntarily favoring Big Media, or whether it is being pressured into doing so by a JCPA-created cartel, it will be subject to critical reporting from Breitbart News.

There is nothing “unlikely” about Breitbart News opposing the creation of a cartel that protects the likes of the New York Times and the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, the former of which had $2.1 billion in revenue last year and is in no need of a government handout. Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow’s bestselling book, Breaking the News, was all about the pernicious influence of overly-powerful media companies, and identified the incestuous corporate media establishment as one of the premier threats to our democracy. Why would Breitbart support a bill that artificially protects such a widely distrusted industry, that promotes falsehoods like Russiagate, and smears conservatives as insurrectionists and terrorists?

CLAIM: 

The JCPA “would enable publishers to collectively bargain with the social media companies to win payment for news content. The bill would do that by granting the news companies an exception to antitrust law.”

VERDICT: PARTLY FALSE

The JCPA would enable some publishers to collectively bargain with social media companies. The bill specifically excludes any content creator that does not have “a dedicated professional editorial staff” and does not publish news content on “at least a weekly basis.”

This means that a wide swathe of the independent media, including podcasters, YouTubers, and bloggers, would be excluded from the benefits of the media cartel’s negotiations with Big Tech. The stipulation that publishers must have a “dedicated professional editorial staff” goes directly against a recent trend, which has seen prominent journalists like Glenn Greenwald (who opposes this legislation) abandon traditional news publishers and set up one-man subscription newsletters on platforms like Substack. The JCPA attempts to re-centralize the news industry, which, absent the interference of Big Tech, is on a pathway to decentralization.

CLAIM: 

The JCPA “could conceivably benefit Breitbart financially.”

VERDICT: DUBIOUS

A line in the bill allows members of the state-sanctioned cartel to exclude any company that is not “similarly situated” to them from the benefits of their negotiations with the tech giants. This wide loophole would allow members of the cartel wide leeway to exclude news organizations based on arbitrary criteria — like Newsguard ratings, for example.

It’s possible, though unlikely, that the JCPA-created cartel would be unable to exclude Breitbart News. But the prospect of special treatment or payouts from the tech companies is not a good reason for Breitbart News to go soft on a bill that would prop up the New York Times and the Washington Post. They, and other giant media companies and conglomerates, deserve fair competition, not the protection of a cartel.

CLAIM:

Breitbart News is “lobbying” lawmakers on the bill.

VERDICT: FALSE

Breitbart News is reaching out to lawmakers for comment on the legislation while providing critical coverage. That’s what a responsible news organization should do when giant conglomerates like Politico’s parent company Axel Springer SE are trying to change the law to acquire even more wealth and power.

As Politico acknowledges, because so many news organizations hope to profit from the JCPA, Breitbart News is the only major news organization to report critically on it — which is not the same as “lobbying.”

“Lobbying” is what the News Media Alliance, where Axel Springer VP Dr. Dietrich Von Klaeden sits on the board of directors, is doing: attempting to influence the public debate by funding seemingly-academic “studies” and donating to the campaign coffers of influential lawmakers.

CLAIM:

“Breitbart has a different relationship with Facebook than many of its media peers do. Breitbart in 2019 became one of the first news outlets to join Facebook’s news tab, a program that allows news outlets to monetize their content through Facebook. Facebook does not pay Breitbart directly, but that partnership drives traffic and advertisers to Breitbart’s site. (POLITICO is part of the same program.)”

VERDICT: MISLEADING

Politico’s aim with this paragraph is to suggest that Breitbart News is beholden to Facebook for making it one of the few conservative outlets in its News Tab. Yet Politico acknowledges that it is on the News Tab too. The vast majority of news outlets on the News Tab support the JCPA because they hope for even more special treatment from Silicon Valley.

Politico notes that Breitbart News, unlike the New York Times and other news companies pushing this bill, does not receive any payments from Facebook. It neglects to mention that Facebook relegates Breitbart News to a second tier of the News Tab, which only shows Breitbart News links to users if the algorithm considers it to be aligned with that user’s interests. In other words, only conservatives see Breitbart stories on Facebook’s News Tab, whereas everyone sees New York Times stories.

Politico also fails to note that changes to Facebook’s algorithm after the 2016 election resulted in traffic to Breitbart News plunging by 20 percent. Breitbart News has been actively discriminated against by Facebook, which is under constant pressure from its employees and activist journalists to discriminate even further. Breitbart News owes no favors to Facebook and would welcome measures that prohibit the company from picking winners and losers in the news industry. By creating a privileged cartel of establishment news outlets, the JCPA does the opposite of that.

CLAIM:

“Many conservative media organizations — including Newsmax, Town Hall, the Washington Examiner and the Washington Times — have come out in support of the legislation.”

VERDICT: TRUE 

Some conservative publishers have come out in support of the legislation, in the hopes that they will be allowed into the cartel and reap the rewards of negotiations with Silicon Valley. Breitbart News does not believe that the dubious hope of a payout from Big Tech companies is a good reason to suspend critical coverage of this legislation.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.

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