A scoop from BuzzFeed News’s Joseph Bernstein, based on internal documents from Breitbart, shows how the far-right site gave white nationalists and neo-Nazis a media platform while simultaneously courting reporters at the very liberal outlets that frequently criticized it.
BuzzFeed’s reporting is based on a cache of documents that includes emails between Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right agitator and former Breitbart News tech editor, and top names in media and far-right politics.
The story contains a slew of salacious details — including Yiannopoulos’s penchant for anti-Semitic email passwords. But one big takeaway is that despite Breitbart’s public insistence that it is not a “hate site,” its editors and writers were well aware they were offering white nationalists and neo-Nazis a platform.
And while Breitbart is publicly viewed as on the fringe of far-right media, the BuzzFeed report shows a friendly give-and-take with reporters at other outlets, who at times fed Yiannopoulos information and ideas for hit pieces.
Until recently, Breitbart had a presence in the West Wing with Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, who served as Trump’s campaign CEO as well as White House chief strategist. These documents and exchanges give a more detailed look at the ideology that spurred so much of Trump’s presidential candidacy. The story is worth reading in full, but here are some of the most striking findings:
The racism behind Breitbart’s mission is explicit
The reporting reveals that the push to cultivate an audience around racially charged and offensive content was explicit — from a video showing Yiannopoulos singing to a crowd of neo-Nazis to an insistence from Bannon that the site “save western civilization” by targeting black activists and female leaders with social media attacks and critical coverage.
Bannon’s instructions to Yiannopoulos used apocalyptic terms:
“Dude---we r in a global existentialist war where our enemy EXISTS in social media and u r jerking yourself off w/ marginalia!!!! U should be OWNING this conversation because u r everything they hate!!! Drop your toys, pick up your tools and go help save western civilization.”
“Message received,” Yiannopoulos wrote back. “I will do a Week of Islam next week.”
“U don’t need that,” Bannon responded. “Just get in the fight---ur Social Media and they have made it a powerful weapon of war. … There is no war correspondent in the west yet dude and u can own it and be remember for 3 generations--or sit around wasting your God-given talents jerking off to your fan base.”
There is a video of Yiannopoulos singing “America the Beautiful” as white nationalist Richard Spencer and neo-Nazis in the crowd raise their arms in Nazi salutes. (Yiannopoulos said he could not see the salutes due to poor vision).
Breitbart wasn’t left among the fringes. Some in liberal media played a helping hand.
More telling, however, is that Yiannopoulos was let in by a few in the liberal media world. Some, including a senior staff writer at Vice’s women’s channel Broadly, Mitchell Sunderland, would send him pitches that only outlets like Breitbart could run. Others would spill background information about some of Yiannopoulos’s targets:
- Sunderland asked Yiannopoulos to mock New York Times columnist Lindy West, whom he called a “fat feminist.”
- Dan Lyons, a tech reporter and editor, suggested story ideas and speculated, BuzzFeed wrote, about “the birth sex of Zoë Quinn, another GamerGate target, and Amber Discko, the founder of the feminist website Femsplain.”
- David Auerbach, a former tech reporter for Slate, “passed along on background information about the love life of Anita Sarkeesian, the GamerGate target; ‘the goods’ about an allegedly racist friend of Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy champion and frequent advocate of social justice causes; and a ‘hot tip’ about harsh anti-harassment tactics implemented by Wikipedia.”
Yiannopoulos’s courting of the mainstream got results: At least two of those tips — Sunderland passing along a Broadly video about the Satanic Temple and abortion rights, and Auerbach’s tip about Wikipedia — turned into Breitbart articles.