Trump Names Breitbart Chairman Steve Bannon As Senior Adviser
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Donald Trump has richly rewarded his campaign's CEO, Steve Bannon, with an appointment as chief White House strategist. That appointment has inspired a firestorm. Bannon's critics say his right-wing news site, Breitbart, spreads hate and bigotry, as NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports. And just a note - this story has language that some listeners might find offensive.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Steve Bannon's resume is packed with seeming non-sequiturs - a stint in the Navy, a stretch at Goldman Sachs. He's a Hollywood investor who made a fortune off "Seinfeld" reruns. And then there's the one drawing all the controversy - Bannon's time turning the right-wing site Breitbart, in his own words, into the platform of the so-called alt-right with headlines and stories that offend many African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims and women.
Kurt Bardella was the site's top public relations consultant for three years. I asked him what he made of the criticism that the site published offensive and racist stories.
KURT BARDELLA: I thought they were all completely valid (laughter) and all true.
FOLKENFLIK: There were headlines such as, birth control makes women unattractive and crazy. Gabby Giffords - the gun control movement's human shield. And there's no hiring bias against women in tech; they just suck at interviews. Bardella argued Bannon sought to incite Breitbart's more bigoted readers, generating more clicks and shares, more controversy and more pressure on Republicans to take nationalist stands.
BARDELLA: You know, you look to the top for direction for boundaries, and when there aren't any, it empowers everybody beneath you to double down and do that to the nth degree. And then that's what really happened.
FOLKENFLIK: Bannon became Breitbart's executive chairman after the death of the site's founder, Andrew Breitbart, and he moved the site's headquarters from Southern California to Washington, D.C. Bannon had earlier expressed the desire for a shift in conservative politics.
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STEVE BANNON: All we need to do is bitch slap the Republican Party and get those guys, you know, heeding, too. And if we have to, we'll take it over.
FOLKENFLIK: That from a conservative radio show in 2010. On the same program a year later, Bannon denigrated liberal feminists with an anti-lesbian slur, praising instead such conservatives as Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
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BANNON: The women that would lead this country would be feminists. They would be pro-family. They would have husbands. They would love their children. You know, they wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven - you know, the Seven Sisters school up in New England.
FOLKENFLIK: The new Breitbart under Bannon took flight from the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by an anti-immigration economist and the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner. According to Joel Pollak, Bannon emphasized original reporting and expanded the site's staff. Pollak is senior editor at large and general counsel of the site.
JOEL POLLAK: Breitbart News is a conservative website, and we're not racist. We're not anti-Semitic. We're not anti-gay. We're not anti-woman. We're not any of those things.
FOLKENFLIK: Pollak says Bannon is inclusive in his hiring.
POLLAK: Well, I am an Orthodox Jew, and I have Saturdays off, Jewish holidays off. And Steventon always wishes me a Shabbat shalom on Friday afternoon, for the record, just in case you were concerned about that.
FOLKENFLIK: The accusation of anti-Semitism is a sensitive one. Breitbart adopts a hawkish line in favor of Israel. An incendiary Jewish conservative writer David Horowitz once wrote a piece calling the conservative editor William Kristol a renegade Jew.
During a custody battle, Bannon's former wife accused him of making a series of anti-Semitic remarks in arguing over their daughter's schooling. He has denied making those comments. In 1996, Bannon's then wife said he had physically attacked her. Bannon pleaded not guilty, and the case was dismissed.
The moment had an echo earlier this year when then Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski forcibly grabbed a Breitbart reporter to prevent her from approaching Trump after a rally. Breitbart essentially backed Lewandowski's denials over its own reporter, though those denials were untrue. Kurt Bardella was among those who soon quit, calling Trump a demagogue.
BARDELLA: Breitbart evolved to become the propaganda arm, a de facto super-PAC of the Trump campaign. And I think that was very evident if you looked at the homepage every day.
FOLKENFLIK: Outsider no more - Breitbart can now serve as a voice reflective of the Bannon wing of the new Trump coalition and, if desired, an enforcer, too. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.