It’s been amply established that Breitbart News Network is one of the most notorious fake news shops in the country. The site bills itself as the main mouthpiece of the alt-right, and the voice of those who want to drain the swamp. Well, it turns out that Breitbart’s premise is just as fake as the “news” it peddles. An investigation by Media Matters reveals that Breitbart regularly promotes the interests of a family of Republican megadonors who are also major stockholders in Breitbart–and does so in a way that the resulting conflicts of interest would make Donald Trump blush.
Last November, as part of the process for earning congressional press credentials, Breitbart broke its long silence about its ownership structure. Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, who took over as the company’s operating head after Steve Bannon resigned to lead the Trump campaign, revealed that the largest stake is held by the family of the site’s namesake, Andrew Breitbart. Another large stake is held by the family of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.
While not nearly as well known as the Koch brothers, the Mercers share the Kochs’ desire to open their wallets for Republican causes. Robert, the co-CEO of Long Island-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, donated $3.4 million to the Trump campaign and related entities last year. He donated a total of $8 million to Republican causes for the entire 2016 cycle; only fellow hedge funder Paul Singer donated more to the GOP.
Mercer prefers to stay out of the limelight; his daughter, Rebekah, handles most of the family’s donations. She heads a family foundation that donated over $70 million to conservative causes from 2009 to 2014. She and Bannon have a very long relationship; Bannon served as Rebekah’s main political adviser, and Rebekah played a key role in Bannon’s hiring by the Trump campaign.
This context is needed to understand concerns that the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery, which handles press credentials for Capitol Hill, have had about the close ties between Breitbart and the Mercers. In March, the committee denied Breitbart’s request for permanent press credentials because there are too many unanswered questions about the links between Breitbart and the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank. Rebekah Mercer serves as GAI’s chairwoman, and the Mercers provide most of the funding.
Bannon founded GAI in 2012 along with Breitbart managing editor Wynton Hall and senior editor-at-large Peter Schweizer, and served as chairman of both GAI and Breitbart until leaving to join the Trump campaign. However, Schweizer serves as GAI’s president, while Hall is GAI’s communications strategist. On the face of it, this is a blatant violation of gallery rules barring credentialed outlets from “lobbying or paid advocacy, advertising, publicity or promotion work” on behalf of any special interest group.
Media Matters’ Matt Gertz did a deep dive into the ties between Breitbart and GAI, and discovered evidence that Breitbart is making a mockery of these rules. He discovered a number of Breitbart articles over the last six years that are nothing more than “press release copy for GAI.” For instance, Breitbart heavily promoted a GAI report about Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s supposed ties to Russia. Bannon and Schweizer also hyped the report on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show.
Breitbart has highlighted the GAI report at least eight more times since then.
This isn’t the only time that Breitbart has essentially turned into a press wire for GAI. By Gertz’ reckoning, Hall alone wrote more than 100 articles promoting GAI research. Moreover, GAI bought $102,500 worth of ads on Breitbart in 2013, and another $98,000 in 2015.
Gertz also discovered that Breitbart promoted Schweizer’s 2015 book, “Clinton Cash,” in a manner that can only be described as journalistic self-dealing. That book was based heavily on GAI research. Since 2015, Breitbart has churned out over 420 articles that reference the book. It also highlighted Schweizer’s interviews and aggregated other outlets’ coverage about the book. As it turned out, Schweizer and GAI’s research was so shoddy that Schweizer got his teeth kicked in on the Sunday talk shows when he tried to promote the book. He was actually forced to admit that he had no direct evidence that Hillary did anything illegal or unethical.
The book was later turned into a movie distributed by Glittering Steel, a film production company founded by Bannon and the Mercers. Bannon chaired the company until 2016, and is still part-owner. According to the credits, Bannon was a producer and screenwriter, with Schweizer and Rebekah Mercer as executive producers. Breitbart churned out at least 103 articles promoting the film. Do the math–that means Breitbart churned out hundreds of articles for a book and movie that directly benefited two of the most senior executives, as well as its part owner.
All things considered, there is no longer any doubt–this swamp has overflowed several times over. Then again, it makes sense. After all, Bannon has declared that he wants to burn the system down. Apparently, such little things as ethics and conflicts of interest don’t matter when you want to leave the system a smoldering rubble.
(photo art courtesy Emil Lendof, The Daily Beast)