When it comes to the political hurricane surging over Donald Trump and his presidential juggernaut, Breitbart News seems to be flirting with a messaging technique that was embraced more than a decade ago by “Baghdad Bob.”
Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein’s minister of information during the second Gulf War, enjoyed a brief period of notoriety—and acquired that memorable nickname—for his uncanny ability to find the silver lining in every dark cloud, especially when it didn’t exist.
In April 2003, as thousands of American troops in armored vehicles took control of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad Bob’s daily briefings for Western journalists included his confident, smiling pronouncement that U.S. soldiers were being “slaughtered” and “beginning to commit suicide at the walls” of the city; denials that allied tanks had arrived, even as they could be heard rumbling through nearby streets; and, on his final public appearance before his world came crashing down, a prediction that the infidels “are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.”
It is no doubt unfair to ascribe the same level of fanatical fact-avoidance to the right-wing populist media outlet—named for its late founder, the rabble-rousing firebrand Andrew Breitbart, and dubbed “TrumpBart” during the 2016 campaign.
Yet there’s a conspicuous disconnect between the political reality reflected on Breitbart.com and the one represented in The New York Times, Washington Post, broadcast and cable networks, and other mainstream media organizations which are portraying a Trump campaign in deep crisis over the candidate’s ugly and obscene remarks on the Access Hollywood outtake as he prepares for his second televised debate opposite Hillary Clinton.
In Breitbart’s coverage, the GOP nominee remains within striking distance of the White House while buoyantly swatting away the hemorrhaging of official Republican support and rising calls from GOP office-holders for his resignation. Trump has sincerely apologized for his comments, and he remains “happily married” to his wife Melania, who accepts his apology and calls him a man with “the heart and mind of a leader.”
That the website is accentuating the positive, and minimizing the negative, is hardly surprising given that Breitbart News Chairman Stephen K. Bannon, a pugnacious ideological warrior and former Goldman Sachs banker, took a leave of absence from the site in order to become CEO of Trump’s campaign. Former Breitbart employees have suggested that Bannon, with his famously hands-on attention to detail, still regularly weighs in on how Breitbart reports on the campaign; Breitbart editor in chief Alex Marlow didn’t respond to a series of emails from The Daily Beast asking if that’s true, among other questions.
Instead, a PR rep sent a link to Breitbart’s brief summary of The Washington Post’s Friday scoop on Trump’s offensive remarks in off-camera banter 11 years ago with then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, and noted: “It got 16,000 comments. We think that is a robust group of readers.”
Still, Breitbart is playing the weekend’s top political news as, at best, a side issue. On Sunday, The Post’s website led with the headline, “Crisis grips GOP as more Republicans urge Trump to quit.” But Breitbart splashed “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO—BROADDRICK, WILLEY, JONES TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME,” in which Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, and Paula Jones—who all say they’ve been victimized by Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual harassment and attacks—went on camera “to express their personal fear of Hillary Clinton and to warn voters that Clinton does not stand for women’s issues,” the website reports.
Trump helpfully tweeted that one out.
A second story is headlined “EXCLUSIVE—Video Interview: Bill Clinton Accuser Juanita Broaddrick Relives Brutal Rapes,” in which Broaddrick, a nursing home administrator in 1978, tearfully recounted her alleged sexual assault by the future 42nd president that she said occurred 38 years ago when Clinton was running his first race for governor of Arkansas.
It’s a story she has been telling repeatedly since a 1999 network television interview on Dateline NBC.
“I’m afraid of him,” a sobbing Broaddrick confides to Breitbart Washington reporter Aaron Klein, “especially if she becomes president, and I know it’s looking that way.”
Unmentioned in Breitbart’s coverage of the case is that Bill Clinton categorically denied the allegation or that Broaddrick, as “Jane Doe No. 5” in a sworn affidavit in January 1998, also had refuted “rumors” that “Mr. Clinton had made unwelcome sexual advances toward me in the late seventies.”
Klein’s accompanying story, which echoes Trump’s reported debate strategy against Clinton Sunday night, began: “While The Washington Post was busy putting the finishing touches on the release of a video in which Donald Trump boasted about hitting on women”—a decidedly bowdlerized description of Trump’s obscene, coarse misogyny in the outtake, in which the then-Apprentice star bragged that his fame allowed him to force himself on women and grab their genitals—“Juanita Broaddrick was in town at the historic Watergate Hotel, where she repeatedly broke down in tears during a powerful video interview exclusive to Breitbart News…”
Scrolling down from the top of Breitbart.com, readers can find stories headlined “HOW HILLARY CLINTON TREATED BILL CLINTON’S FEMALE ACCUSERS”; “POLL: GOP VOTERS READY TO STAND BY TRUMP DESPITE LEWD COMMENTS”; and “WIKILEAKS: CLINTON ADMITTED TO LYING ABOUT GENDER PAY GAP.”
Meanwhile, a headline about the Republican speaker of the House—a frequent Breitbart target for his lack of enthusiasm for Trump, among other sins—claims: “PAUL RYAN SHOUTED DOWN BY TRUMP SUPPORTERS IN WISCONSIN,” no matter that Ryan (who called Trump’s comments “sicken[ing]”) never lost stride as he kept speaking over a group of pro-Trump hecklers at a Saturday rally to which Ryan had disinvited the Republican nominee, and Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence decided at the last minute not to attend, apparently out of distress at the standard-bearer’s comments. (Breitbart—whose story about Indiana governor’s condemnation of Trump’s comments ran under the headline, “PENCE: GRATEFUL THAT TRUMP ‘HAS EXPRESSED REMORSE AND APOLOGIZED TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE’”—dutifully reported Pence’s non-attendance, but didn’t give a reason.)
A constant theme of Breitbart’s coverage is anti-Trump bias in the mainstream media. For instance, a headline over a story about NBC News political director and Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd’s conversations with Republican officials—“NBC’s Chuck TODD: ‘THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS OVER”—wrongly attributes to Todd the reported views of Republicans. “At no point did Todd cite polling data to support his claims, which appeared to be his own analysis, reported at the top of the news hour,” the story pointedly noted—never mind that Todd was citing his talks with Republicans.
Nowhere is the website’s worldview on more vibrant display than in stories under the byline of Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor who has privately boasted to fellow journalists that he expects to be named White House press secretary if Trump happens to win the presidency.
The three stories he’s written seem to reflect that ambition (although Boyle claimed seven months ago in an email to this reporter that he was merely trash-talking at dinner).
A Boyle story on Saturday, headlined “Melania Trump Accepts Donald’s Apology, Implores Nation to Join Her in Backing Him Against Hillary Clinton,” highlights this rosy scenario: “The issuance of this statement shows how strongly she supports her husband, and shows how seriously the campaign is taking this matter, since Melania Trump rarely speaks out in public. Her acceptance of his apology—which he issued in a video statement late Friday night—and imploring of the country to support him and join her in accepting his apology may eventually put a stop to the political fallout Trump is facing.”
A second story about the debacle, “Anti-Trump Republicans Rush to Express Outrage over Trump Video with George H.W. Bush’s Nephew,” seems to imply without quite saying so that perhaps the anti-Trump, Republican-establishment Bush family might have had something to do with the damaging leak.
Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets “have engineered it into a major scandal. And the Bushes and anti-Trump Republicans appear at the center of every turn in it,” Boyle reports.
A third Boyle story published since the scandal exploded is headlined, “Exclusive—Breitbart/Gravis Colorado Poll: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton Tied in Key Western Battleground State.”
Posted on Saturday morning, as other news organizations were reporting that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee were grappling with a Category 5 controversy, Boyle’s story declared: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is [emphasis added] tied with Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the all-important western battleground state of Colorado, a new Breitbart News Network/Gravis Marketing survey from the state shows.”
The Gravis Marketing survey results—an outlier in a Real Clear Politics polling average that shows Clinton with a 7.3 percent lead in Colorado—come from questioning registered voters three and four days before the eruption of Trump’s game-changing scandal.
Perhaps Breitbart and Boyle can argue, as someone once said a very long time ago, it depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.