It's official. The mainstream media is dead. Donald J. Trump put the final nail in the coffin last week when he hired Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon to manage the final stages of his insanely improbable presidential campaign.
He might just get elected yet.
No doubt the late Andrew Breitbart, who founded his controversial conservative news website in 2005, and once told the Associated Press he was committed to “the destruction of the old media guard,” would be pleased.
I don't know much about Bannon, other than he's a former United States Navy officer with a Harvard MBA who took over the reigns at Breitbart News after Breitbart's untimely death in 2012. I can say his appointment as Trump campaign CEO has predictably driven the establishment media pundits into a frenzy, which tells me they've probably been reading Breitbart News.
With just more than two months to go until the election, the final battle line has been drawn. It's the entire mainstream media including the New York Times, Washington Post, all the broadcast and cable TV news networks as well as Arianna Huffington versus Breitbart News, Drudge Report and Sean Hannity in a buck-naked, bare-knuckle brawl over the soul of America.
Breitbart News is a monster of a website and online community. I'm hesitant to attribute too much influence to it, since things sometimes look larger on the Internet than they are in real life, but Bannon's addition to the Trump team is an indication Breitbart News is doing something right, namely destroying sacrosanct mainstream media narratives while simultaneously creating new narratives for its rapidly growing audience.
It was the dissemination of a false narrative that first brought Andrew Breitbart to widespread national attention in 2009, after he posted videos of an undercover sting operation conducted by conservative activists on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Virtually no ACORN worker fell for the sting, but editing of the tapes made it appear as if some had. No criminal charges were ever filed, but ACORN, after providing services to poor, mostly black communities for more than 40 years, lost both its private funding and government support. It was forced into bankruptcy and out of business in 2010.
Breitbart next caught the public eye in 2011, after New York City Congressman Anthony Weiner began texting photos of his penis to random women across the country, a narrative that despite Weiner's denials turned out to be all-too-true.
Last year, Breitbart News returned to the undercover video sting operation, prominently featuring the pro-life activist group Center for Medical Progress' attempt to purchase baby parts from Planned Parenthood clinics. Planned Parenthood survived, but not with its reputation unscathed, despite the fact it had done nothing illegal.
I began reading Breitbart News regularly in 2014, after Bannon added a writing staff and began updating the site with fresh content more frequently. At the time, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown—and the mainstream media's biased coverage of both events—were hot topics. The number of comments on each post was astonishing, sometimes running into the thousands. Many of the comments were unabashedly racist, a luxury afforded by anonymous posting. It was unsettling yet fascinating at the same time. Don't they realize the National Security Agency is monitoring their every key-stroke?
Breitbart News is by no means the only news source publishing such content. There are hundreds of websites catering to what's loosely being called the alt-right movement, and I've explored many of them. It could at this point in time be called the All-White movement, since most of its putative members are white males who reject theoretical notions such as white male privilege and systemic white racism asserted by groups such as Black Lives Matters and promulgated almost universally by mainstream media.
I can't emphasize enough how much the alt-right feels betrayed by mainstream media and by extension the entire political establishment it cozies up to, Democrat and Republican. Race is hardly their singular issue. The Alt-Right includes Christians concerned with eroding religious liberty and the decline of sexual morality, conservative millennial college graduates frustrated by political correctness on campus and in the workplace, unemployed blue- and white-collar workers decimated by free trade and open border policies, and families frightened by the rise of Islamic terrorism directly caused by the pointless wars the United States and its allies have waged in the Middle East for decades.
The alt-right also includes so-called immigration patriots concerned about the decline of America's white population, race realists obsessed with discussing the differences between IQ and physical abilities among various ethnicities and more than a few self-proclaimed Nazis calling attention to what they see as undo Jewish influence in mainstream media, the financial sector and foreign affairs.
Although the more extreme alt-right websites are protected by the 1st Amendment as long as they don't espouse violence, they are subject to constant attacks from activist hackers and watchdog groups such as the Anti-Defamation League. They are often denied service from Internet service providers as well as access to online payment services such as PayPal, making it difficult to raise money. Yet some extreme websites are managing to not only survive, but thrive.
My point here isn't to name names, hurl epithets and point you to this or that egregious website. There's plenty of people on that case already. I'm attempting to describe the online media environment in existence when Donald Trump burst on the political scene last year, blurting out his first uncouth remarks regarding illegal immigrants from Mexico.
It's fair to say that traffic going to Breitbart News exploded with Trump's candidacy, even though the website appeared to favor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at first. That's because mainstream media immediately made the unanimous decision to brand Trump as a racist demagogue devoid of any legitimate political ideas, even as the issues he raised obviously resonated with millions of primary voters.
The mainstream media might have stopped Trump from winning the Republican nomination, if it still controlled the public narrative. The fact that Trump won the nomination proves, at least to my mind, that it's lost control.
This was made painfully clear when former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, a childhood hero of mine, recently took to Facebook and called upon all media gatekeepers to universally condemn Trump's sarcastic remarks regarding Hillary Clinton, 2nd Amendment supporters and future Supreme Court justice selections.
It's not like the establishment media needed extra encouragement. The narrative had been agreed upon in advance: Trump literally threatened to assassinate Hillary Clinton. Laws had been broken. CNN even conjured up a phony visit to Trump by the Secret Service. I've been following media a long time, and I've never witnessed such one-sided piling on.
Nevertheless, despite the relentless onslaught, as I write this Trump is recovering in most major polls and appears to be pulling neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton. I attribute this almost entirely to websites like Breitbart News, since Trump is receiving virtually no support from mainstream media, including FOX News (with the exception of fervent Trump booster Sean Hannity).
Mainstream media appears to be unaware that every time it falsely accuses Trump of inciting violence for making yet another off-the-cuff remark at a rally, websites like Breitbart are responding by posting videos of liberal protestors beating the crap out of Trump supporters. This is happening with increasing frequency and mainstream media is totally ignoring it.
Even in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels and beyond, the mainstream media remains oblivious to the threat posed by importing refugees into the United States from Middle Eastern countries we've bombed into the stone age. Is it that hard to imagine one or two Muslim extremists might want revenge?
Utterly committed to the free-trade, open-borders globalist agenda, the mainstream media was completely taken off guard when voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union earlier this year. It's like they believe they're still the only game in town, that the Internet doesn't exist outside of the United States.
In journalism, you can only get it wrong so many times in a row before people begin noticing and tune out. That's why CNN, the most openly anti-Trump cable news network, has dropped to last place in the ratings since the conventions. The world wide web, smart phones with digital video cameras have turned ordinary citizens into citizen journalists, and every time they catch a news organization fudging a story, the mainstream media dies a little more.
It's been said by many observers that the Internet killed journalism, and there's a lot of truth to that. It's a long story, but the short of it is the newspaper industry has never recovered the tens of billions of dollars in display and classified advertising revenue lost after the emergence of online entities such as Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist during the 1990s tech boom.
Online advertising revenue hasn't panned out in what's still being called a “disruption” after 15 years. Hundreds of papers have folded, and the survivors, from the New York Times to the Redding Record Searchlight, have cut salaries and staff to the bone. Investigative journalism has been all but abandoned—too expensive!—and once taken-for-granted standards such as fact-checking, copy-editing and presenting more than one side of the story have fallen by the wayside.
Most of the remaining newspapers, television networks and radio stations in the United States are today held by a handful of corporations more concerned with meeting bottom lines than deadlines. While there are still many journalists fighting the good fight, the overall result of all the consolidation is a homogenized, Pollyannaish mainstream media incapable of addressing the very real and frightening issues confronting Americans today.
“He who controls the past controls the future,” George Orwell wrote in 1984. “He who controls the present controls the past.” Mainstream media has lost control of the present and now the past, present and the future are all up for grabs.
For the past year, Breitbart News has attempted to corral the alt-right, cutting the more divisive elements from the herd. It is also expanding its reach beyond disaffected straight white males.
Openly gay Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulus has drawn large crowds and sparked vociferous demonstrations on college campuses across the country with his “Dangerous Faggot” tour, a one-man campaign against politically correctness and safe spaces. To attract women to the fold, Brietbart has been hammering on former president Bill Clinton's legendary peccadilloes and Hillary Clinton's alleged efforts to cover them up.
In July, Breitbart News recorded its most online visits ever. It's being shared more often on Facebook and other social media platforms, where a majority of Americans now get their news. It's become a force to be reckoned with. Whatever Bannon did, it's working, and now he's working for Donald Trump.
Last week, before hiring the Breitbart News executive, Trump began his long-anticipated pivot toward the center, calling on African Americans and Latinos to join his movement and expressing regret about the coarse language he's used during the heat of the campaign. Initial polling indicates some minorities may be heeding Trump's call. The bombastic billionaire is still in the race.
That won't stop the mainstream media—the major daily newspapers, the broadcast and cable TV networks, the political magazines sponsored by think tanks left and right—from continuing to demean Trump and his supporters.
The institution Americans once depended upon to develop informed public opinions has abandoned roughly half of the electorate, and that won't be forgotten. Whoever wins the election, the mainstream media is toast.