While the titans of the conservative media are tiptoeing uncomfortably away from Roy Moore's Senate candidacy, Breitbart News is holding fast, sticking with the Alabama Republican even as the allegations against him mount.
Fox News's Sean Hannity — once a staunch Moore supporter — began to head for the exit on the former judge Tuesday night, saying on his program that Moore had 24 hours to reconcile "inconsistencies" in his account of dating teenage girls in the 1970s when Moore was in his 30s. Rush Limbaugh began backing away, too ("Everybody thinks the creep did the deed"), as did the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page ("The Roy Moore Mess.")
The Drudge Report put a dagger firmly into Moore on Wednesday; its lead headline referred to him as “Judge Whore.”
That left Breitbart as the odd man out, or possibly still in, in its support of Moore’s troubled candidacy among the most influential organs of the right.
The website overseen by Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, has remained steadfast even as more allegations against Moore have emerged since Thursday, when The Washington Post first reported that Moore had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in the late 1970s and dated three other teenagers. A fifth accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, said on Monday that Moore had assaulted her when she was 16 in late 1977. Moore has denied the accusations.
Bannon and Breitbart have long backed Moore as the antiestablishment Republican candidate, cheering him to victory in the Republican primary over Trump's preferred candidate, Luther Strange. And it has been fierce in its defense of his character; the site went so far as to post a story critical of The Post's story before the newspaper had even published its account last week.
As late as Wednesday afternoon, Breitbart was still keeping up the fight for Moore. A prominent headline on the site read, "Alabama Pastor Rips Republicans for Abandoning Roy Moore — 'What a Bunch of Sissies.' "
“This is just another desperate attempt by [Senate majority leader] Mitch McConnell to keep power, and it’s not going to work,” Bannon said on his Sirius XM radio program on Monday, according to a transcript by the Daily Beast. “You know, people in Alabama see through this. The good folks of Alabama are going to be able to weigh and measure this. . . . This is an orchestrated hit from the Uniparty.”
But even Breitbart was showing signs that its enthusiasm is wavering. The site sent two reporters to Alabama and spent several days trying to discredit The Post’s reporting, but it hasn’t been able to come up with much to blunt the basic narrative.
After articles defending Moore dominated the site for days, Breitbart featured just one headline about him — the item about the Alabama pastor — atop its home page at midday Wednesday.
"Steve is stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman. "If he stands by him, he'll be completely alone and he'll be known as the guy who stood by a child molester. Going forward, Bannon's endorsement will be about as useful as David Duke's with that kind of stigma attached to it."
Bardella doesn’t think Breitbart or Bannon will abandon Moore, but, he said, their loyalty will be costly. Bannon’s ambitions for the 2018 midterms were dependent on momentum for Moore and demonstrating that he could find and recruit viable candidates, he said.
“Now,” said Bardella, “that rationale has been obliterated. . . . Bottom line, this debacle is devastating to Brand Bannon.”
Breitbart’s editor, Alex Marlow, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hannity’s apparent change of heart comes amid an advertiser boycott that picked up some momentum on Monday. On Tuesday — following the departure of such brands as Volvo and Keurig coffeemakers as sponsors of his show — Hannity tempered his comments.
“For me, the judge has 24 hours,” he said Tuesday. “He must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies,” referring to his answers about dating girls in his 30s. “You must remove any doubt. If he can’t do that, then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race.”
Hannity is "attempting a rapid pullback" after voicing supporting for Moore in the primary and afterward, said Will Sommer, who tracks conservative media through his newsletter, Right Richter. "I think we're seeing him try to course correct after getting a little over his skis," as he did in promoting discredited theories about the killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich in May. (Neither Hannity nor Fox has corrected its reporting of that story, which spurred a short-lived advertiser pullout as well.)
Fox also did not respond to a request for comment.
Sommer pointed out that conservative outlets that have never liked Trump — including the National Review, Weekly Standard and Redstate — weren’t supportive of Moore to begin with and can easily distance themselves from him now. They see Moore “as an aberration from their preferred brand of conservatism anyway, so it’s not worth the effort to expend their reputations trying to save him,” he said.
With the big guns on the right silenced or holding further fire, the most loyal megaphones for Moore have been the fringes of right-wing Internet, according to Sommer. Sites such as the conspiratorial Gateway Pundit haven't wavered, and indeed have become repositories of Moore "trutherism," he said.
Among the stories trumpeted by Gateway Pundit: the false claim that The Post was paying people to accuse Moore; a handwriting expert’s analysis questioning whether Moore signed Beverly Young Nelson’s high school yearbook; and video of a body-language expert disputing the truthfulness of one of Moore’s accusers.