Even before Donald Trump picked Stephen K. Bannon to be the chief strategist in his White House, the real estate mogul's election delivered a huge boost to Breitbart News, a hard-right website Bannon chaired before taking a leave of absence in August to become chief executive of Trump's campaign. Taking a victory lap through the media section at Trump's election-night party, Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos said in a YouTube video that the site is “now mainstream.”
If that is true, then headlines such as these (many on Yiannopoulos stories) are “mainstream,” too.
- Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew
- Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy
- Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?
- Data: Young Muslims in the West are ticking time bomb, increasingly sympathizing with radicals, terror
- Gabby Giffords: The gun control movement's human shield
- There's no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews
- The solution to online 'harassment' is simple: Women should log off
- Climate expert: Marxist, global warming extremists control Vatican
- Dear straight people: I'm officially giving you permission to say gay, f------ and queer
Reuters reported last week that an emboldened Breitbart is already planning to hire more writers in the United States and expand into France and Germany.
The Fix spoke with conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes about Breitbart's potential influence and the future of conservative media under a Trump presidency. Sykes, who hosts a daily talk show in Wisconsin, was a forceful Trump critic throughout the campaign and attracted national media attention after a contentious interview with the real estate mogul in March. He is retiring at the end of the year — a decision he made a while ago but one that he says is easier in the current state of the conservative media.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: Milo Yiannopoulos says Breitbart is “now mainstream.” Is he right? Is that now mainstream conservative media?
SYKES: God. I don't know what the word “mainstream” means anymore. I was expecting to be talking about a day of reckoning for the irresponsible right-wing media, the alternative-reality bubble they've created, that Republicans are going to have to confront the damage done to them by these conspiracy theory fever swamps like Breitbart. That's what I thought the conversation was going to be. The problem is now they have been empowered. They have been weaponized.
Rush Limbaugh has this line where he talks about the state-controlled media. We are now going to see what one really looks like in this country, where you are going to have this media network that will act like an echo chamber and an enforcer for somebody in power in the White House. You know that it will be deployed to attack and vilify other conservatives who might want to oppose Trump on initiatives.
THE FIX: Could it be effective? Could Breitbart's news coverage impact the way Republican politicians run for office, to the point where they say, “We need to embrace or at least pander to the Breitbart audience or they will kill us”?
SYKES: Yes, I think that's a very real possibility. This is part of the culture. “If you break with us, we will unleash the flying monkey against you” — Breitbart being the flying monkey. ... They went full propaganda to defeat [House Speaker Paul] Ryan. They failed miserably. For me, it was fascinating to watch how they created this bizarre alternative reality and the way in which other conservative outlets picked up on it. It is this web. Drudge empowers Breitbart and Infowars. Major talk shows begin to cite these things. It becomes formidable.
THE FIX: But the Paul Ryan example would seem to counter the idea that Breitbart could be influential enough to take down a politician who doesn't fit their mold. So is he the exception? Maybe because he's already the House speaker and has a brand of his own, he can withstand it, but the next generation of Republicans who have to define themselves in the public eye for the first time might be vulnerable?
SYKES: Well, you're asking exactly the right question. There was no anti-Ryan talk radio here in Wisconsin. I mean none. But I could certainly imagine a place where you have Breitbart, Drudge, Infowars, and a drumbeat from Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. All of that would be overwhelming, and it would also be intimidating. A lot of people I know in the media and in politics basically decided they were going to go along with Trump because it's just not worth it. It's just not worth the abuse you're going to get on social media. It's just not worth the kind of vilification you're going to get.
It's going to have a tremendous effect going forward, I think, on conservatives.
THE FIX: Is there a market for another conservative publication to go the entirely opposite direction?
SYKES: Well, I sure as hell hope so. I do think there is, because every once in a while you get the sense that these loud voices are not as big as they would like people to believe. But, at the moment, that's a hard case to make.