The idea was to make the Times' report seem inconsequential — before it even published — by appearing to release the emails voluntarily.
Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, made a similar effort on Thursday to head off The Washington Post's report that he allegedly initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old and dated teenagers when he was in his 30s. But Moore did not use Twitter or any official campaign channel. He used Breitbart News.
Minutes before The Post published its report, Breitbart posted a preemptive response from Moore under one of its signature, all-caps headlines: “AFTER ENDORSING DEMOCRAT IN ALABAMA, WASHINGTON POST PLANS TO HIT ROY MOORE WITH ALLEGATIONS OF INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONS WITH TEENAGERS; JUDGE FIRES BACK DENIAL.”
(Disclaimer: The Washington Post editorial board endorses candidates, not The Washington Post newsroom.)
Breitbart has made no secret of its support of Moore. Website chairman Stephen K. Bannon headlined a rally for Moore before September's GOP runoff in Alabama, and there is not even a pretense of neutrality in Breitbart's coverage of the general-election contest between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
Yet Breitbart's willingness to be used as a media-relations arm of Moore's campaign is a dive even deeper into the tank.
It is reminiscent of the time in March 2016 when Breitbart conjured an elaborate, alternative account of an incident in which Donald Trump's campaign manager at the time, Corey Lewandowski, grabbed the arm of a female reporter — a reporter who worked for Breitbart, no less. Reconstructing the episode, Breitbart asserted that its own journalist must have mistaken Lewandowski for someone else.
Video evidence later proved that it was indeed Lewandowski who grabbed the reporter, Michelle Fields. Breitbart removed its article challenging Fields's account, but its initial, reality-defying defense of the Trump campaign drove Fields, editor-at-large Ben Shapiro and spokesman Kurt Bardella to resign in protest.
Breitbart, to its credit, has since demonstrated that it can hold Trump accountable on foreign policy, immigration, health care and other issues that are important to the president's base. In fact, getting behind Moore put the site at odds with Trump, who endorsed incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Strange in the runoff.
Now, however, Breitbart is veering back toward blind loyalty to a candidate.