As one of President Donald Trump’s favorite news sources, Breitbart News has been called a lot of names, including “Trumpbart,” a “platform for the alt-right,” and anti-Semitic.
But in an exclusive interview, editor-in-chief Alex Marlow said that the site has been misunderstood.
“There’s a lot of Americans out there who I think would love to read our content,” Marlow told NBC News’ Stephanie Gosk. “And they haven’t been told that it’s OK to do so. It’s OK to check us out. We’re not a hate site.”
Critics of Breitbart call the right-wing website just that, pointing to articles like “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage,” and its promulgation of fringe, often evidence-free theories — including the accusation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump’s phones.
But Breitbart News has experienced a meteoric rise. Founded 10 years ago by Andrew Breitbart, the once-fringe site has gone from just a few million views a day at its inception to close to 20 million today, with more than 40 million unique readers a month, according to Marlow.
Its ties to the White House run deep. Breitbart was among the earliest and most ardent supporters of Trump’s candidacy. Its former chief executive, Steve Bannon, is now the president’s chief strategist. Trump himself is reportedly an avid reader of the site, frequently re-tweeting its articles and using them as sources for some of his most controversial claims.
During the campaign, one former employee criticized the site’s support of Trump, calling the site, “Trumpbart.”
It’s an “unfair criticism,” Marlow said. Trump’s promises on the campaign trail “resonated specifically with Breitbart’s readers. … So if he makes good on those promises, he’s going to get a lot of favorable coverage. When we feel like the president is not honoring the pledges he made to the public, he’s going to get critical coverage.”
Most recently, Breitbart has been credited for triggering Trump’s series of tweets that accused President Barack Obama, without evidence, of wiretapping Trump’s phones during the campaign. The allegation was first made by conservative radio host Mark Levin, and was then published by Breitbart News.
According to The Associated Press, Trump read the Breitbart article after an aide placed it in his daily reading pile.
Marlow said he didn’t know whether it was true that Breitbart inspired Trump’s accusation. But, he said, “I heard that a Breitbart article played a big factor in it,” and he defended the article.
This week the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that there were “no indications” that Trump Tower was placed under surveillance by the Obama administration. In an interview, Trump doubled down on his allegations, telling Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he based his claims on media reports, including reports by Fox News anchor Brett Baier and the New York Times, which he called the “failing New York Times.”
“I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about,” Trump told Carlson. “I’ve been seeing a lot of things.”
While the Breitbart article itself didn’t go as far as Trump’s tweets, it did fully embrace a theory that has become a regular talking point at the White House, on Breitbart News, and on radio shows from the fringe: the “Deep State,” a conspiracy theory that a clandestine network of state and non-state actors are working to undermine the Trump administration.
Marlow said that media coverage of issues such as allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia is a distraction.
“We’ve learned very little about any sort of nefarious connection between Trump and Russia.”
“I’m not saying there should be no coverage,” Marlow said. “I’m saying that we’ve flooded the zone with coverage on this Russia story. It hasn’t yielded anything. We’re months behind where we would have been if it really was Watergate. And now, let’s focus on the Deep State and let’s focus on some other issues facing our country.”
He also said that steps taken to investigate the Trump campaign’s links with Russia are purely political.
“We’ve learned very little about any sort of nefarious connection between Trump and Russia,” Marlow said. “But what we have learned is there’s these incredible amounts of leaks flooding out of Washington, flooding out of these bureaucratic organizations, specifically to undermine the president of the United States. And the media is gleefully reporting all of them. And that’s something that’s a deep concern to me.”
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be worried about it,” he added. “But there has been ample reporting, ample investigation. The entire world has been focused on this story. And I’m just asking for one piece of hard evidence.”
He described Breitbart as a “populist, nationalist, grassroots, conservative website,” and its staff as a mix of both reporters and activists. Breitbart’s mission, Marlow said, is to present “hard-hitting, fast-paced, accurate, always accurate information.”
“We think there’s a lot of disenfranchised people out there who don’t feel like they’re getting the whole story from the current establishment press,” he added. “So we’ve identified stories for those people. And anyone who’s interested in how much [of] Middle America thinks.”
The New York Times and CNN — both outlets that Trump regularly labels, on Twitter and in press conferences, as “fake news” — are as “slanted” in their coverage as Breitbart, Marlow said. “But we’ll actually come out on national television and admit to you that that’s where we’re coming from.”
Breitbart’s brand of conservatism is regularly called out for being racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic. Bannon himself called the site a “platform for the alt-right,” a term used to describe the white nationalist movement.
Marlow says critics who accuse the site of bigotry are inventing facts. “Breitbart’s been a huge victim of it personally. So it’s the fact that we’re consistently called anti-Semitic despite the fact that we are overwhelmingly staffed with Jews and are pro-Israel and pro-Jewish. That is fake news.”
The site runs articles with such headlines as, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield.” Its writers are nationalistic, often linking immigrants and refugees with violence and the degradation of Western values.
But Breitbart doesn’t have a rigid “party line” on immigration, Marlow said. “We believe that border security and national security is a serious issue,” he said. “And we think there is an American value system that’s worth being preserved.”
He added that the American value system is “in jeopardy because of immigration if people who are coming into the country do not understand the American values and don’t want to assimilate into American society.”
“I think a lot of the problem aren’t the immigrants themselves,” he added. “They mostly just want a better life for themselves. A lot of it are the bureaucratic, aristocratic elite who are trying to import cheap labor for themselves. And they’re doing it at the expense of American security. And they’re doing it at the expense of the American worker.”
When asked about the article, “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” published two years ago, Marlow said it inspired “debate and discussion.”
“I disagree with the article,” Marlow said. “I don’t disagree with us running it, because it makes arguments that the, that flag doesn’t just symbolize racism to certain people, it symbolizes Southern pride, Southern heritage, and states’ rights,” Marlow said. “Now, my personal view is I think we’ve moved on as a society from that symbol. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a debate and a discussion about it.”
Publishing controversial viewpoints prove a point, he added, about freedom of speech. “In that, we used to raise a society that was supposed to be, had to be, resilient emotionally. And now everyone is looking for their safe space. And I think that’s a dangerous thing.”
Asked whether white supremacists may flock to such viewpoints, Marlow said that Breitbart can’t control its readership — and that its increasing viewership means that “inevitably, you’re going to have some people who you don’t like who read your stuff every so often. I don’t think we have to be accountable for them as much as any violent left-wingers … and you guys shouldn’t be responsible for them any more than we’re responsible for our readers. ”
Even in the face of steps like banning certain media outlets from the White House briefing room, the labeling of the press as the “opposition party,” and Trump’s tweets calling the “Fake news media … the enemy of the American people,” Marlow told NBC News that he sees the increasingly contentious relationship between the president and the media as business as usual.
“This is something that is not new, if the press and President Trump are having a little give and take,” he said, adding that such language isn’t damaging to democracy because, “I think in a lot of ways, as Steve Bannon put it, the press is the opposition party. That’s 100 percent the worldview that I have.”