B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

Rules for Rubes: The ungraceful falling upward of Breitbart.com, Stephen Bonner, Donald Trump

Breitbart.com was once a feed of Associated Press news, long before the site  became the braintrust of the Donald Trump campaign. Under varying domains of Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism; the site relied on unpaid bloggers. Shortly after the death of Andrew Breitbart, the site switched focus. No longer pumping out content for content’s sake, there was an actual staff and a more newsy look than its traditional blog design.

Before the change, the site’s few “scoops” were disasters. First came the James O’Keefe tapes, which ended federal funding over ACORN, and put Andrew Breitbart on every cable channel (his dream of becoming a conservative cult of personality complete). Later came the lawsuits, then the editing, then O’Keefe was arrested for tampering with phones in a federal building. Then came Shirley Sherrod. When Breitbart died and Stephen Bonner took over, the journalism didn’t improve. The same, radical propagandist approach continued, but it was uglier and more conspiratorial. There was “Friends of Hamas” and the supposed “vetting” of Barack Obama before the 2012 election, the failure of the press to show how Obama was a communist, socialist, Methodist – whatever. Thanks to the Breitbart and Bonner, the site got ahead based on media connections and money, not because of anything written on it.

As Breitbart pushed the overall conservative media complex to the furthest of the right, the home of the movement’s intellectuals (Weekly Standard, National Review) followed suit.

Despite this, Breitbart’s most dominant trait is never missing an opportunity to fall on its face. It has no scruples or credibility. Staffers told Politico a year ago Donald Trump was paying for articles and positive coverage. This was met by denunciations from Breitbart, but then more staffers repeated them same information, still anonymous.


Andrew Breitbart, the site’s namesake, worked for Drudge Report and was on board for the launch of the Huffington Post. At first it was a collection of Ariana Huffington’s closest Hollywood celebrity friends, ranting and raving about the Bush administration in blos. Then it became unpaid virtually anonymous bloggers ranting and raving, which became Breitbart’s first model for Big Hollywood, his first active blog.

Big Hollywood was edited by John Nolte, known as Dirty Harry at Libertas, a conservative film blog with a heavy following. Libertas was a strict film blog, a gathering of conservative movie fans to discuss films without having to defend their politics or experience the “sucker punch” of when a movie takes a non sequitor for a political cheap shot (think Law and Order, and the bad guy with the Dick Cheney picture framed in his office).

Nolte split with Libertas, and not in an amicable fashion. The site’s hosts complained of Nolte’s anonymity while working and hosting a film festival which was the namesake of the blog, and had to do it in public to other people. Nolte left, started his own blog Dirty Harry’s Place, then was hired as editor of Big Hollywood.

Big Hollywood was the first of what would become a Breitbart network of sites – Big Government, Big Journalism … Nolte led the charge at BH, but was rarely reviewing movies like he previously did, and switched to strictly activist-centric posts you would expect from Michelle Malkin. Breitbart used his Hollywood connections to unearth TV and film actors who were closet conservatives. Included were two members of the original A-Team and former Law and Order star Michael Moriarty. They rounded out posts from Nolte and other top contributors, and an army of unpaid bloggers in the Huffington Post fashion.

But there were differences – the site revolved around Andrew Breitbart, who promoted the site across the cable networks, who was in a mode of becoming the next Hannity or Beck. The model was based on Huffington Post, but the heart and pulse was Saul Alinsky by way of a writer under the pseudonym David Kahane at National Review. Actually former editor and journalist Michael Walsh, Walsh spread the gospel that conservatism couldn’t compete unless it won back popular culture, and to do that, it needed its own radical activist approach. His book “Rules for Radical Conservatives” was the basis for the site’s purpose.

This realization from Breitbart and Walsh was born after Alinsky became a major topic in the 2008 election. President Barack Obama was connected to Alinsky, Hillary Clinton wrote about him affectionately in college. Conservatives saw in the book the keys to the progressive success since the 1960s in the culture war. Obama, like Alinsky was a community organizer. Alinsky’s formula was the key to success for Democrats in the eyes of those becoming frustrated over losing Congress, Senate and White House within two years.

The Alinksy tactics have led to failure after failure. Alinksy himself was an activist at the micro level, working with unions. The Yippies, Weathermen, SDS and other left activists in the 60s were a screaming success if you believe Breitbart because they began to run colleges and direct movies, but politically, it was a total failure. The climatic moment of 60s activism was the election of Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George Bush, and the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, where it has held a majority for most of the last 22 years.


Other than its shifting the conservative movement, and becoming the “news” go-to for the alternative right (which wasn’t exactly the cultural transformation Breitbart envisioned), the only real success to emerge from the site was its London correspondent Milo Yiannopolous.

Yiannopolous became a cult figure on Twitter during GamerGate. Along with Christina Hoff Sommers, Yiannopolous defended gamers and their culture against Gawker and feminists.

Then came Donald Trump. who threw a Hail Mary into the stands, and for his third campaign chief went with Bonner. Trump’s responses to Clinton during the debate were pure Breitbart. The vitriol, the lack of fact, the lack of humility. No more “shining city on the hill,” as Hugh Hewitt lamented when he moderated a GOP primary debate last year. Hewitt supported Trump until his recorded comments about women were released.





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