The new right wing hit man. Same as the old right wing hit man
Former Breitbart staffer Ben Shapiro has a fascinating piece up about Trump's new campaign chairman Steve Bannon. It's worth reading in total but this is just well ... perfect:
Bannon Is A Legitimately Sinister Figure. Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon. He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination. Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not. He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition, and he will use anyone bigger than he is – for example, Donald Trump – to get where he wants to go. Bannon knows that in the game of thrones, you win or die. And he certainly doesn’t intend to die. He’ll kill everyone else before he goes.
Trump is reportedly really, really angry about the leaks, which was obvious over the week-end. And that's a big part of the reason he brought in this creepy thug.
Bannon’s ascension is the predictable consummation of a romance he ardently pursued. I joked with friends months ago that by the end of the campaign, Steve Bannon would be running Trump’s campaign from a bunker. That’s now reality. Every nightmare for actual conservatives has come true in this campaign. Why not this one, too?
But from what I can tell this guy is also highly overrated. This is from the seminal Bannon profile by Joshua Green in Bloomberg from last fall:
Bannon is a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde figure in the complicated ecosystem of the right—he's two things at once. And he’s devised a method to influence politics that marries the old-style attack journalism of Breitbart.com, which helped drive out Boehner, with a more sophisticated approach, conducted through the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute, that builds rigorous, fact-based indictments against major politicians, then partners with mainstream media outlets conservatives typically despise to disseminate those findings to the broadest audience. The biggest product of this system is the project Bannon was so excited about at CPAC: the bestselling investigative book, written by GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Published in May by HarperCollins, the book dominated the political landscape for weeks and probably did more to shape public perception of Hillary Clinton than any of the barbs from her Republican detractors.
Read on to see how it was set up to work:
What made Clinton Cash so unexpectedly influential is that mainstream news reporters picked up and often advanced Schweizer’s many examples of the Clintons’ apparent conflicts of interest in accepting money from large donors and foreign governments. (“Practically grotesque,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination. “On any fair reading, the pattern of behavior that Schweizer has charged is corruption.”) Just before the book’s release, the New York Times ran a front-page story about a Canadian mining magnate, Frank Giustra, who gave tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation and then flew Bill Clinton to Kazakhstan aboard his private jet to dine with the country’s autocratic president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Giustra subsequently won lucrative uranium-mining rights in the country. (Giustra denies that the Clinton dinner influenced his Kazakh mining decision.) The Times piece cited Schweizer’s still-unpublished book as a source of its reporting, puzzling many Times readers and prompting a reaction from the paper’s ombudswoman, Margaret Sullivan, who grudgingly concluded that, while no ethical standards were breached, “I still don’t like the way it looked.”
For Bannon, the Clinton Cash uproar validated a personal theory, informed by his Goldman Sachs experience, about how conservatives can influence the media and why they failed the last time a Clinton was running for the White House. “In the 1990s,” he told me, “conservative media couldn’t take down [Bill] Clinton because most of what they produced was punditry and opinion, and they always oversold the conclusion: ‘It’s clearly impeachable!’ So they wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.” What news conservatives did produce, such as David Brock’s Troopergate investigation on Paula Jones in the American Spectator, was often tainted in the eyes of mainstream editors by its explicit partisan association.
In response, Bannon developed two related insights. “One of the things Goldman teaches you is, don’t be the first guy through the door because you’re going to get all the arrows. If it’s junk bonds, let Michael Milken lead the way,” he says. “Goldman would never lead in any product. Find a business partner.” His other insight was that the reporters staffing the investigative units of major newspapers aren’t the liberal ideologues of conservative fever dreams but kindred souls who could be recruited into his larger enterprise. “What you realize hanging out with investigative reporters is that, while they may be personally liberal, they don’t let that get in the way of a good story,” he says. “And if you bring them a real story built on facts, they’re f---ing badasses, and they’re fair.”
Recently, I met with Brock, who renounced conservatism and became an important liberal strategist, fundraiser, and Clinton ally. He founded the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America and just published a book, Killing The Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government. Brock’s attitude toward Bannon isn’t enmity toward an ideological opponent, as I'd expected, but rather a curiosity and professional respect for the tradecraft Bannon demonstrated in advancing the Clinton Cash narrative. What conservatives learned in the ’90s, Brock says, is that “your operation isn’t going to succeed if you don’t cross the barrier into the mainstream.” Back then, he says, conservative reporting had to undergo an elaborate laundering to influence U.S. politics. Reporters such as Brock would publish in small magazines and websites, then try to get their story planted in the British tabloids and hope a right-leaning U.S. outlet such as the New York Post or the Drudge Report picked it up. If it generated enough heat, it might break through to a mainstream paper.
“It seems to me,” says Brock of Bannon and his team, “what they were able to do in this deal with the Times is the same strategy, but more sophisticated and potentially more effective and damaging because of the reputation of the Times. If you were trying to create doubt and qualms about [Hillary Clinton] among progressives, the Times is the place to do it.” He pauses. “Looking at it from their point of view, the Times is the perfect host body for the virus.”
It wasn’t the only one. In June, when the Clinton Cash frenzy hit its apex, Bannon said: “We’ve got the 15 best investigative reporters at the 15 best newspapers in the country all chasing after Hillary Clinton.” There’s more coming, Bannon reveals, including a graphic novel of Clinton Cash, in January, and a Clinton Cash movie set to arrive in February, just as the presidential primary voting gets under way.
This isn't actually new at all, which Brock knows better than anyone. The innovation, to the extent there was one, was to get progressives to run with the smear on their behalf. Very clever.
But the mainstream media has always eagerly taken wingnut dirt on Bill and Hillary Clinton and published it, virtually unchecked. I've written about their operations back in the day for years, including one called Citizens United (yes, that Citizens United) run by David Bossie who now works for one of Trump's Super PACs, installed there by none other than Kellyann Conway, Trump's new campaign manager. I've written about the way the mainstream media huddled with Bush operatives to smear Al Gore.There was even a documentary made about it.
It is true that the financial arrangement between Schweitzer and the New York Times took this arrangement to a new level of corruption, but it's only because money was exchanged this time. They're been eagerly swallowing the right's character assassination for decades. Their appetite for it is unquenchable.
But Bannon believing that he's hidden his real agenda by creating some kind of a pass through is hilarious. The guy is the CEO of Breitbart News for heavens sake. Does he think no one will notice that? But he's not the only right wing millionaire who thinks he's the cleverest man in the world (his new boss will fight him for that title) and they are rarely very clever at all. But that doesn't stop the press from running with whatever slimy offal they throw out there. It makes good copy. Too bad about the country.