So I read Breitbart for a week. Full disclosure — I didn’t read it cover to cover. First off, there’s not a ton of content on that website. There sure are a lot of ads and weird clickbait articles thought. Second, my goal was to get a flavor of what Breitbart is. It wasn’t to be misinformed by a non-news source. I don’t have a whole thesis on what Breitbart does or means. Plenty of other folks have written about that. I merely offer some observations.
But what an eventful week to read it! I focused mainly on the headlines, but also clicked on some smaller stories, often after reading some insane, horrifying, and grossly offensive comments. Here goes.
Dog whistle: Breitbart knows how to cover news that some people have wacky conspiracies about. Via a weird comment on another page about Somalis and measles, I tracked down this article about a measles outbreak that largely took place in a Somali community in MN. I won’t recount the myriad ways this could occur (vaccine regimes in other countries, lack of trust in doctors in that community…). The article itself was bland. There were no crazy editorial comments or claims. It seemed to state the facts. But that wasn’t the purpose of this article. The goal was to stir up the base into a crazy conspiracy-fueled frenzy about letting in immigrants, Somalis in particular, and how diversity spreads diseases. For example, check out this comment by Hedly LaLarr (in this context, I believe “This” = outbreaks brought in by immigrants to devastate our country.
We have a little of all of the Alt Right’s favorite things — hating on Soros, bashing immigrant and the Pope, and insane-balls conspiracies. People said way, way worse things on this post that I can’t post because they make me want to cry. If curious, check out the link, but if you imagine the worst things people could say, then they said them.
If something crazy happens that Americans should be freaked out about, then just pivot to someone they all hate: Chuck Schumer. Last night, when the rest of the world was FREAKING OUT about Trump firing Comey (WTF!!!), this was the front page of Breitbart.
Nevermind that just about everyone else in the world knows how unprecedented, Nixonian, and unhinged this act was. Let’s just blame it on the snowflakes and get on with our lives.
Breitbart interviews people that no one else gives a shit about. The day before the AHCA passed (May 3), Breitbart did an article about the upcoming vote. It didn’t interview Upton (R-MI) who helped broker the $8 billion for a high risk pool (which everyone and their grandma agrees isn’t enough and won’t work.) They interviewed House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). Naturally! If editors are cherry picking their articles then they also need to completely control their story. That means not interviewing Upton or even Paul Ryan (who they also hate; one thing we agree on). It means sticking to tea partiers, freedom caucus members, and the like.
Quotes are also used very sparingly and when used, are often clipped together in weird ways. For the headline below, here was the quote that suggested that defying the Muslim ban EO was a policy matter.
Yates told the Senate Judiciary Committee that her decision was made “not purely as a policy matter,” but suggested that she had been guided by “statements” that were made “contemporaneously or prior” to the order.”
Um… But this isn’t journalism. (DUH!) Hand picking sources that will say what you want and quilting together snippets of speeches is manipulation. Which brings me to my last point.
Breitbart curates readings and enables comments for a very small yet frightening part of our populace. During this escapade, I was advised by several people (thanks Dana and Jesse!). Breitbart is scary as fuck. But it’s not going to lose us an election. Readers are seeking out a very specific experience not provided by any sort of mainstream media — talk radio and Fox News included. We are not changing the hearts and minds of these readers. We can likely make other folks who consume media a large step to the left of Breitbart — and to the right of NPR — to understand how we can create a world that works for everyone. Where people don’t debate about buying medicine or paying for their rent. Where parents don’t have to commute 1.5 hours each way to work to find an affordable place to live. I’m not suggesting we ignore the alt-right. I am suggesting we get our stories of hope, progress, and change out there as well. We stand up for what’s right. We support and elect leaders who are descent people who want to help folks from all backgrounds.
I think an occasional scan of Breitbart — even those horrifying comments — is probably good from time to time. At the behest of some friends, I’ll also occasionally listen to talk radio and (gulp) Fox News. Changing the direction of our country means understanding the media that everyone consumes.