Will the far-right abandon Breitbart?
Breitbart is used to taking slings and arrows from the left, but this week the far-right website, previously headed by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, has found itself under fire from a very different adversary: high-profile members of the far-right who have long been its ideological allies.
"I suspect we are seeing the end of Breitbart," far-right blogger Chuck Johnson, who wrote for the site years ago, declared in a Facebook video Tuesday. "It’s basically a shell of its former self. It’s not that interesting anymore."
The angry critics descended on Breitbart after the website parted ways on Monday with writer Katie McHugh following incendiary remarks she made about Muslims in the aftermath of the London terror attack.
Right-wing internet personalties who command a sizable following pounced on the move, suggesting it signaled the beginning of the end for the website that helped usher Donald Trump into the White House.
"They cucked out," right-wing internet personality Mike Cernovich said in a Wednesday YouTube video, employing a slur frequently used by individuals on the far-right to suggest the website had gone soft. "Breitbart cucked out by firing Katie McHugh. There’s no other way to describe it."
Lucian Wintrich, the White House correspondent for the right-wing Gateway Pundit website, said Breitbart was on its way out of the space occupied by other pro-Trump news organizations.
"They are leaving the island occupied by the Gateway Pundit and Drudge Report and a few other news sources," Wintrich told CNN.
Wintrich is of course talking about a competitor, but he may be on to something.
Since Trump ascended to the presidency, Breitbart has made moves that signal a desire to shift away from its renegade roots and mature into a more established news outlet. Its editors have talked about becoming the Trump era’s paper of record. The outlet has sought to obtain congressional press credentials. And some new hires have come from more established right-leaning news outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and Fox News.
This quest to become more mainstream gave way to a wave of negative sentiment toward Breitbart in the right-wing media universe that has now been simmering for some time. In February, some of its high-profile allies in right-wing media expressed displeasure with Breitbart when Milo Yiannopoulos resigned under pressure over comments he made about pederasty. And in April, the website prompted outrage when its senior editors asked writers to refrain from writing stories critical of Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law who some in the far-right perceive as an unacceptably moderate force in the Trump White House. But while Breitbart faced the occasional flare up of criticism for certain decisions, it had largely kept its die-hard supporters content — until this week.
John Ziegler, a former conservative radio talk show host and columnist for Mediaite, told CNN the anger coming from those who were Breitbart’s most passionate supporters reflected "a textbook case of what happens when an anti-establishment institution becomes part of the establishment."
"Inherently there are going to be people who think they sold out," he said. "They are kind of like a rock band that once they became cool sells out and does commercials. The alt-right doesn’t do well as being part of the establishment. They want to be anti-establishment, but now Breitbart is the establishment."
What is unclear, however, is whether Breitbart’s loyal audience will heed the warnings of far-right internet personalties and stop visiting the website for news. Vanity Fair reported last month that Breitbart’s traffic numbers had fallen since the height of the 2016 presidential contest (other news websites have faced similar post-election slumps, but Breitbart’s appears more pronounced).
Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and former editor-at-large for Breitbart, told CNN he was not surprised the website may find itself struggling, considering the dark cloud of negative news hanging over the Trump presidency.
"They have three choices: ignore [the negative news]; cover it, but blame somebody else; get critical of Trump," Shapiro said. "They’ve leaned heavily on the first two choices, but that’s not the news — sometimes the president is the headline. And if Breitbart gets critical of Trump, they might be covering the news, but they will also be alienating a lot of their audience."
Despite all the criticism, however, Breitbart still has passionate defenders.
Paul Joseph Watson, a personality for InfoWars, the right-wing outlet known for peddling conspiracy theories, told CNN Breitbart is still a "powerhouse with many fantastic writers."
"Generally speaking, most would jump at the chance to work for Breitbart, so the ‘new right’ throwing them under a bus is a massive overreaction," he said. "Some of it may be based in professional jealousy."
"The left is eager to sow division within the right," Watson added, "and we shouldn’t be helping them do that."