How the Washington Post and New York Times Got Played by Bannon

Just a few days before the election, I wrote about how Steve Bannon weaponizes a story. It was based on this expose from Joshua Green from back in October 2015. What I found interesting about that piece was that, while most of the reporting on Bannon focused on his leadership of Breibart News, Green delved pretty deeply into the more shadow operation he ran at the Government Accountability Institute (GAI).

Bannon and his employees were pretty open on how they went about weaponizing a story. Writers like GAI president Peter Schweitzer would pen books/stories about a politician they wanted to savage (i.e., Clinton Cash) and pitch it to major newspapers as “fact-based research” (regardless of their long history of errors). This worked because, as Bannon said, “The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs.” They even bragged about the result.

The reason GAI does this is because it’s the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. [Wynton] Hall has distilled this, too, into a slogan: “Anchor left, pivot right.” It means that “weaponizing” a story onto the front page of the New York Times (“the Left”) is infinitely more valuable than publishing it on Breitbart.com.

Aaron Ruper brings us up to date following the election and Trump’s announcement about the role that Bannon will play in his administration.

In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump appointing white nationalist Steve Bannon as his “chief strategist and senior counselor” earlier this month, both the Washington Post and New York Times penned editorials denouncing him…

But last year, both the Post and Times partnered with Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute (GAI) to disseminate opposition research on Hillary Clinton published in Clinton Cash, a book by Breitbart contributor Peter Schweitzer.

Ruper cites this story from Dylan Byers published in April 2015:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed.

“Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” will debut on May 5. But the Times, the Post and Fox have already made arrangements with author Peter Schweizer to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton’s actions as secretary of state.

It is interesting to note that when the editorial boards of both the Washington Post and the New York Times published statements condemning the appointment of Bannon to serve in the White House, neither of them mentioned his involvement with the Government Accountability Institute (although they both referred to his work at Breitbart) or their own arangement with Schweitzer – who worked for Bannon at the time it was negotiated.

It might be tempting to assume that this was all a matter of the right hand (editorial board) not knowing what the left hand (news department) was doing. But as Ruper points out, at the New York Times, their public editor responded to the flood of criticism she received in reference to the arrangement with Schweitzer.

What this boils down to is that Bannon – via the GAI – identified a weakness in “the modern economics of the newsroom” and used it to exploit major publications into reporting on a story the way he wanted it told. It worked. And now those same publications are denouncing him without mentioning that they got played.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .