Chris Lehmann’s Breitbart News Critique in The Baffler Is Brutal

By Corinne Grinapol Comment


The Baffler senior editor Chris Lehmann‘s essay on the embattled Breitbart News takes aim in particular at the precipitating incident that led to the dissent among its ranks, but let’s start with the first description we get of the organization, as “the gaudy home to the most truth-challenged persecution manias on the American right.”

From there, Lehmann hones in on Breitbart’s response to now-former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields being grabbed by Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, but also recalls the Breitbart of yesteryear, juxtaposing Breitbart’s analysis of grab footage with the organization’s own videos and its misleading edits from the James O’Keefe era.

For Lehmann, it’s an example of why the claim that this current incarnation of Breitbart stands in opposition to the organization’s legacy doesn’t hold up:

In short, it says everything about the Breitbart M.O. that, when confronted with evidence of the blowback from its opportunistic, counter-journalistic alliance with the Trump campaign, the organization’s first impulse is neither to address the central issue head-on nor to call out the loathsome conduct of Trump flack Lewandowski, but rather to gin up the impression that their reporter wasn’t giving a reliable account of her own assault. This is more than simply blaming the victim—it’s framing the victim, as both an untrustworthy witness and noncredible reporter. It’s also entirely in the spirit of site founder Andrew Breitbart, once an eager student of right-wing smear-monger Matt Drudge.

There was just no business sense for Breitbart to defend its reporters if it meant losing Trump, Lehmann explains:

Indeed, Breitbart’s core business model goes a long way toward explaining why the company’s senior brass would turn on one of their own reporters exactly as they would slander any garden-variety ideological foe—and why they would identify so viscerally with the Trump insurgency. And at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the alleged journalistic crisis now roiling the Breitbart operation is really no such thing, since Breitbart has never really been a journalistic enterprise.

And what is that business model, according to Lehmann? It is “cultivat[ing] the terminally aggrieved mindset of its loyal following” for clicks.

And now, with Trump’s rise, there is an alignment of aims, too, in “Trump’s epic bid to place the Breitbart agenda firmly in the political mainstream.”