McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed reports that sources at Breitbart News have disclosed a pay-for-press scheme at the website Andrew built. According to multiple staffers, the site’s editors and management have been in Donald Trump’s pocket for at least the last several months.
According to four sources with knowledge of the situation, editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least last year that the company’s top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website — using it to hype his political prospects and attack his enemies. One current editor called the water-carrying “despicable” and “embarrassing,” and said he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump. A second Breitbart staffer said he had heard a similar description of the site’s relationship with the billionaire but didn’t know the details; and a third source at the company said he knew of several instances when managers had overruled editors at Trump’s behest. Additionally, a conservative communications operative who works closely with Breitbart described conversations in which “multiple writers and editors” said Trump was paying for the ability to shape coverage, and added that one staffer claimed to have seen documentation of the “pay for play.”
As election law blogger Rick Hasen points out, such an arrangement would easily violate campaign finance laws. Of course, Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon sternly denies any direct payola is involved, hinting that the transfer is hidden somewhere in the dark money world of a Trump-friendly nonprofit organization.
I say this without fear of contradiction, even from Mr. Bannon, because it is absolutely credible to me that Donald Trump has bought influence at Breitbart News. After all, everyone else is doing it. Billionaire hedge fund magnate and Ted Cruz super PAC mogul Robert Mercer has done it on behalf of his candidate.
Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman at Breitbart, did not comment when asked whether Mercer’s financial support would influence the site’s coverage of Cruz and the 2016 presidential campaign. In a statement, spokesperson Kurt Bardella said Breitbart News “is a for-profit operation and we do not discuss our investors.”
‘For-profit,’ indeed! Why, payola is actually the not-so-quiet secret at Breitbart News, where the price to cover your Tea Party rally will be $7,000, thank you very much. The eponymous founder reportedly died holding nearly ten million dollars in venture capital from national security billionaire and Israel-hawk Aubrey Chernick, the same conservative ‘angel investor’ who founded Pajamas Media. At least one recent vertical expansion at Breitbart News seems highly-inclined to the tastes of Egyptian billionaire and Breitbart ’embassy’ host Mustafa Elgindy. Bannon routinely handles millions of dollars from the Koch brothers’ slush fund to send political hit men after Hillary Clinton. It’s pay-to-play news, the kind that billionaires love best.
That much money is hard to manage, and the shady monetary shenanigans of the site’s founder have in fact led to an IRS audit. Having rejected the normal ethical rules of journalism from the site’s launch, the messy, opaque heirs that Andrew Breitbart left behind have never behaved like a legitimate news business once in their entire history, with editorial performance to match. Plagiarism has been routinely tolerated, even tacitly encouraged by hosting Senator Rand Paul’s purloined column. Eliminationist rhetoric is accepted. The only editorial crime at Breitbart News is telling an inconvenient truth, which is why their staffers are talking to BuzzFeed about this story anonymously.
When strange things happen in online political media, often money is involved http://t.co/n6xEbwOXqJ
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) August 10, 2015