Former Breitbart Spokersperson Kurt Bardella on What’s Wrong (and Right) With the Media

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Kurt Bardella. Photo: Tom Williams/© CQ Roll Call Group

It sounds like within Breitbart, there was this fissure over Trump that lead to your departure, and that of several of your colleagues.
Yes. I think a lot of people who are still there, but are contractually trapped, are very uncomfortable with the level of advocacy. One of the real concerns is that, when a key entity, on either side of the spectrum, left or right, becomes perceived to be a function of disseminating propaganda, I think that’s very concerning. When you look at other leaderships that existed throughout time, any leader that has a media entity that, for the sole purpose of spreading propaganda, there’s a certain level of oppression that becomes more viable. When you look at the press conference that Trump had recently, launching personal attack and open disdain for the media and for any criticism or appearance of criticism that a reporter would bring to the table. The mind-set, “I’m going dismiss it, I’m going to attack it.” That becomes a very dangerous mindset, when you look at why the First Amendment was established in the first place by the Founding Fathers. 

 [Trump] really has become one of the most polarizing effects throughout the media overall, certainly within the center-right media. … You had true, ideologically driven conservatives who have a very conservative worldview, who recognize that for better or worse Donald Trump, his record and his rhetoric, isn’t exactly the most conservative when you really look at it. Trump very astutely talks like a conservative on some very specific hot-button things like immigration to appeal to that world, but there was a lot of suspicion about where his ideology really rested, because of his affiliations and affinities for donating to Democrats and very openly bragging about his relationship with Democrats like Hillary Clinton, “Clinton came to my daughter’s wedding” kind of thing. And I think that a lot of people in the conservative media — Erick Erickson being the most prominent of them — saw a Trojan horse there, whereas other entities that have allied with him, Breitbart being the most visible, saw an opportunity for the first time, because they had been outliers, they had been outcasts against … saw someone that they could align with and thereby for the first time really have a level of access and influence that they had lacked up to that point.

What’s going to happen to the Republican Party?
Well, certain variables are at play here. Let’s say Trump wins. God, that’s a terrifying thought! But let’s say Trump wins. For that theory to fly, those who aligned with him are in effect in a role reversal; they, all of a sudden, are the new Establishment, if you will. They’re the ones who are in control, and everyone else who is opposed to them are all of a sudden the outliers. They’re the ones who are shooting at the leadership, right? On the flip side of it, let’s say Trump loses, and along the way Republicans also lose the Senate and significant gains are made by Democrats in the House. Then you have the cause and effect of, “Wow, you single-handedly went down a path that led to the complete implosion of the central nervous system of what was at that time the Republican Party.” You’re seeing right now this tension between Republicans wanting to win and maintain the House and the Senate, trying to make the best of what they would say is a terrible situation, but also being mindful that, how close do you really want to be associated with supporting someone like Donald Trump? There’s a real tension there. And it really, for the first time, publicly, you’re seeing it’s a fight for what the soul of the Republican Party is.

At Breitbart, you felt that a line had been crossed, and you had to part ways, which couldn’t have been easy.
No! I think for me personally there’s the, well, you realize you’re not going to agree with everything that everyone you represent or work with does, and that’s being an adult in the world. But when you reach a point where you’re being asked to advance something that you so vehemently just don’t believe, on a scale of … influence that an entity that reaches millions of people has, everyone makes their own choices, it came out as I couldn’t really do this anymore 

But the left-leaning media is almost as taken with Trump’s appeal, in its own way.
Anytime Donald Trump speaks right now, you have to believe that anyone on the progressive side, [goes] legitimately, like, “I can’t believe he said that, but, aww, this is going to be great!” You also see a direct correlation in political action. A quote goes up, someone puts it online, and it turns into a direct mail, direct email.

And you seem as appalled by Trump as anyone I’ve talked to on the left.
Yeah, that’s probably true.

I think the interesting effect, here, too, is traditionally the mainstream media was able to maintain a certain amount of objectivity in covering political races and have refrained from, overtly at least, espousing a position. I think that their hand is being forced to be more aggressive than they traditionally would have been comfortable with just by the nature of the beast that they’re dealing with now; [it] is so different and the attacks on the institutions are so blatant and public and in their face. It’s no longer viable or plausible to try and say, “Oh, we’re just going to be objective.” How could you not have an opinion at this point, when your reporter is sitting there and Donald Trump is calling him an idiot? It’s not believable. And I think that, at some point, the mainstream media — both rightfully so, and personally strategically — will have to shed that cloak of objectivity and say, point blank, “This is not a good person, this is not who should lead our country.” Take a position on it at this point, because they’re handicapping themselves by playing by a set of rules that no one else is playing by anymore. And if they continue to cede that ground, their influence will continue to be diminished.

But will that play into his game to a certain extent, to just make them equivalent to him? When Rubio tried to play his game, he got beaten, because Trump was better at it.
I don’t think that you can play his game to beat him at it. I just think that they need to [fix] the way they play theirs. And through the telling of stories, reacting to oppression, the recounting of actual facts. The best defense against Donald Trump is actually the facts and the truth and to call on the American public. Put it this way, if I was running a massive media outlet, I would have on the front page of my paper, every day until the election, here’s what he said, here are the facts. That would be an overt way to make your point, but you’re not necessarily taking an advocacy standpoint. Just saying, “This is the truth. Make up your mind.” But it would be a lot more in-your-face than we’ve seen at this point.

The Transcripts: A Master Class in What’s Wrong (and Right) With the Media by Those In the Know

Kurt Bardella on the Media