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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How Oppo Guys and Other Operatives Feed the Media

In Devil's Bargain, Joshua Green describes how Bannon uses the press.  In a 2015 report, a slightly updated version of which appears in the book, he wrote:
[Breitbart editor Wynton] Hall peppers his colleagues with slogans so familiar around the office that they’re known by their abbreviations. “ABBN — always be breaking news,” he says. Another slogan is “depth beats speed.” Time-strapped reporters squeezed for copy will gratefully accept original, fact-based research because most of what they’re inundated with is garbage. “The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs,” says Bannon. “You wouldn’t get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We’re working as a support function.”
The reason GAI does this is because it’s the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. 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 “We don’t look at the mainstream media as enemies because we don’t want our work to be trapped in the conservative ecosystem,” says Hall. “We live and die by the media. Every time we’re launching a book, I’ll build a battle map that literally breaks down by category every headline we’re going to place, every op-ed Peter’s going to publish. Some of it is a wish list. But it usually gets done.”
Once that work has permeated the mainstream—once it’s found “a host body,” in David Brock's phrase—then comes the “pivot.” Heroes and villains emerge and become grist for a juicy Breitbart News narrative. “With Clinton Cash, we never really broke a story,” says Bannon, “but you go [to] and we’ve got 20 things, we’re linking to everybody else’s stuff, we’re aggregating, we’ll pull stuff from the Left. It’s a rolling phenomenon. Huge traffic. Everybody’s invested.”
The book (pp. 27-28) looks back on a 1998 incident in which Henry Waxman leveraged the media to humiliate Dan Burton:
Waxman devised something far more attention-grabbing and dramatic. The following Sunday, Burton was booked for an encore appearance on Meet the Press. The show’s host, Tim Russert, was quietly made aware of the discrepancy between the two sets of Hubbell transcripts.* On Sunday, when the cameras began rolling, Burton became an unwitting captive as Russert, the dean of Washington journalism and a maestro of the prosecutorial interview, confronted the chairman on air with evidence of the doctored transcripts. The uproar was immediate and intense. Gingrich, humiliated, condemned Burton’s committee as “the circus.” Republicans fumed at the embarrassment Burton had brought on them and demanded he atone for it.  
* Political hit jobs like the one on Burton are always disguised in order not to divert focus away from the target. The public story of Russert's triumph, detailed afterward in New York magazine, was that Russert himself discovered the divergent transcripts. He did not. He was a fine journalist, but here he had some help.