politics

Breitbart Rift With Bannon Gives Conservative Rivals an Opening

Breitbart Says Bannon Has Stepped Down

Breitbart News was already contending with an exodus of advertisers. Now the public face of the conservative outlet is gone, and competitors are licking their chops.

Steve Bannon’s departure Tuesday settled the immediate crisis at Breitbart, which had to decide whether to stand by its executive chairman or part ways because of his rift with President Donald Trump. But a bevy of other right-wing news and commentary providers have sprung forth to cater to Trump supporters, and the anti-establishment tone of Breitbart’s coverage may not be as titillating now that Trump is very much the establishment.

Little has been disclosed about Breitbart’s finances or other investors. The Mercer family has invested $10 million in the site, the New Yorker magazine reported. Bannon gave up his equity in Breitbart when he joined the White House, and the Mercers publicly split with him after his criticism of Trump’s family surfaced this month in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury.”

Even before that uproar, there were signs of trouble. Bannon had been unable to reverse a drop in Breitbart’s readership since returning to the outlet in August following his departure from the White House. Traffic declined 20 percent last year through November, when it attracted nearly 14 million unique visitors, according to comScore. Meanwhile, Fox News’ traffic increased 3 percent during that time, attracting nearly 87 million unique visitors in November.

Read more on how loss of donor support may affect Bannon’s clout here.

“In many ways, we’ve seen a role reversal between Breitbart and Fox News,” said Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman. “Fox is becoming the destination and platform that Trump shapes his worldview on.”

Breitbart had also become more dependent on its financial backers as advertising waned, in part because of online activists protesting what they said were racist views promoted by the news outlet. The Twitter account Sleeping Giants has called out nearly 3,700 advertisers who agreed not to advertise on Breitbart. Its creator, who asked not to be identified, vowed to continue pressuring brands to pull ads from the site even with Bannon’s departure.

If Breitbart loses influence, “anybody running a conservative website may benefit," including the Washington Times, said Charles Herring, president of Herring Networks, which owns the conservative channel One America News Network.

Still, “Breitbart has proven over the years to be a strong brand with loyal viewers, with or without Mr. Bannon,” Herring said.

Breitbart’s future may depend less on Bannon and more on the broader economy, according to Christopher Ruddy, founder of the conservative network Newsmax and a Trump ally.

The website’s influence has been driven by a wing of the Republican Party that believes in isolationism and nativism, he said.

“They have been fueled by the country’s economic stagnation,” Ruddy said. “As the Trump economy rolls on, I believe their power will diminish.”

— With assistance by Joshua Green

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