How Did Breitbart News Become America's Least Trustworthy News Source?
If you've never heard of a site called Breitbart News, some people might argue that you're better off keeping it that way. Initially launched in 2007 by conservative journalist and founder of Drudge Report, Andrew Breitbart, the site later found itself under the leadership of media executive Steven Bannon, one of the Trump administration’s most controversial figures, from 2012 to 2018.
In 2016, Bannon, who was the site's executive chairman at the time, declared that Breitbart News was to become "the platform for the alt-right," a far-right white nationalist political movement. Since the site became so vocally aligned with this racist platform, it’s been called out by scores of liberals and conservatives alike for its misogynistic, xenophobic, racist and all-around questionable style of reporting that extends beyond political bias and far deeper into a mire of hate speech and dangerous rhetoric.
Breitbart Is a Massive Source of Fake News
Considering that "fake news" is a term we've all become familiar with, it's important to take a moment to define what it actually means. According to Media Bias/Fact Check, "fake news is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for the purpose of profit or influence." There are numerous sites that freely admit to providing harmless versions of fake news for the sake of entertainment only, such as parody news sources like The Onion or News Thump. Such sites freely admit to being satirical spoofs for the sake of hilarity and quite clearly aren't intended to be taken seriously by their readers. And this intent does matter — these sites aren’t out to deceive.
Breitbart News, on the other hand, presents itself as a reliable news source, despite its consistent use of intentionally misleading, inaccurate coverage. The site’s unfounded stories have ranged from reporting dangerous rumors to posting headlines that verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the site once reported that a Satanic temple had teamed up with Planned Parenthood to reverse restrictions placed on abortions in Missouri. The story — of course — turned out to have no basis in fact. As a result of Breitbart’s deliberate attempts to mislead people, Wikipedia banned the use of Breitbart as a fact source in 2018, allowing it to be used solely to reflect "opinion" citations.
Unfortunately, many of the site’s other false stories have had real-world implications. In 2017, the site published a story linking an undocumented immigrant to a series of California wildfires that killed 42 people, though there was no evidence that he was connected in any way. Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano was forced to issue a statement debunking the story. "There is a story out there that he’s the arsonist in these fires," Giordano said at a press conference. "That’s not the case. There’s no indication he’s related to these fires at all. ...I wanted to kill that speculation right now, so we didn’t have things running too far out of control."
The Site Has Gained Infamy for Its Notable Bias and Hate Speech
In addition to reporting unreliable and often completely fabricated stories, Breitbart News has caused plenty of controversy due to its championing of extreme prejudice. Among its most controversial employees is former Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who became known for his incendiary and prejudicial headlines.
In 2017, Buzzfeed News ran an exposé featuring documents that linked Yiannopoulos to a number of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. It went on to cover in-depth the story of how Yiannopoulos sought the advice of such groups to help shape the "alt-right" movement that the site is known for promoting. While shocking, the news was hardly surprising, considering some of Breitbart and Yiannopoulous's other headlines.
In 2015, the site ran a piece called "'Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage." Throughout the piece, Breitbart claimed that "Every tree, every rooftop, every picket fence, every telegraph pole in the South should be festooned with the Confederate battle flag." Designed to inflame and incite, this article was posted less than two weeks after the 2015 mass shooting at a Charleston, North Carolina — a notorious Confederate stronghold during the American Civil War — church where nine Black people were murdered during a Bible study.
Yiannopoulous, who’s known for despising women and feminists, was also the brainchild of a 2016 article titled "Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?" The same year, he went on to produce the piece "10 Things Milo Hates About Islam." The narrative openly encouraged religious intolerance towards members of the Islamic faith, who make up roughly 24% of the world's population. And the titles of these articles alone are clearly designed to incite, enrage and encourage segments of the population that hold these views to double-down on their misguided beliefs.
As if that wasn't enough hate to go around, it turned out that not even people of size were safe from the damaging rhetoric of Breitbart News. In 2016, the site published a piece that claimed "Science Proves It: Fat-Shaming Works." With language from Yiannopoulos referring to people of size as "lumbering landwhales" and his professing "If you are obese, you should hate yourself," it’s clear any supposed science was never meant to be the focus of the article. It was designed to promote hatred of and dehumanize a segment of the American population.
Propaganda and Conspiracy Theories Abound on Breitbart News
In addition to publishing fake news and hate pieces, Breitbart News has become known for pushing conspiracy theories and propaganda. Earlier in 2020, social media sites scrambled to delete a video uploaded by Breitbart in which a group of frontline workers appeared to taut hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19. The video was deemed dangerous, as it featured doctors assuring Americans that wearing masks was unnecessary thanks to the "hydroxychloroquine cure," despite the advice of every reputable health organization around the globe that masks prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. This type of misinformation, when believed without question, directly puts people’s lives at risk.
The site has also helped fuel the idea that peaceful protesters who participate in marches, such as those held by Black Lives Matter, are causing "global chaos." Breitbart appears to be willfully ignoring the fact that nearly every reliable news organization in America has confirmed that roughly 93% of all racial justice protest marches in the USA have been entirely peaceful.
In 2015, Milo Yiannopoulos sparked a media controversy against one Black Lives Matter activist in particular. Yiannopoulos made headlines when he suggested that BLM activist Shaun King was actually white. Yiannopoulos accused King, who is biracial, of lying about his racial identity for years and attempted to use it as evidence that Black people are actually more "privileged" than whites. Ultimately, King was forced to come forward and reveal personal facts about his family's history, explaining that his mother had conceived him during an affair. "This attack isn't about me so much, but is about derailing Black Lives Matter and the movement against police brutality," King said.
The racist propaganda of Breitbart News doesn't only target Black people, however, as the site consistently fans the flames of nationalists when it comes to immigration. The site is known for reporting misleading, and in some cases completely fabricated, tales about immigrants — which it regularly refers to as "illegal aliens" in an attempt to remove their personhood — and their entry into the United States.
Where Can You Find High-Quality Independent News Sources?
It’s clear that Breitbart News is about as reputable as a supermarket tabloid. But not all independent news sources are created equally. There are plenty of great organizations that deliver fact-based journalism. Some of them include the following.
Democracy Now! is an independent news source that's remained completely audience-supported since its founding in 1996. By refusing to accept funding from the government, corporations and advertisers, it continues to retain its journalistic integrity and editorial independence from outside interests. Although Democracy Now! is a decidedly left-leaning publication, Media Bias/Fact Check rates the site "high for factual reporting due to a clean fact check record."
Despite the name, The Christian Science Monitor, or "The Monitor" as it's commonly referred to, is an independent, international news organization founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Since 1908, it's published fact-based news that's free of political and corporate allegiances. According to AllSides, a site that aims to highlight and assess media bias, The Christian Science Monitor is "a well-run, high-quality news organization with minimal bias."
The Nation was originally founded by absolutists in 1865 and is the longest-running weekly newspaper in the United States. It’s also an independent news organization founded on spirited debate and open-mindedness. With a commitment to fighting for a better future, it's a great site to check out for news on everything from politics to social justice — it’s a progressive paper, but again, it receives high ratings for its factual reporting and thorough sourcing.