CNN's Brian Stelter vs. Breitbart's Joel Pollak: "Defamatory" To Call Breitbart A "White Nationalist Website"


Joel Pollak, a Breitbart senior editor-at-large and co-author of the new book "How Trump Won," talks with CNN's host of Reliable Sources Brian Stelter about the website, journalists and Trump, former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, and more. Full transcript, via CNN:

BRIAN STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

"Breitbart News" used to be on the outside looking in, but now, it is very much on the inside of this White House, partly because former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon is President Trump's chief strategist and because of some other new hires. "Breitbart" immigration reporter and Paul Ryan critic Julia Hahn will join the White House under Bannon. And "Breitbart" national security editor and FOX News regular Sebastian Gorka will take a role likely at the National Security Council.

Breitbart is often criticized as a far right wing echo chamber. But I think it's important that we understand that's happening on that site. We shouldn't treat it like it's some sort of an exotic enterprise.

Joining me now to discuss all this is Joel Pollak, the senior editor at large at "Breitbart" and was also the co-author of the new book, "How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution."

Joel, great to see you.


STELTER: I understand you're on the management side of "Breitbart" but I wanted to ask you about Breitbart's readership, about its audience. When you're writing for the site, who do you -- who do you picture as the "Breitbart" reader? But I feel like oftentimes Breitbart gets stereotyped and ostracized. And I want to get rid of that.

I want to know, who is your audience? Who are you writing for?

POLLAK: Well, I think we're a conservative news site. We also were founded on the principle of citizen journalism, that idea that ordinary Americans have a story to tell that's not being told by the mainstream media.

But if you listen to "Breitbart News" daily, five days a week, three hours every morning on SiriusXM, the Patriot Channel 125, it's a caller driven show and you get a real sense of the perspectives of our readers and our listeners. They drive the program. They provide a lot of feedback for us live on the air.

And these are people with different opinions. They have different opinions about presidential candidates during the primary election. These are people with different opinions about executive orders that have come out in the last week.

There's a wide variety of opinion among our readership and we also know that they hold us accountable. If we don't do our job, if we don't hold the administration accountable to President Trump's promises on the campaign trail, they're going to rebel against us and they're going to read other websites. So, we have a close relationship with our audience. I would suggest

to anyone interested and listen to the radio show every morning 6:00 to 9:00 Eastern.

STELTER: Is it fair to say you'll be holding him accountable from the right? There was an article this week saying that there was no executive order about immigration on day one, as had been promised.

POLLAK: That's right. You picked a great example of holding Trump accountable. We earlier also said that he had broken his first promise when he said he wasn't going to investigate or prosecute Hillary Clinton. That was a big theme on the campaign trail.

And so, "Breitbart" has focused on the promises he made on the campaign trail and much less these other sort of shiny bubble stories that the media has gone for about crowd sizes and whatnot. We have focused on the substantive issues of policy where President Trump is expected to deliver on his promises.

STELTER: Folks on Twitter are already telling me that I'm normalizing "Breitbart" by having you on this program. You don't see "Breitbart" editors on CNN very often. So, what I want know from you is what you learned in your reporting for your book about how Trump won.

How much of it was about sowing divisions, by attacking the media, by creating an "us versus them" narrative?

POLLAK: Well, I think the divisions had already been sown. I mean, keep in mind, this is all happening in the shadow of the Obama presidency where he barely even had a relationship with the leaders of the opposing party, and there was a constant antagonism -- Obama ran for re-election not just on a negative campaign but on a very divisive campaign, what people called the class war. So, the divisions were already there.

And then he media covered Trump in a particular way that sought to exacerbate those opinions in some cases. I think that certainly describing him early on as a kind of Nazi leader, which some outlets did, not just blogs and left wing sites, but mainstream network sites, some of the alphabet sites did as well, some of the major networks. And that just reinforced the relationship Trump had with his supporters.

And so, you know, being on the traveling press corps was sort of like playing the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters in each of these speeches, because there was such a distrust between the media and the audience that Trump could reinforce his relationship with voters by pointing out that the media had given them bad information or simply by mocking the media.

Of course, other times, certainly with individual journalists, he was able to develop a rapport and he at times praises journalists. He praised "The New York Times" last week. I mean, he does things to reward people when he feels that they've been fair and not just laudatory. Sometimes, he would even say a fair story is one that's critical of him, he's done that on several occasions as well.

STELTER: What does it mean now going forward? For him to call the

media the opposition party, presumably he's not including "Breitbart" in that category. But when he says that in response to an interviewer, what does it mean for this relationship going forward?

POLLAK: Well, I think there's some journalists who revel in being the opposition party. I think it gives them relevance and I think they like it. I don't think it's the appropriate role necessarily for the media, although the media will always -- theoretically at least, be independent of the government and so, they'll oppose in that passive way any government simply by producing truth and producing facts.

But I think there are journalists who declare in advance on the campaign trial they were proud to be the opposing party. I mean, there was lots of discussions about how journalist had to drop the mask of objectivity and had to participate, it was their civic duty to stand up against this man.

That's just continued and I think that's a big mistake the media are making because there's lots of talk -- you know, I watched the earlier part of your show, lots of talk about the president versus the press. I hear very few journalists talking about their relationship with the public. What's the relationship of journalists to the reading or viewing audience? Are they reestablishing their trust with the people whom they are supposed to serve?

At "Breitbart", we have a very close and daily feedback between our audience and the journalists who work on the site. I'm not sure that exists in other parts of the media, and that's something I think people could learn from us as well. You have to be independent but part of doing your job is also dealing with your audience and making sure you're providing them the information they need.

STELTER: If we're telling the truth, if we're citing statistics about crime for example, and there's an alternative reality on a site like Breitbart who presents a much scarier doomsday version of crime, how are we supposed to reestablish our trust with our audience if they're getting fed misinformation elsewhere?

POLLAK: I don't know what you're referring to. I do remember CNN editing George Zimmerman's 911 call in 2012 about Trayvon Martin --

STELTER: You're talking about NBC's "Today Show", not CNN.

POLLAK: NBC -- you're correct about the editing, that's correct. CNN did however say that they heard a racial epithet on the call. So, there was --


STELTER: So, you're going to take several years ago, reach out there and pull it out and say, screw the rest of the media, right?

POLLAK: Well, I have a concrete example. If you can give me a concrete example from Breitbart. Has CNN ever apologized for that? I mean, that was a very divisive thing that it did. It stoked racial tensions --


STELTER: I didn't even work here then.

But let me -- here is an example from Breitbart, that people always point to the black crime section of the site. The stories tagged the black crime. Those are oftentimes cited. When Bannon was hired at the White House, that was cited as an example of divisive coverage, of racially tinged coverage of "Breitbart".

POLLAK: There's no black crime section of the website. And I think that is something that has been completely overblown by critics of "Breitbart" who don't read "Breitbart" and don't understand what we do. There's probably more diversity in Breitbart --

STELTER: But it's there.

POLLAK: Excuse me, it's probably more diversity among "Breitbart" journalists and editors than there was in the entire traveling press corps that was covering the president. So, I reject that assertion categorically.

STELTER: By the way, I think that's an important point. I don't know if that's exactly true. It's very hard to measure, but certainly we need ideological diversity in all of these newsrooms. So, I'm with you on that.


POLLAK: I'm not just talking about ideological diversity. I mean, we have diversity of every kind. And I think also, it's very important -- you know, what the White House said this week about the media needing to listen is pretty much what you said the Sunday after the election, Brian.


POLLAK: You said, in very moving segment on this show, you said, the media needs to do some soul-searching, and yet, that afternoon you were calling us a white nationalist website which I thought was not only unfair but also defamatory. I mean, I think you need to take a step back. I think the media collectively needs to look at what it relationship is with the public and is it providing the right information for people to make their own decisions.

I think you enjoy an opposition role. I think that -- you know, I've watched your show. I read your Twitter feed. You enjoy that opposition role. You clearly have an opinion and more power to you.

But I think what readers want, whether it's from your show or from our website is simply information that allows them to make their own decisions. I think you provide that when you cover the media. We provide that when we cover the news. And people have a wide variety of media outlets to choose from. I don't think there's any danger to press freedom. As the "Reuters"

editor-in-chief said just now on your show, I think it's a very exciting time, perhaps the best time ever to be a journalist. And I think people should enjoy the opportunity.

STELTER: Agreement from our panel and with you on that, that this is an exciting time to be a journalist.

Joel, thank you for being here this morning. Best of luck with you.

POLLAK: Thank you.

Show commentsHide Comments

Latest Political Videos

Video Archives