The senior reporter for right-wing news website Breitbart has hit back at “offensive smears” which have been leveled at the site and its executive chairman Steve Bannon.
Bannon was this week appointed chief strategist to US president-elect Donald Trump leading to a flurry of stories variously claiming that Bannon was a white nationalist, anti women, anti gay and that Breitbart was itself anti-semitic.
The website Salon for instance reported that during Bannon’s time in charge of Breitbart, the website ran articles referring to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum as “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned”.
Breitbart senior reporter and Israel bureau chief Aaron Klein has responded to these jibes in a Press Gazette interview.
He said: “To me it’s offensive. There’s nothing about Breitbart that is anti-semitic. The only time that Breitbart and anti-semitism should be put in the same sentence is saying that Breitbart defends against anti-semitism.
“One of our themes in Jerusalem is highlighting the growing trend of anti-semitism and anti-Israel activism especially on US college campuses; the fascist boycott movement, the movement to boycott the Jewish state.
“I myself would never work at an anti-semitic organisation or for any individual who was in any way shape or form anti-semitic. So to me to hear these smears of Breitbart and of Bannon is particularly frustrating because it is the exact opposite of the truth.”
He said that in Bannon: “We have a champion of Israel, somebody who understands the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, coming in to the administration. Supporters of Israel should sleep better at night knowing they have a champion of Israel in the White House.”
He said that Bannon was the “driving force” behind recruiting him to start Breitbart Jerusalem.
Breitbart attracts up to 18m web users per month, according to Comscore, and also has bureaus in the US and London.
Klein said that Bannon was “deeply concerned with what was going on in the Middle East with press coverage…very negative, distorted coverage, specifically of Israel and the Israeli Palestinian conflict”
He said: “Breitbart’s audience cares deeply about the Middle East so it was an obvious choice for Breitbart and Steve Bannon to launch Breitbart Jerusalem.”
Asked what he thinks has prompted the claims of bigotry against Bannon and Breitbart, he said: “This is the continuation of the very distorted coverage of Donald Trump. This is all about trying to smear Donald Trump’s incoming administration with these baseless and outrageous accusations that aren’t even documented.”
Responding to the suggestion in some website reports that Bannon is anti gay, Klein said: “Steve Bannon has recruited gays to Breitbart, one of our top editors Milo is openly gay. To me, as somebody who knows him, it’s just ridiculous. I haven’t just worked for Steve Bannon, I’ve also become friends with him – he is none of those things, he is the opposite of those things. This is just a campaign to baselessly smear Breitbart and Steve Bannon I believe to try taint the incoming administration.”
Asked whether it is fair to describe Breitbart as a pro Trump website, he said: “The vast majority of the news media has been almost propaganda for the Democrat party. If you contrast much of the news media we are just not propagandists for the Democrat party.
“We don’t adhere to one political ideology, we adhere to reporting the truth.”
Does he feel Breitbart will be able hold the Trump administration to account?
“I’m an independent investigative journalist, nobody has told me what to do and what to report. I see myself maintaining that independence at Breitbart. We will report independently. We report as accurately as we can.”
Asked why he thinks Trump won the election (albeit not the popular vote) in the face of overwhelmingly negative media coverage, he said: “His policies are resonating with the majority of Americans. Policies of being strong on immigration, policies on reforming the economy, taking on the corruption of big government. These are policies that have resonated massively with the American public.
“According to the news media Hillary was going to win in a massive landslide. Combine that with the massive negative reportage of Trump’s campaign I think he did very well. Almost every media outlet in the western world was pro Hilary.”
Klein said the ownership of media outlets may explain their anti-Trump stances and the “financial interests” of the major news networks.
He added: “There’s been a trend over decades towards liberalism. There’s a lot of group think in the news media. When you combine all of those you can begin to answer that question.”
Klein was at Trump’s New York HQ when news of his election victory came through in the early hours of Wednesday, 9 November. And he recalled seeing a “recognisable mood of depression almost amongst reporters gathered in the media gallery”.
He said the last month has been “massive” traffic-wise for Breitbart and that significant expansion is planned in the weeks and months ahead.