Steve Bannon, recently named as chief strategist to president-elect Donald Trump, is a fantastic manager, a visionary journalist and “has no prejudices,” according to a top editor who has worked with him for years.
In an interview with Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep, Breitbart Senior Editor at Large Joel Pollak defended Bannon and pushed back against the idea that the news website he ran and significantly expanded promoted racist or sexist views. On the contrary, Bannon accused NPR’s Code Switch blog, which covers race and culture, of being “racist” itself.
Here is the transcript from that interview:
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let’s hear a defense of Steve Bannon. He’s the campaign manager for Donald Trump, now slated for a top post at the White House — campaign CEO, to be correct. He’s been fiercely criticized because Bannon previously ran Breitbart, a website that Bannon described as quote “the platform for the alt-right,” a name that encompasses white nationalists and others embracing white identity politics. Joel Pollak has worked with Steve Bannon. He is senior editor at large for Breitbart, and he’s with us now from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Good morning.
JOEL POLLAK: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Thanks for coming over early, really appreciate it. Now, people have heard a lot the last couple of days about Bannon’s statements or statements on Breitbart. But before we get into that, I want you to round out the picture of this guy you know, and what are people missing?
POLLAK: Steve Bannon is a fantastic manager. He helped Breitbart grow fantastically to the point where we have 250 million page views per month. He is a leader with vision. He’s very disciplined. He insists on excellence from those around him. He’s also very open to debate and challenge as long as you bring facts and data to the table. And he has no prejudices, he treats people equally, and, in fact, during my time working closely with him at Breitbart for five years, he sought out people from diverse backgrounds and gave them a voice at Breitbart, so I —
INSKEEP: Why — go ahead. Go ahead.
POLLAK: I think he’s a fantastic choice. I think he’s, first of all, from a conservative perspective at least, a national hero, because in helping Donald Trump win, he’s helped defend the Supreme Court and the Constitution. And I think Americans can take heart in the fact that you have someone who’s so calm under pressure in the White House. You know, people tend to think of everything in political terms —
INSKEEP: I mean, let me just stop you there because I do want to ask about something that you said. You were talking about facts and data and how he ran Breitbart. Why did he make Breitbart the platform for the alt-right?
POLLAK: You know, all I can speak to is the content on the website. And the only alt-right content we have is a single article out of tens of thousands of articles, which is a journalistic article about the alt-right by Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari, which basically went into this movement and tried to figure out what it was about. That’s not racist. That’s journalism.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about some articles that I have been reading. There’s been a lot of mention of an article defending the Confederate flag. The headline was “Hoist It High And Proud”; it was put out after last year’s shootings in Charleston, S.C. Why was that a good idea to publish that?
POLLAK: Well, there’s an argument to be made, and it was not just … made at Breitbart, it was made at National Review and other places, that the Charleston shooting had nothing to do with historical attachment to the Confederate flag, that this was an individual who acted on his own motives and that there was a case in terms of heritage and history. Now, that’s not a case I agree with, but I don’t agree with everything on Breitbart, and you don’t have to agree to work there or to enjoy the content on the website.
INSKEEP: I want to mention, you know, actually putting controversial opinions out there is a perfectly fine idea. We’ve had David Duke on this program, but we fact-check, we try to question, we put in context. This particular article goes on to make a string of statements — there’s a reference about President Obama and Kenya. There’s also a statement, “The Confederacy was not a callous conspiracy to enforce slavery, but a patriotic and idealistic cause.” A little bit of research would show that Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, declared the cause was slavery. I mean, why put these things out there?
POLLAK: I think that we can talk about individual articles out of the tens of thousands at Breitbart, but, you know, NPR is taxpayer-funded and has an entire section of its programming, a regular feature called “Code Switch,” which, from my perspective, is a racist program. I’m looking here at the latest article, which aired on NPR, calling the election results “nostalgia for a whiter America.” So NPR has racial and racist programming that I am required to, I’m required to pay for as a taxpayer.
(Editor’s note: The article Pollak mentions was posted on NPR’s Code Switch blog that covers race and culture. It is not a news article but a commentary by Beenish Ahmed titled “Trump’s America: A Hostile Place For Huddled Masses.” The commentary did not air on NPR.)
INSKEEP: Well, let me just mention —
POLLAK: You can read Breitbart; you can read something else. I don’t think that’s racist to talk about the history of the Confederate flag. There are people who disagree with that as a symbol, but you’re picking on one opinion article. Breitbart is a 24-hour news website that provides coverage from within a conservative worldview —
INSKEEP: We’ve got a limited amount of time, I do have to stop you there. We’ll just check a couple of facts. Local public radio stations do receive a small percentage of their funding from the government, and Code Switch has explored race and ethnicity from a wide variety of viewpoints, and, as we said, having a wide variety of viewpoints is fine as long as you’re checking your facts. Now, I want to ask a little bit more about what Bannon is going for, what he believes. This is a guy who’s talked about nationalist movements. I think he’d reject the label “white nationalist,” but he’s reached out to nationalist parties in Europe, like the French National Front, which has actually been fined for racist statements. Do you have any idea of what his strategy is, what his vision is?
POLLAK: I think his vision is to defend American interests, and I think you saw that reflected in some of the campaign themes that Donald Trump used of resisting elites and resisting international agreements and international bodies that are against the American interests. There’s a lot of what goes on at the United Nations, for example, which is designed to undermine America’s interests. And unfortunately, from our perspective at least, President Obama often colluded with these international institutions, like taking the Iran deal to the U.N. Security Council before taking it to Congress. That is the opposite of the way it should be, and so I think Steve Bannon’s orientation, and Donald Trump’s orientation, will be toward putting America first in those discussions.
INSKEEP: And let me ask another thing, and this is another Bannon quote, and we can pull out quotes, but it’s a quote that he made in a 2011 radio interview that gets to maybe what he wants to do inside the country. He criticized feminists, he said, “women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children.” And I’m just reading the quote here, “They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools.” What’s he driving at there?
POLLAK: I don’t know. But there is a political correctness in this country that would say that if you said that once on a radio show that you should be drummed out of public life. I would defy you to find a person in the LGBTQ community who has not used that term, either in an endearing sense or in a flippant, jovial, colloquial sense. I don’t think you can judge Steve Bannon’s views. What you can judge him is how he’s conducted himself at Breitbart, and he brought a gay, conservative journalist like Milo Yiannopoulos on board, and Milo has brought gay conservatives into the media, into the debate. At the Republican National Convention, Breitbart co-hosted a party for gay conservatives. So, that’s not something you do if you’re anti-gay, and Andrew Breitbart was the same. Andrew Breitbart broke through at CPAC, the conservative annual gathering, and helped “Go Proud” get a foothold there.
INSKEEP: Oh, Breitbart. That was the former publisher of —
POLLAK: The founder, yeah.
INSKEEP: I want to invite a yes/no question because we’ve just got a few seconds here. This is a question that’s just on a lot of people’s minds. Is Steve Bannon, and by extension Donald Trump, winking at racists — not quite embracing their views, but trying to get their support and their votes? Yes or no?
POLLAK: Absolutely not.
INSKEEP: Not at all?
POLLAK: Not at all.
INSKEEP: OK. Joel Pollak, thank you very much, really appreciate the time.
POLLAK: Good to be with you.
INSKEEP: He is senior editor at large for Breitbart News; that’s a publication that was once run by Stephen Bannon, who is now slated for a senior position in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House.