NBC to Breitbart Editor: Isn’t Trump’s Media Criticism ‘Damaging to Democracy’?

In an interview with Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow for Friday’s NBC Today, correspondent Stephanie Gosk worried that the conservative media figure did not think it was “dangerous” for the President to criticize the press: “President Trump calling the, quote, ‘fake news media,’ ‘the enemy of the American people.’ That kind of extreme language, is that not damaging to our democracy?”

Marlow responded: “I don't think it is, because I think, in a lot of ways, as Steve Bannon put it, the press is the opposition party. That's 100% the world view that I have.”

Gosk introduced the hostile report by declaring:

You know Breitbart is one of President Trump's favorite news sources, one run by his top adviser Steve Bannon. They see themselves as provocateurs, poking a finger in the eye of the mainstream media. But critics call them racist, anti-Semites, and white supremacists.

She grilled Marlow over Breitbart making the case “that steps taken to investigate the Trump campaign’s links with Russia are purely political.” He hammered media coverage of the story: “We've learned very little about any sort of nefarious connection between Trump and Russia, but what we have learned is there is these incredible amounts of leaks flooding out of Washington specifically to undermine the President of the United States and the media is gleefully reporting all of them.”

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Gosk pressed: “Who should the American public believe, mainstream media, the federal government, Breitbart?” When Marlow predictably replied that people should trust his news site, she demanded: “But why? But why should we believe Breitbart over what the federal government tells us about possible connections with Russia trying to tamper with the election?”

The reporter fretted that Breitbart was “often blurring lines between news and opinion.” The hypocrisy of someone who works for NBC and MSNBC complaining about opinion being injected into news coverage was apparently lost on Gosk.

Here is a full transcript of the March 17 segment:

7:40 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: As we mentioned earlier, congressional leaders say they've seen no evidence that then-President Obama ordered the wiretapping of phones at Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign. So where did President Trump get that information? He was asked about that in a recent interview on Fox News.

DONALD TRUMP: I've been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a New York Times article, where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things.

MATT LAUER: Some of those other things, reportedly an article published by Breitbart News the day before the President tweeted those wiretapping claims. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk recently sat down exclusively with that website’s editor-in-chief. Stephanie, welcome back, good to see you.

STEPHANIE GOSK: Good to see you guys. You know Breitbart is one of President Trump's favorite news sources, one run by his top adviser Steve Bannon. They see themselves as provocateurs, poking a finger in the eye of the mainstream media. But critics call them racist, anti-Semites, and white supremacists. We sat down with Alex Marlow, the 31-year-old editor-in-chief, who pushes back hard against the critics and the labels, defending the news site he’s worked at since it started in 2007.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Inside Breitbart News; Editor-in-Chief Talks Trump & Rising Influence]

ALEX MARLOW: We're not a hate site.

GOSK: Do you think you have been unfairly demonized?

MARLOW: Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt.

GOSK: Breitbart has seen a meteoric rise from a fringe start-up once by chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, the right-wing news site exploded during the course of the presidential campaign, with 240 million views a month. There was a former employee of yours who called Breitbart “Trump-bart.”

MARLOW: Yes.

GOSK: Was that a fair criticism during the election?

MARLOW: It's absolutely unfair criticism.

GOSK: He insists they will criticize the President if he breaks his promises.

MARLOW: If he makes good on those promises, he’s going to get a lot of favorable coverage. When we feel like the President is not honoring the pledges he made to the public, he's going to get critical coverage.

GOSK: Do you talk to the President?

MARLOW: I've spoken to the president, on air, I believe four times, twice when he was a candidate, twice before he was a candidate, and I have not spoken to him other than – since he's been elected.

GOSK: How about Steve Bannon, does he reach out?

MARLOW: Every so often. Not as often as I would have expected. I think Steve is a very busy man these days.

GOSK: Still, the White House and Breitbart seem to be in lock step on most issues. President Trump's unsubstantiated tweets that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign echo an idea laid out in a Breitbart article published the day before. Was the wiretap tweet because of a Breitbart article?

MARLOW: That I don’t know. I have heard things, probably similar things to you, I heard that a Breitbart article played a big factor in it.

GOSK: The article never goes as far as Trump does, directly accusing his predecessor, but it argues that steps taken to investigate the Trump campaign’s links with Russia are purely political.

MARLOW: We've learned very little about any sort of nefarious connection between Trump and Russia, but what we have learned is there is these incredible amounts of leaks flooding out of Washington specifically to undermine the President of the United States and the media is gleefully reporting all of them.

GOSK: Who should the American public believe, mainstream media, the federal government, Breitbart?

MARLOW: Oh, I would say believe Breitbart. I think Breitbart is producing –  

GOSK: But why? But why should we believe Breitbart over what the federal government tells us about possible connections with Russia trying to tamper with the election?

MARLOW: Well, possible connections and actual connections are different.

GOSK: Yes, but when you have the federal government come out and say, “We are investigating Russia potentially tampering with our election,” why, as an American citizen, should you not step back and go, “I should be worried about that”?

MARLOW: Oh, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be worried about it, but there has been ample reporting, ample investigation, the entire world has been focused on this story. And I'm just asking for one piece of hard evidence.

GOSK: Marlow describes his staff as a mix of both reporters and activists, the site often blurring lines between news and opinion. What is your mission?  

MARLOW: First of all, is just to be a great news site, covering hard-hitting fast-paced accurate –  always accurate – information. Now where we differ is that we're admittedly right of center. We're a populist, nationalist grassroots conservative website.

GOSK: What is Breitbart's position on immigration?  

MARLOW: We don't have a party line position on it. But I'll tell you a few things that are pretty consistent. We believe that boarder security and national security is a serious issue and we think that there is a American value system that's worth being preserved.

GOSK: Do you think that American value system is in jeopardy because of immigration?

MARLOW: It depends. It's in jeopardy because of immigration if people who are coming into the country do not understand the American values and don't want to assimilate into American society.

GOSK: Its brand of conservativism has come under intense fire, frequently called, among other things, racist, because of headlines like this one from two years ago: “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.” Would Breitbart print that headline today?  
MARLOW: I don't know the answer to that, it’s a good question, and I don’t know if – but probably yes. And to be honest with you, I disagree with the article. I don't disagree with us running it because it makes arguments that the – that flag doesn't just symbolize racism to certain people, it symbolizes southern pride, southern heritage, and states rights. Now, my personal view is I think we've moved on as a society from that symbol, but that doesn't mean we can't have a debate and a discussion about it.

GOSK: Regardless of who it may offend. Do you compromise civility in the defense of free speech?

MARLOW: In some cases, I think that's acceptable because of the fact that it's proving a point about freedom of speech. And that we used to raise a society that was supposed to be resilient emotionally and now everyone is looking for their safe space, and I think that's a dangerous thing.

GOSK: One thing he doesn't think is dangerous? President Trump calling the, quote, “fake news media,” “the enemy of the American people.” That kind of extreme language, is that not damaging to our democracy?  

MARLOW: I don't think it is, because I think, in a lot of ways, as Steve Bannon put it, the press is the opposition party. That's 100% the world view that I have.

GOSK: Breitbart made its first significant break with the White House recently over the new health care bill. One of its concerns, that tax cut for the wealthy. But it's worth pointing out they lay the blame squarely at the feet of House Speaker Paul Ryan, not President Trump.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Stephanie, interesting interview. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. 

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