The Slatest

How Some Outlets Are Avoiding Calling Steve Bannon a Racist Propagandist

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Steve Bannon holds a campaign rally at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on Nov. 5 in Reno, Nevada.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The website BoingBoing came up with a useful tool for the Trump era on Tuesday: a White Supremacy Euphemism Generator for Journalists. The site notes that some journalists—seeking to exercise the traditional practice of attempted impartiality—are avoiding calling out Trump’s most passionate base as the white supremacists, anti-Semites, and misogynists that they are. It then provides some handy new euphemisms for these people, who some in the mainstream press have labeled as provocateurs and firebrands rather than bigots. My favorite generator headline: “Heartland Rights Champions Taunt Global Glitterati.”


It’s a fun and depressing demonstration of the normalization process surrounding Trump and his most grotesque supporters in the days since the election. And there is no better example of some portion of the media’s reluctance to use the right words to describe Trumpworld than coverage of soon-to-be chief strategist for the president, Stephen Bannon.


Before he was CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign, Bannon ran the right-wing site Breitbart. Shortly after a white supremacist, Dylann Roof, shot and killed nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, the site declared that “the confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.” The site also runs stories under the topic tag “black crime” and is a clearinghouse for white supremacist commenters. Furthermore, it published headlines saying “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” calling conservative commentator Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew,” and one titled “Justice Department Expert Witness: Blacks ‘Less Sophisticated Voters.’ ” As David Weigel at the Washington Post noted, Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos called “anti-Semitic caricatures the ‘long hair and rock ’n’ roll’ of 2016.” Bannon himself was accused of domestic abuse and anti-Semitism by his ex-wife as part of a custody battle. He denies the charges, but additional evidence that at least one of the comments she took to be anti-Semitic actually happened was published by New York magazine on Tuesday.


In any event, whether or not you want to accept the evidence that Bannon is himself a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, there is no denying he made his name as a propagandist for those causes. Indeed, white supremacist figures rejoiced at the news of his appointment.


Some outlets have greeted word of Bannon’s ascension to the White House by describing him and his website as exactly what they are. But others have twisted themselves in pretzels attempting not to explicitly label Bannon or his brand of agitprop as racist. This involves reporters and headline writers attributing descriptions of Bannon’s views to “critics,” or framing the issue as “one side says this and the other says that,” or letting others characterize Bannon rather than taking the evidence available and drawing conclusions themselves. Also, there are those great euphemisms we mentioned (he’s not racist, he’s controversial). Here are some examples:


  • New York Times: Trump’s Choice of Stephen Bannon Is Nod to Anti-Washington Base
  • New York Times: New Strategist in White House a Provocateur From the Fringe
  • New York Times: Donald J. Trump has elevated the hard-right nationalist movement that Mr. Bannon has nurtured for years from the fringes of American politics to its very heart…
  • Washington Post: President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist in the White House has drawn a sharp rebuke from political strategists who see in Bannon a controversial figure too closely associated with the “alt-right” movement, which white nationalists have embraced.
  • BBC: The combative site serves up an anti-establishment agenda that critics accuse of xenophobia and misogyny.
  • BBC: The site positioned itself as a populist, bellicose, conspiracy-tinged outlet for right-wing Americans disillusioned with mainstream politicians.
  • CNN: White nationalists see advocate in Steve Bannon
  • Los Angeles Times: It’s a brand of far-right conservatism that generally embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. People who identify as alt-right reject those descriptors as overly simplistic. They believe that what they define as intellectualism and rational thought should guide policy.
  • New York Times: Critics See Stephen Bannon, Trump’s Pick for Strategist, as Voice of Racism
  • New York Times: A fierce chorus of critics denounced President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday for appointing Stephen K. Bannon, a nationalist media mogul…
  • ABC: Steve Bannon: Donald Trump’s Controversial Senior Counselor and Alt-Right Hero
  • CBS: Behind the scenes, Bannon is one of the most powerful people in the Trump’s inner circle, but he’s also one of the most controversial.
  • Politico: Donald Trump’s allies are defending his decision to name Steve Bannon a top White House adviser, while mainstream Republicans have mostly stayed silent on a choice many are decrying as an extremist with disturbing ties to white nationalists.

There might be a rational reason for the press to hedge and be cautious. On Tuesday, Breitbart told the Hill that it is preparing a lawsuit against a “major media company” for characterizing it as “a white nationalist site.” With its former CEO now one of the most powerful men in the country, the fact that the site is emboldened to not only espouse its white supremacist views but also try to suppress anyone who would dare call those views what they are should come as little surprise.