Breitbart nabs Wall Street Journal vet to expand audience

2017-01-10 09:11 - Joshua Green
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Newspapers. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Washington - In a bid to expand its influence in the era of Donald Trump, Breitbart News, the crusading populist-right website that was an early champion of the incoming president, has hired veteran financial journalist John Carney of The Wall Street Journal to lead a new finance and economics section set to launch soon after the January 20th presidential inauguration.

"Breitbart was way ahead of the curve on politics and the rise of Trump,” Carney said in a telephone interview.

“I think there’s an opportunity to do that for business, finance and economic news.”

In his new role, Carney will manage a roster of news contributors that includes former CNBC personality Larry Kudlow.

Breitbart News and its executive chairman, Steve Bannon, were instrumental in Trump’s rise to the presidency — first as one of the few media outlets supportive of his candidacy, and then more directly when, in August, Trump hired Bannon to revive his struggling campaign.

READ: Trump not as 'dangerous' as world expects - economist

After his surprise victory, Trump named Bannon his chief White House strategist.

Bannon has taken a leave from Breitbart News.

During the campaign, Breitbart’s traffic numbers exploded.

The web-analytics firm Alexa now ranks Breitbart as the 45th-most-trafficked website in the US ahead of news sites including FoxNews.com (47th), the Huffington Post (50th), and the Washington Post (54th). Broadening the site’s editorial mission by adding Carney’s economics team is an attempt to further expand that growth and profit from Trump’s elevation.

“We’re going to built a site that believes in the possibility of economic populism and the economics of making America great again,” Carney said.

More broadly, Breitbart’s expansion and its decision to hire the well-regarded Carney represents an effort to grow beyond its reputation as a vehicle for racially charged and inflammatory content and into the realm of respectable journalism.

Along with greater traffic, Breitbart’s role in the presidential campaign brought unwanted notoriety.

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In late August, Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Reno, Nevada, that attacked Bannon as a member of what she called “an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’

”Clinton further claimed that Bannon’s hiring represented “the de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign.”

Her pointed criticism of Breitbart and Bannon prompted liberal activists to launch a campaign to pressure companies into removing their ads from Breitbart’s site.

Some advertisers, including cereal maker Kellogg Co, Warby Parker, and the San Diego Zoo, complied.

Breitbart executives say Carney’s hire is part of a shift toward more robust news coverage that remains faithful to the site’s populist ideals.

“There simply isn’t a better person in media to lead the economics section of an anti establishment, center-right, global news outlet,” Larry Solov, chief executive of Breitbart News Network, said in a statement.

Carney, a former attorney and veteran of CNBC and Business Insider, writes about finance with a populist bent that often mirrors Breitbart’s outlook on politics.

“We’re going to both break news and provide analysis and commentary as it happens,” he says.

While Carney describes the site’s new contributors as having a variety of ideological backgrounds, he says all have become “converts to the cause of economic nationalism and populism.”

During the campaign, press critics frequently assailed Breitbart for its rosy coverage of Trump.

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Since the election, the site has continued to publish favorable stories about the president-elect and the incoming members of his administration, including a lengthy defense of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general, who will soon face what is likely to be a contentious nomination hearing.

But Breitbart has also criticized Trump’s choice for labor secretary, Andy Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, for supporting looser immigration laws and Trump himself for declining to pursue criminal charges against Clinton, as he vowed he would do during the campaign.

“We are positioned to become a paper of record” for the Trump administration,” Solov told the Financial Times in December.

Although Carney’s description of the new economics site echoes some of Trump’s own language, Carney insists Breitbart will maintain editorial independence from the new administration.

“We want American greatness and we want someone who’ll stick up for American workers,” Carney said.

“To the extent Trump does so we’ll be cheerleaders for him — and if he fails, we’ll be critics. We will hold him accountable. We’re partisans for the American economy.”

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