WhiteHouseDossier.com editor Keith Koffler joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Monday’s Breitbart News Daily to discuss his new book, Bannon: Always the Rebel. Marlow praised the book as “the first biography of Steve Bannon that’s been out that does not seem like a total hit job.”
Koffler recounted his history as an accredited White House reporter, beginning in the Obama administration. “I was a mainstream media reporter for a long time, so when they agreed to accredit the publication, I’m not sure they knew exactly what they were getting into,” he said wryly. “I came out of the closet as a conservative at that point, and really went after the Obama administration pretty aggressively.”
He described WhiteHouseDossier.com as “a combination of news about what’s going on at the White House and then some analysis of it, some opinion, a lot of comments, a lot of great comments from people that people can read, and just also holding Trump to – I think in the same way that Bannon is doing – holding Trump to what he said he was going to do.”
“There is basically an accountability portion of the website that was certainly true under Obama. There was a lot of news in there that you could never find in the mainstream media. But still, I think with President Trump, like celebrating and talking about the good things that he does, and saying, ‘Well, wait a second!’ when he misses it.”
Koffler recalled Steve Bannon’s summarizing the mission of Breitbart News in comparable terms by saying, “We’re not going to do too much opinion. We’re going to show people. We’re going to give them an alternative take on what’s going on.”
Koffler saw the goal of alternative media as countering “selection bias,” pointing to the current controversy over Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore as an example.
“The mainstream media is going to do a deep investigation of Roy Moore, whereas they’re not going to do the same type of investigation of a candidate that they support,” he charged. “Now, is Moore a legitimate story? Sure. It’s worth looking at. It’s questionable. It’s 40 years ago. But I understand that they did it. The point is the selection bias. They choose things that fit their own biases, and that’s really where the mainstream media bias comes in.”
Marlow mentioned another example, a story about President Trump’s allegedly tossing out a White House bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in contempt, which mistakenly failed to mention the president replaced it with a bigger one.
“Exactly, and the reporter who saw that just missed it, like he didn’t see it, and so he wasn’t careful about it,” said Koffler. “He immediately ran with it because that’s something that he wanted to see there. I think you’re exactly right.”
“When Obama was coming up, where was all the reporting about what he did in Chicago and so forth?” Koffler asked. “This should have been a goldmine for investigative reporters to go in there. He’s a machine politician who recast himself as some sort of inspirational Jesus-like figure that was going to save the country. Really, if you look at the people he associated with, they were just sort of common Chicago machine politicians. There was just nothing on that, and that’s where the choices come in.”
Koffler said he “wanted to get to people who actually knew Steve” for his book about Breitbart News Executive Chairman and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
“When you looked at some of the mainstream media reporting on him, you found that there were people who worked with him over the years who knew his politics, maybe disagreed with them but had a much more positive opinion of him than you would find generally in the press,” he said.
With that in mind, he spoke not only with Bannon’s current and recent associates, but also with “a lot of people from his early days to look at the formation of his character.”
“Talking to several people that he went to college with, I was able to talk to both of his sisters, his older brother, his dad – who was, I think, 95 years old when I talked to him. I don’t know if he’s had a birthday or not, still quite a sprightly, bright, and even very funny guy. He was just a pleasure,” Koffler said.
“I tried to talk to people who over the years have known him personally and understand what type of character he is. I really got away from the caricature that you see of the devil appearing on Saturday Night Live, that he is just a person who is not biased in the way that people said he was. I had person after person say that they have not heard racist comments from him, that they don’t believe that’s what he’s about, but also someone who can be quietly generous to some of his employees, to people that he worked with, do things that people don’t know about to help them out, so that was part of his character,” he said.
“Look, also, you probably know better than I do, he’s a tough boss,” Koffler said to Marlow. “It’s no-nonsense. The volume can go up. He acknowledged to me that expletives can be thrown in as well, and he can be a tough boss. But there is a decency to him that I think was not being conveyed that I was able to understand in writing his thoughts.”
Koffler said Bannon’s most important formative influence was his father, along with his “family and his roots.”
“He comes from a working-class family. He made it big out of a working-class family,” he noted. “He also feels that the person who was the leader of that was – his dad was sort of screwed by what happened in the financial collapse in 2008, and that the elites and corporations, government, lobbyists, this sort of alliance; they made it out okay. The banks were reimbursed and held okay, but there were a lot of people, average people, who lost money. I think that is part of the working-class ideology that animates him and that he developed out of that.”
“But it’s not all as a result of his dad,” Koffler continued. “It’s a result of who he is. He’s a middle-class kid from Richmond who has a sense of compassion for average American workers. It also comes from his very wide reading. He understands what the country is about because he’s read it all. When you talk to him, there are no aspects of history, no authors, no politicians you can mention that he hasn’t heard of and doesn’t understand what they were trying to do.”
“What he has a sense of is the traditions and the culture that have made this country the goose that is laying the golden eggs. He sees this eroded since the sixties or so, and even more so with political correctness and so forth now and understanding what has made the country successful is the culture. He feels that we need to protect that, and that includes a lot of the policies that we see – whether it’s eliminating unbridled immigration, I mean, he’s not anti-immigration, but he is anti-millions of illegal immigrants, and millions and millions of immigrants from one other culture potentially supplanting this culture that he knows so much about,” said Koffler.
“He’s worried about trade agreements that hurt average Americans because they are the backbone of the country. They are the stewards of the culture. It comes from both, I would say, his upbringing, what happened to his dad, but also his deep understanding of what has made this country successful that the average people, and certainly the average journalists, have no comprehension of,” he said of Bannon’s outlook.
Koffler found it notable that Bannon does not use Twitter “because he understands that 140 characters is not enough to make a serious point.”
“Especially today where people are all over TV, and they’re looking for soundbites, and people are on social media, and you have to go short, it becomes just very argumentative without a lot of knowledge,” he noted.
“That was really the purpose of this book. I was asked to do the book, and before I did it, I did a lot of research on Bannon because I wanted to see who he was and whether this is a book that I wanted to do. What I came to understand is that he has a coherent ideology, a coherent philosophy about what he wants to do. That is something people do not understand about him, that is completely caricatured, and that I wanted to get out there,” said Koffler.
“I happen to agree with a lot of it, so it was important to me in that respect,” he added. “But just to portray the real Bannon as not someone who is just out there trying to provoke racism or just be provocative, but someone who has a coherent systemic philosophy that undergirds what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to do something very serious. That’s what I wanted to convey in this book and explain to people.”
Koffler said Bannon’s anti-establishment rebel streak dated to long before his association with Breitbart News.
“There are many stories back when he was a kid. He would get in fights at the local community center, sometimes with multiple people,” he recalled. “People told me that when they played basketball there, he wasn’t the best player necessarily, but he was the one that was more likely to sort of throw an elbow. He had this tough, rebellious streak to him where he wants to kind of go his own way.”
“Some of that comes from his mother, actually, who interestingly enough was kind of a real fiery character, by all descriptions of her,” he observed. “She in Richmond, Virginia, imagine, was a liberal Democrat. Steve was raised as a Democrat. Not only that; she favored – and was vocal about it – minority rights. This is back in the 1950s. You could imagine that is something of a rebellious thing to do in the heart of Virginia, where she said we need to eliminate a lot of these strictures against African Americans, although, of course, she wouldn’t have used that term back then.”
“I think some of that may have come from her. He has always in some ways been rebelling against the establishment,” Koffler said of Steve Bannon. “Of course, you see it most forcefully in the way he’s engaging himself now and his embrace of the Tea Party in 2010, where he feels that the establishment – which, of course, are the people who harmed his father – are the ones who are colluding to make themselves rich and to not really be too concerned about average Americans.”
“I will say, though, that it was also emphasized to me that while he has this rebellious streak to him, it was always with a cause,” Koffler said. “He’s not just rebellious to sort of tear down some holiday display just for the heck of it. Because he’s a thinker and because he’s a reader, there was always something that he wanted to push forward, that he felt others who were in positions of power were resisting, and that made the rebel in him.”
“Even in college when he ran for student college president, he was the anti-establishment candidate,” he noted. “There were people who were at Virginia Tech who were in the college, who were sort of the leading students there, who just weren’t doing anything. They were just kind of sitting on their thumbs. He felt like changes needed to be made, and he won that election, actually, of student college president.”
Koffler recalled Steve Bannon’s sister saying he could not “spend ten years at the same job, doing the same thing day after day.”
“He needs new stimulation. He needs to move around, and sometimes that can kind of get you off track and get you into different careers than you might have planned,” he observed. “I think, in a way, that’s what set him on this course – was that here’s a guy, he was with Goldman Sachs, he was making money with his own firm, then he starts making movies, then he gets very intensely interested in politics and in populism.”
“What you’ve seen is that he has a tremendous focus also,” he added. “People would tell me that you’d see him reading a book in college, and you could hardly disturb him. So even though he’s done different things within the conservative movement – he’s done films, he’s done Breitbart, he went to the White House, he’s been on the campaign – this same stream of populism and promoting conservative thought has been in there.”
“Because he has this determination – he doesn’t sleep, as you know – and because he’s extremely intense, that I’m not terribly surprised that a person of that type of character can have this success,” Koffler concluded.
He added that he sees little sign Bannon’s intensity is wearing him out.
“You may be a better judge of that because you see him more often than I do,” he told Marlow. “But I’ll tell you what; it’s funny: I interviewed him two days after he left the White House. That’s the most exhausting job you can possibly imagine. I’ve covered the White House for many years. They all work 16-hour days. Steve was probably working an 18-hour day. It’s just tremendously intense. It was two days later. He was full of energy. He’s on the phone with Matt Boyle telling him, ‘You’ve got to do this and that,’ and I’m sitting there looking at him like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m all excited about the next thing.’”
“I think he feeds off it. I think he’s just one of these people that is born with this energy, and eventually, that will carry him well into old age. He’ll still be poking at it and trying to get things done,” Koffler predicted.
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