The Death of the Media
Vanity Fair’s Hive newsletter tips us to a longish piece up on Steve Bannon. The author, Gabriel Sherman spent a lot of time with him, poor bastard. Yet, there’s nothing in the piece that seems critical of Bannon, and while there’s nothing exactly praising him either.
And then, smack dab in the middle there’s this passage:
In August 2015, I received an e-mail from Kurt Bardella, who at the time handled Breitbart’s public relations. “Thought I’d reach out and just say that if you ever wanted to talk with Bannon on background, I think he’d def be willing to touch base with you,” Bardella wrote. I was shocked by his note—and also intrigued. For the previous three years, Bannon had tried to destroy my professional reputation. During this time I was researching a biography of the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. A legendary paranoiac, Ailes waged an elaborate campaign to discredit my book that included having me followed by private detectives and commissioning a 400-page dossier about my life. Bannon and Breitbart played a crucial role in the effort. He worked out of Fox News headquarters strategizing with Ailes about how to attack my book. Breitbart published many thousands of words about me, at turns calling me a “Soros-backed attack dog,” “harasser,” “stalker,” and “Jayson Blair on steroids,” a reference to the former New York Times fabulist. After one Breitbart article, my wife and I received a threatening phone call at home. We called the police.
A few days after Bardella e-mailed, I met Bannon for lunch at the Bryant Park Grill in Midtown Manhattan. I found him at an outdoor table, wearing an untucked shirt and cargo shorts. His hair was a tangled nest of platinum gray and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. If I didn’t know him I’d have thought he just rolled off a bus at the Port Authority. Bannon shook my hand graciously. He told me he enjoyed my book on Ailes. What about all the hit pieces he published? “Ha! Those were love taps, dude. Just business.” We proceeded to have a highly entertaining lunch swapping media and political gossip.
As much as I wanted to loathe Bannon—the Breitbart attacks were genuinely terrifying—I found myself liking him. He was strange and charismatic and slightly unhinged, and he possessed a sophisticated and encyclopedic knowledge of the modern political-media landscape. He personally knew the players, from the on-air talent and programming executives to the candidates and billionaire donors. And he was a gifted talker. He exaggerated but didn’t quite lie (at least most of the time). And during conversations he fired off laser-accurate descriptions of famous people that would make the best insult comics proud. In that way, he was like another New York blowhard: Trump.
So Sherman goes from fearing for the safety of his family to full-on man crush? The mind, it boggles.
In trying to be balanced, Sherman ignores all of the many controversies with white nationalism/populism and other isms that is Bannon’s stock, and in the end it becomes celebrity puffery, like a profile of Brad Pitt or something.
Read it for the quotes about Trump (which are zingers like, “He’s like an 11-year-old child,” Bannon joked to a friend in November.”), but make no mistake: Bannon is a monster.
Vanity Fair could have done better.