Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, reacted to the story of Donald Trump Jr.’s newly-released emails in a way that wouldn’t typically be expected from someone at the far-right outfit, which is a reliable supporter of President Trump.
“So like, this is straight up collusion,” he wrote in the news outlet’s internal Slack, according to a transcript of the conversation obtained by CNN. “Right?”
Minutes before, Donald Trump Jr. had disclosed on Twitter an email exchange from June 2016 in which he’d agreed to meet with someone he’d been told was a “Russian government attorney” about “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton.
The text of the emails sent shockwaves through most newsrooms. At Breitbart, not everyone was on the same page.
Some staffers were seemingly left astonished. Writing in the company Slack, senior editor Rebecca Mansour reacted with only one word: “Wow.” Amanda House, the outlet’s deputy politics editor, wrote only, “???????”
But Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington editor, who has been fervently pro-Trump, was less than convinced of the severity of the situation.
“I mean I don’t take this as a smoking gun at all. This is silly,” he wrote.
The debate inside Breitbart, was emblematic of a larger sense of confusion that appeared to grip much of the pro-Trump media following the bombshell release of the Donald Trump Jr. emails. Typically, people and outlets that support Trump will coalesce around a message relatively quickly; not this time, though.
Ultimately, Breitbart chose to cover the news in a way favorable to Donald Trump Jr., but with a tone notably less animated than it has displayed during other bad news cycles for the Trump administration. The website’s lead article for much of the afternoon covered the basic facts of the story, but included a final sentence saying, “The email does not refer to any cooperation, coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
A spokesman for Breitbart, asked for a response from the outlet and from the participants in the conversation, declined comment.
Elsewhere in the pro-Trump media universe, reactions varied.
Fox News’ first response was silence. It took the network 34 minutes to first read the email exchange on-air — long after its rivals CNN and MSNBC had gone into full breaking news mode. The cable news outlet initially treated the emails as a run-of-the-mill story. After briefly covering it at first, the anchors on the show on at the time, “Happening Now,” casually moved on to other news items.
Eventually, as the story developed, Fox began to cover the revelations more aggressively. But the network never went into non-stop breaking news coverage as CNN and MSNBC did. And as it covered the emails it also weaved in stories more palatable to its base, such as questions over whether former FBI Director James Comey mishandled classified information when he provided a memo detailing his recollections of a meeting with the president to a friend for the purpose of leaking to the media.
On his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity — who scored an exclusive cable news interview with Donald Trump Jr. slated to air Tuesday night — hinted at how he would cover the news on his television program. Hannity, who is perhaps Trump’s most loyal soldier on cable news, attacked what he called the media’s “breathless” coverage of the latest revelations surrounding Donald Trump Jr. and suggested they didn’t support the theory that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
“If Donald Trump himself was colluding with Vladimir Putin and the Russians, why would he need his son to act as an intermediary?” Hannity asked his millions of listeners.
The Drudge Report, the highly-trafficked conservative news website founded and operated by Trump supporter Matt Drudge, took a different tone. Focusing more on the news and less on spinning the news than the site might typically with a story like this one, an article about the email disclosure was simply bannered with a headline in which the Russian lawyer in question denied having a connection to the Kremlin.
Alex Jones, the InfoWars founder who frequently peddles conspiracy theories and has been praised by Trump, conceived perhaps the oddest way to explain away the news to his audience. He told his listeners that Donald Trump Jr. was “doing his job” by “trying to find Russian spies.”
Elsewhere in the pro-Trump media universe, far-right writers argued that the emails disclosed by Donald Trump Jr. proved stories by The New York Times over the past few days were false — though in fact they had shown the opposite, that the Times’ reporting had been rock-solid. Far-right writer Mike Cernovich tweeted, “As suspected the lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” Jack Posobiec, another far-right writer, tweeted that the emails “contradict” the Times’ story and have “blown [it] out of the water.” Pro-Trump personality Bill Mitchell added, “And just like that, another blockbuster from the NYTimes (Don Jr Story) ends up being pure bulls**t.”
Asked how he could say the emails released by Donald Trump Jr. proved the Times’ stories were “fabricated” when they actually backed the newspaper’s reporting, Cernovich told CNN he was “pushing back against the broader narrative” that the emails proved collusion.
“This doesn’t prove collusion,” Cernovich insisted. “All it proves is that there was a meeting set up.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published July 11, 2017: 6:47 PM ET