Breitbart after Steve Bannon
Posted January 10, 2018 4:05 p.m. EST
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — It's difficult to imagine Breitbart without Steve Bannon.
Bannon had headed the far-right website since 2012 -- with a brief hiatus to be CEO of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and then White House chief strategist -- infamously using it as a weapon in service of his political goals.
Now that he has left his perch as executive chairman, much remains to be seen of what will become of the website, which gained prominence for its glowing coverage of Trump during the 2016 election and the early days of his presidency, as well as its perceived closeness to his administration.
But it's safe to say that Bannon's departure will have an impact on the website.
In its early days, Breitbart primarily published content from wire services, slapping flashy headlines on articles from the Associated Press with the aim of being linked to by the Drudge Report, a highly-trafficked website that provided it large volumes of traffic. Founder Andrew Breitbart later relaunched the website as an edgy, conservative news outlet and attracted attention by partnering with guerrilla filmmaker James O'Keefe to release a series of undercover videos about ACORN.
But it was Bannon, after he took the reins of the website following Andrew Breitbart's sudden death, who made it what it has become: a nationalist, populist website supportive of the agenda Trump campaigned on.
So what will it become without him? On Wednesday afternoon, Breitbart CEO Larry Solov and Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow hosted a short company-wide conference call to discuss exactly that: Breitbart's future in the post-Bannon era.
Solov and Marlow offered kind words about Bannon, according to two Breitbart employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The duo, the employees said, announced that Breitbart was not immediately naming a new executive chairman and said there would be no staff changes.
"They basically said everything is OK and that they were proud of everyone in the company," one of the employees told CNN.
Effectively, the employees told CNN, Marlow and Solov told staffers that business would continue as usual in the wake of Bannon's dramatic exit.
It's possible that the website could remain as it is, in the mold Bannon shaped. As a person close to Bannon noted to CNN, the former executive chairman left Breitbart with his core team still in place. And as Marlow and Solov told employees on Wednesday's call, no staff changes are set to occur.
That said, Breitbart's ethos was defined by Bannon. At the time of his exit, the website had effectively become an extension of him, a vessel for Bannon to express and articulate his political beliefs. Marlow reminded those on the call that the site had gone on as before while Bannon was in the White House, but still, it is hard to imagine that even the current staffers left behind -- no matter how loyal to him -- will be able to carry Bannon's torch forward as firmly and audaciously as he would have.
Bannon stepped down from Breitbart on Tuesday after a burst of controversy stemming from comments he made to author Michael Wolff for the book "Fire and Fury." Bannon's comments seemingly infuriated the President, who on Twitter began referring to his former chief strategist and campaign CEO as "Sloppy Steve." The White House even went so far as to say that Breitbart should consider firing him.
And Breitbart did exactly that. A person familiar with the situation told CNN last week that there had been a "hard push" to convince Breitbart CEO Larry Solov and Susie Breitbart, the widow of Andrew Breitbart, to fire him. And Rebekah Mercer, the conservative mega-donor who owns a stake in Breitbart and was a Bannon ally, prompted intense speculation about Bannon's future when she publicly rebuked him in a rare public statement.
Despite this, Bannon had insisted to allies and others over the last few days that he wasn't going anywhere, people familiar with the situation told CNN. He issued a lengthy statement on Sunday in which he suggested some of the comments attributed to him in Wolff's book were taken out of context, but stopped short of offering a full apology.
The statement did not seem to appease Trump. A person familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump viewed the statement as "too little and too late." And on Monday, flying aboard Air Force One, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters, "I don't believe there is any way back for Mr. Bannon at this point."