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Breitbart's plodding rise to The White House

July 26, 2017

 

The White House is narrowing the list of media sources it wants near to it and chose a select few to attend last Friday’s press briefing.  The digital newcomers Breitbart, One America News and The Washington Times were all invited. Journalists from ABC, CBS, WSJ, Bloomberg, and Fox News were there, too. Some of the traditional outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN were excluded from the event.

 

Kaleida data shows that Breitbart articles generally outperform the market averaging nearly 4,500 shares on Facebook. That’s three times the overall average of about 1,500 shares per article for the publishers we track. CNN is bigger averaging 6,500 shares per article. The New York Times is just over 5,000. And The Washington Post is lower averaging under 3,000 shares per article.

 

“Fake news” is a big topic for Breitbart. There are over 130,000 references to the term across their site compared with 42,000 for Fox News, 11,000 for CNN, and 162,000 for NYT.

 

They accuse competitors of producing fake new while producing a lot of it themselves. In fact, Breitbart’s most successful article clearly falls on the fake news spectrum with an intentionally misleading headline. This piece, “President Obama Awards Himself Distinguished Public Service Medal” earned a remarkable 200,000 shares on Facebook.

 

Yet they don’t support the core assertion. They provide quotes, a link to an AP story and several tweets which create the appearance of evidence, but those references do not backup what is stated as fact in the headline.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates awards the medal to President George W. Bush. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, released by the US Navy.

 

Breitbart tapped into a strong feeling by many Trump supporters that Obama was weak on military leadership with this article. The feeling represented by the assertion may be a real feeling, but feelings are not news. It discredits Breitbart as a reliable source of information. Even the belief that the story could be real is hard to defend when records show Presidents on both the left and right received the same award in the past.

 

There are many examples of media on both the left and the right fueling agendas through their reporting and use of language. This example is a particularly flagrant use of a factually incorrect headline that intentionally misleads Breitbart’s own readers.

 

There can be no doubt the headline helped Breitbart’s advertising model given the scale of the response. By comparison NYT had only 15 stories with more shares during the same period. CNN had 5. Fox News’ biggest piece earned 166,000 shares.

 

Other Breitbart stories have broken the 100k shares ceiling such as this story about Ivanka Trump’s perfume (106,245 shares) and this one about Madonna’s comments about Trump (116,275 shares). Of the top 25 stories all but one are about Trump either in the form of a Trump conflict with a celebrity or group, a Trump family member’s successes, or the end of Obama’s presidency.

 

By contrast, of the top 25 stories for Fox News during the same period only 10 are explicitly about Trump. An equal number are news articles about military issues or sporting events. Less than 5 are opinion pieces. Breitbart’s followers on Facebook are eager to spread the news, too. Many Breitbart articles sit on their web site mostly unseen until they promote them on their Facebook brand page.'

 

Given the President’s support of this new group of media sources we must understand what makes up that lens through which the public will see its messages. Breitbart is a good place to start.

 

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