On August 17th, the Trump Campaign announced a new CEO: Steve Bannon, who would be stepping down as executive chairman of Breitbart News in order to take the position. You’ve probably heard a lot about Bannon in the last couple of weeks. But just who is he, and what can we expect from him? Let’s take a look.
A Colorful Beginning
Even before his tenure at Breitbart News, Steve Bannon’s career was a long and varied one. After growing up near Naval Base Norfolk, he joined the Navy after college, serving as a Surface Warfare Officer aboard the USS Paul F. Foster.
After completing his service in the 1980s, Bannon decided to go into investment banking, where a chance encounter landed him an entry level job at Goldman Sachs. After working his way up the ranks, he and a few colleagues struck out on their own in 1990, establishing a boutique investment firm for media properties, called “Bannon & Co.” This new company facilitated the sale of production company Castle Rock Entertainment to Ted Turner, and received a stake in several popular television shows in the process—including a then little-known series called Seinfeld.
This new investment set Bannon on a path towards the film industry, later producing films such as Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner and the 1999 Anthony Hopkins vehicle, Titus. But after the September 11th attacks, he became more politically motivated and started to make documentaries. In the Face of Evil explored President Reagan’s fight to rid the world of Communism, while Generation Zero tried to trace the gradual evolution of events over several decades, that eventually led to the 2008 financial crisis. It was these movies that put the investor-turned-filmmaker on the radar of a man named Andrew Breitbart.
Steve Bannon and Breitbart News
Andrew Breitbart had been mentored by Matt Drudge, founder of the conservative news site The Drudge Report. He worked as a researcher for Arianna Huffington when she launched The Huffington Post in 2005.
Then in 2007, he founded his own conservative news aggregation site, Breitbart News. Over the last nine years, the publication has had a somewhat checkered history. In 2010, they released a purposely misleading video of USDA official Shirley Sherrod addressing the NAACP, which led to her firing. Subsequently Sherrod was vindicated, and pursued legal action against Breitbart. Breitbart was also the first news outlet to break the first Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, less than a year later.
During this time, Steve Bannon was helping raise money to redesign the publication—bringing its myriad subsections, such as “Big Hollywood” and “Big Journalism,” together under the single umbrella of Breitbart.com. Then, just a few days before the planned relaunch, Andrew Breitbart died suddenly of heart failure. The team decided to carry on as planned with the unveiling of the new site, and Bannon took over as executive chairman.
Breitbart News thrived under Bannon’s reign, drawing an estimated 21 million unique views per month. He captured people’s attention by presenting the latest stories not as merely series of facts, but as ongoing narratives, with newsmakers as characters in them.
The 2016 election cycle has helped the site to thrive even more, becoming a beacon of information and discourse for the alt-right movement. Meanwhile, Bannon has left Breitbart News and has instead taken a central role in the Presidential race as the CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign. What does his new position mean, for Bannon, for Trump, and for the entire election? Only time will tell. But judging by the wide variety of successes he’s had in his career thus far, it’s sure to make an interesting race even more compelling.