Fresh from his incendiary speech to Holocaust revisionist Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party in France, where he urged his wildly cheering audience to wear labels of racism and xenophobia as “a badge of honor,” President Donald Trump’s fired chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon received a somewhat cooler reception Thursday at the Financial Times’ Future of News Conference.
However, he was hardly deterred from defending his former boss as “the greatest orator since Williams Jennings Bryan” among other sterling qualities, and predicting that the shakeup of Trump’s legal team, including what Bannon characterized as the firing of Trump attorney John Dowd for not being aggressive enough, portends an escalation of hostilities with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“I think President Trump’s going to war. I think it’s very obvious he’s going to war on this,” Bannon said about the 45th president, adding criticism of White House lawyer Ty Cobb.
“Ty Cobb and John Dowd had a radical theory—‘Let’s totally cooperate and waive executive privilege’,” Bannon said. “I have said, as I told the president, I told everybody, and I told Brother Dowd, I think that’s wrong… I think that’s why, essentially, more aggressive attorneys got brought in”—notably deep state conspiracy theorist Joseph DiGenova, who’s blamed the Russia/collusion investigation on a plot by the FBI to destroy Trump’s presidency.
Bannon also predicted that Trump’s vaunted meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will never happen.
“The president may try to make it happen, but the logistics of how you do it, and where you do it, are quite tough,” Bannon said, adding that only pressure applied by China can influence Kim to cease ramping up North Korea’s nuclear weaponization.
Oddly, Bannon also insisted he has no regrets about being the primary source for Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s best-selling take-down of the Trump White House, and claimed the book is accurate.
Under a bantering interrogation by FT Editor Lionel Barber, the usually rumpled Bannon—who had cleaned up nicely for the occasion, having shaved and donned pressed khakis and an unwrinkled sports jacket over layers of black shirts—celebrated the so-called “Deplorables” who supported Trump, and reprised his attacks on “the party of Davos” and global elites, Hillary Clinton, “the opposition media” and especially CNN and its worldwide president, Jeff Zucker.
“It galls me that somebody like Jeff Zucker can walk in here and sit here and say that Fox News is a propaganda channel,” Bannon said, citing Zucker’s remarks from earlier in the day, in which the CNN chief compared the Murdoch-controlled, Trump-friendly cable channel unfavorably to the Russian news agency Tass. “I’m not here to defend the Murdochs. They’re big boys. They can defend themselves. But you can’t name a more propaganda outfit than CNN… Every night, it’s hate Trump.”
Calling CNN “a disgrace to journalism” for its less than swooning coverage of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, Bannon continued: “I understand that as a business model. You want the ‘hate trump Crowd’ to rally around that. But to come in here and say that another network is propaganda is absolutely, totally absurd. And, by the way, does anybody in the opposition media question him or challenge him? No, they cheer him on.”
The 64-year-old Bannon, who briefly returned to his executive chairman post at Breitbart News after losing his White House gig last August—and then was fired in January after he clashed with billionaire Breitbart investors Robert and Rebekah Mercer—also quibbled with the editorial direction of the angry populist web site he had weaponized in 2016 to support Trump’s candidacy athwart the Republican establishment.
“The audience is down,” Bannon acknowledged when Barber pointed out that Breitbart’s traffic has been cut in half since Trump’s election. “I think that’s the difference between just doing aggregation and—look, I had a theory: You gotta break news or make news. You have to have a sense of urgency, and people have to feel that they need this information. The site’s a little more aggregation today. I think the guys have a different strategy.”
While attempting to distance himself from the scandal around Facebook and Mercer-funded firm Cambridge Analytica that has dominated the news in recent days—claiming he didn’t know about the Trump campaign’s mining of Facebook’s data, even though he was the campaign’s CEO for its final three months—Bannon criticized suspended Cambridge Analytica head Alexander Nix’s conduct as a member of the British elite.
Bannon also went after the elite media for failing to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s feet to the fire during his apologetic interviews Wednesday to address the scandal in which some 50 million Facebook users had their personal data appropriated by the British data-mining company for use by the Trump campaign.
“When Zuckerberg goes on TV yesterday, and Zuckerberg gives the New York Times an interview, and the opposition-party media plays patty-cake with him, and doesn’t ask him one tough question, his entire business model is made upon taking that data for free and monetizing it,” Bannon said, adding that Facebook and Google routinely invade people’s privacy, sell personal information to advertisers without their consent, and use sinister algorithms to control people’s lives.
“When Zuckerberg comes, he sounds like a first-year associate hired in corporate development, mumbles through the whole interview, and nobody asks him a tough follow-up question,” Bannon complained.
Bannon, meanwhile, defended his remarks to France’s National Front, complaining that his point about his “racist” jibe—that identity politics should be rejected and that economic nationalism should win the day—was willfully ignored by the elite media.
When Barber recalled that party leader Le Pen had denied that French authorities collaborated with Nazis during World War II and rounded up Jewish citizens and sent them to death camps, Bannon responded: “She did say that. But was she the runner-up in the French election [that made Emmanuel Macron president]? Did 40-some percent of the people in France vote for her? Was I up there to say those people are perfect? They’re not perfect. The ‘Deplorables’ are not perfect. I’m not perfect.”
He continued: “I believe in the tenet of the Judeo-Christian West that Man is fallen. We’re not perfect. But those are working class people in France.”
Barber pressed: “As a student of history, doesn’t it worry you when a political leader seeks to erase a dark chapter?”
“It certainly does. It absolutely does,” Bannon finally conceded.