terça-feira, 21 de fevereiro de 2017
Breitbart’s European offensive: all talk, no action
Breitbart’s European offensive: all talk, no action
The provocative website promised to conquer the Continent — but has yet to roll out sites in France or Germany ahead of elections.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR AND ANDREW HANNA 2/22/17, 4:30 AM CET Updated 2/22/17, 7:56 AM CET
PARIS — So much for the American alt-right’s shock and awe media campaign.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising election victory, a top editor at Breitbart put Europe on notice: The provocative website that galvanized support for Trump would soon launch in France and Germany, aiming to get populists elected there too.
The announcement by Alex Marlow, editor-in-chief of the Breitbart News Network, made waves across the Atlantic. Accused of publishing misleading, racist and misogynistic material, Breitbart proved to be a powerful force in the insurgent movement that backed Trump. Its former boss, Steve Bannon, now Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, has described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right.”
In Europe, Breitbart wanted to fuel French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s run for the presidency and undermine the reelection campaign of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Breitbart’s London editor has mocked as a “lunatic” on his Facebook page.
With just two months to go until the French election, the likelihood of a launch before polling day looks very slim. Breitbart also shows no sign of being close to establishing a German edition.
“Breitbart would be welcome if they showed strong support for Le Pen, but there are many outlets in French that already occupy the same space as them” — Guy Deballe, National Front official
People involved in the expansion effort told POLITICO that difficulties in recruiting journalists, questions about which language to use and a desire to make a high impact on launch have all slowed down efforts to establish French and German editions.
“I personally think it’s unlikely that they will be up and running before the election,” said Vivien Hoch, who runs a Trump support committee in France and helped Breitbart identify potential hires. “It’s obviously a process that takes time, and there are a lot of things that need to be considered.”
The editor of Breitbart’s three-year-old U.K. operation Raheem Kassam, who is leading the foray into continental Europe, said he wanted to make a big splash right at the start in France, with ambitious reporting and investigations from day one.
“In London we were too coy when launching,” Kassam told POLITICO in a Facebook chat in late January. “We were slow to start. I’d prefer something more punchy.”
Kassam did not reply to subsequent questions about the launch date of Breitbart’s French and German sites. Marlow and a spokeswoman for the firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Breitbart has already completed one phase of international expansion. It opened an office in London in 2014, and another in Jerusalem in 2015. But launching in France and Germany poses an additional obstacle. Readers in both countries overwhelmingly prefer to read news in their own language. International outlets as diverse as Russia’s RT and Buzzfeed opted to publish in local languages when they entered the French and German markets.
Kassam told POLITICO that Breitbart had not yet made up its mind. “We are exploring the native language and translation issue,” he said.
Supporters in France have no doubt that Breitbart should be speaking their language. “If they want to have an influence on the campaign, or an influence on the world, then I think it makes sense for them to publish in the language of the country where they will be based,” Hoch said.
Le Pen’s National Front agrees. A fierce opponent of American-led globalization, Le Pen has accused one of her rivals in the presidential race, centrist Emmanuel Macron, of selling out by speaking English abroad.
Last November, a tweet by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — a prominent National Front official who is also a niece of Marine Le Pen — fueled speculation about a link-up between Breitbart and the party. Maréchal-Le Pen said she had an accepted an invitation to work together with Bannon, who has described her as a “rising star.” But Bannon, through an associate, denied having reached out to Maréchal-Le Pen. Asked if there had been contact with Breitbart since then, an aide to Maréchal-Le Pen said: “No, nothing. But Bannon is in the White House now. A lot is changing.”
Still, National Front officials have stopped pining for the upstart site. “Breitbart would be welcome if they showed strong support for Le Pen, but there are many outlets in French that already occupy the same space as them,” said Guy Deballe, a National Front official who will run for a parliament seat in Paris during June elections. He added: “From what I understand, there is very little chance they will be up and running in time for the election … The project lacks clarity.”
Contacts, but no contracts
So far, no journalist in France or Germany has publicly confirmed that they are willing to work for Breitbart. According to a report in Le Monde, representatives of the site approached two French journalists, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, former managing editor of the right-leaning web site Atlantico, and Michel Gurfinkiel, of the hard-right Dreuz.info.
But Gobry told POLITICO via email that he had declined the offer after an “extremely brief” discussion due to other commitments, while Gurfinkiel said he had never been approached and Le Monde’s report was “totally wrong.”
Hoch said Breitbart had been in contact with other journalists in France in recent days. He declined to say when hiring announcements would come. “The discussions are preliminary,” he told POLITICO. “No contracts have yet been signed … but it could go very quickly.”
In Germany, two journalists — one formerly with the conservative Die Welt newspaper and the other with public broadcaster ARD — have reported being approached about jobs by someone claiming to represent Breitbart. Both thought the calls sounded like hoaxes.
Breitbart has more time to join the campaign fray in Germany as the general election there is not until September 24. But its reputation in the country took a hit in January, when Breitbart reported that a “1,000-man mob” of men chanting “Allahu Akhbar” had attacked police and set fire to a church in the city of Dortmund on New Year’s Eve. Police and media outlets said Breitbart had distorted and exaggerated various events to create a highly misleading account of the night. The church fire, for example, was a small blaze caused by a firework and police said there was no indication it had been deliberately thrown at the church. Breitbart never took down the story, which was shared more than 17,000 times on Facebook.
The Breitbart.fr domain was bought by a student and leads to a page with a picture of a potted cactus.
In France, Breitbart will have to build a following in the face of strong competition in the same ideological space. Sites such as Atlantico, Boulevard Voltaire, Fdesouche and others all occupy the right edge of the political spectrum.
“French readers aren’t necessarily waiting for an American website to come along to start getting informed and finding alternative news sources,” said the National Front’s Deballe.
A smaller hurdle is posed by opponents of Breitbart who have hijacked possible domain names for the French and German sites. Breitbart.fr was bought by a student and leads to a page with a picture of a potted cactus. The URL www.BreitbartFrance.fr leads to a web page alleging Trump is corrupt. Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, a Berlin-based photographer bought the domain “www.breitbartnews.de” and visitors to the site are directed to a blog that counters far-right propaganda.
Hoch brushed off these stunts, saying they would have no effect on Breitbart. “They use the format Breitbart.com/london, so it doesn’t make much of a difference,” he said.