Coming soon: Bannon News Network?
Here was my guess on Friday, after news broke that he was out at the White House: “I’d be surprised if Bannon is content to return to Breitbart now that he’s a nationally famous political figure whose every move will be watched. I think he’ll look hard at television. Remember, Rupert Murdoch reportedly had been leaning on Trump for awhile to boot Bannon. Bannon could exact revenge and seize a market opportunity by launching a populist alternative to Fox News.”
He is returning to Breitbart, but per Axios, he’s not content to stop there:
Axios’ Jonathan Swan hears Bannon has told friends he sees a massive opening to the right of Fox News, raising the possibility that he’s going to start a network.
Bannon’s friends are speculating about whether it will be a standalone TV network, or online streaming only.
Before his death in May, Roger Ailes had sent word to Bannon that he wanted to start a channel together. Bannon loved the idea: He believes Fox is heading in a squishy, globalist direction as the Murdoch sons assume more power.
James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, slammed Trump for the Charlottesville comments that Bannon had praised and made a $1 million donation to the ADL in the aftermath. It’s not crazy to think Fox might gradually tilt away from rabid Trumpism once the Murdoch sons eventually assume total control over the network.
Bannon has Mercer money behind him, so the sky’s the limit. My hunch is that he’d prefer to make a splash and go right at Murdoch and Fox News by launching a cable channel, not just an online TV network. Other online outlets like the Blaze and Conservative Review have launched their own Internet “networks” but Bannon, I think, would want to telegraph his threat to Fox by fighting them on their own territory. On the other hand, the audience for cable news is infamously geriatric and more Americans are moving away from cable and towards online video platforms. Bannon and Mercer might be shrewd to leverage Breitbart’s reach by going online-only, aiming for a younger audience and knowing that eventually Fox will be forced to come and fight them on that terrain. Why spend time and energy getting a foothold on TV when you can focus on dominating the new way that people get their news?
The odd thing about Bannon going to war with Fox now, at a moment when rumors are swirling that Laura Ingraham will soon get her own show, is that there’s never been less room for a nationalist alternative to Fox in primetime. Tucker Carlson at 8 p.m. is probably the most overtly nationalist broadcaster on TV; Ingraham will be a close second once she’s on air. And Hannity is Hannity. Whether he identifies as “conservative” or “nationalist,” he’ll attack whomever Trump needs him to. Bannon TV won’t look much different than that, unless it ends up focused more on settling scores with Bannon’s White House enemies like Kushner and Cohn than it does on policy. But then, maybe primetime won’t be the focus: Fox is in many ways a traditional news network between the end of “Fox & Friends” in the morning and the start of Carlson’s show at night. Bannon TV might target the daytime hours aggressively for ideological counterprogramming to make inroads with the Fox audience.
I think he needs a big name on staff out of the chute, though, to signal that he means business in challenging Fox. Carlson and Ingraham are presumably locked into their contracts for a long while. Hannity allegedly has a “key man” clause in his that would let him leave the network now that Ailes is gone, but he wouldn’t be an ideal fit for Bannon TV. The whole point of Bannon’s crusade going forward is to undermine the administration when it veers from nationalist priorities by attacking Trump’s “Democratic” inner circle. Hannity would be an unorthodox choice, shall we say, as attack dog against the Trump White House, even if he wouldn’t be attacking Trump directly. Someone like Bill O’Reilly or Lou Dobbs would be a better fit but they may feel like old news to the sort of audience Bannon would be hoping to grab. (O’Reilly, at least, would also be hugely expensive.) Maybe he’ll bring in a provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos or give Ann Coulter a show. I don’t know if Coulter would want to sign up for a daily grind but Yiannopoulos might seize the opportunity.
One other interesting quote from the Axios piece: “The revved-up Breitbart operation is also likely to target Speaker Ryan, as it did before Trump.” No doubt, the war on establishment “globalists” will resume with gusto. That points to an irony in Bannon’s departure, though: While anti-Trumpers of various stripes celebrated, Breitbart’s Republican enemies in Congress were probably horrified. Sure, they might hate Bannon, but as long as Bannon was in the White House he was forced to make nice with them in the interest of getting Trump’s agenda passed. That meant populist media would only go so far in attacking cngressional Republicans for fear of alienating Ryan and McConnell et al. Now that Bannon’s out and doesn’t have to care about making friends on the Hill anymore, the attacks can resume and nervous House and Senate Republicans will feel pulled to the right. It’s better to have a troublemaker inside the tent pissing out, as LBJ once said, than outside the tent pissing in. There’ll be a lot of piss on the floor of Congress again soon. And of the White House too.