Donald Trump’s first news conference in 168 days wasn’t going so well.
The president-elect’s early tone toward the media had been civil — complimentary, even — but now, almost an hour in, his mood was darkening. He had just engaged in a testy back-and-forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta and cut off a BBC reporter who tried to ask a question about Russia. It was time to steer the proceedings into more favorable territory.
Trump knew exactly what to do. He called on Breitbart News Washington Editor Matt Boyle.
“With CNN’s decision to publish fake news,” Boyle began, “and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”
The gag-inducing question set up Trump for one of his trademark media smackdowns.
“I recommend people that are — that have some moral compass,” he replied. “You know, I’ve been hearing more and more about a thing called fake news, and they’re talking about people that go and say all sorts of things. But I will tell you, some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother, but you have a few sitting right in front of us. They’re very, very dishonest people, but I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with.”
Breitbart was Trump’s No. 1 cheerleader during the campaign. It seems likely that the hard-right website will function as a propaganda arm of the Trump White House. After Wednesday’s news conference, it looks like Breitbart could be something else, too: a lifeline when Trump or his aides are in a bind, with cameras rolling.
Imagine future White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looking to Boyle for a bailout during his daily briefings. Whenever the line of questioning gets tough, Breitbart could turn down the heat with an inquiry about just how big and beautiful the “great wall” will be or how untrustworthy the rest of the media really is.
Trump’s team could even reserve a front-row seat for Breitbart, just to make sure the safety valve is easy to find.
Wait. That’s exactly what it did on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press:
More than 250 journalists packed Trump Tower for the celebrity businessman’s first full-fledged news conference since July, which was billed as a forum to discuss his separation from his business but quickly turned into a loud, wide-ranging free-for-all about U.S. intelligence, Russian hacking and, eventually, some of Trump’s policy plans after he takes office on Jan. 20.
Only one seat was saved by a Republican National Committee aide, a front-row spot for a reporter from Breitbart, the conservative news outlet until recently run by Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon. Other reporters scrambled to save their seats.
Bannon told the Wall Street Journal after Election Day that he has had “nothing to do with the site” since he joined Trump’s campaign in August. Breitbart, he claimed, “didn’t get a scoop from the campaign from the minute I took over; they’ve had to scramble like everybody else.”
There was no scrambling on Wednesday, however, and Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow has boasted that “we’re going to be the best place for news on the Trump White House.”
For the Trump White House, Breitbart might be the best place to find a friendly questioner during a news conference, too.