Split on the right: Breitbart joins Facebook and Google in opposing news media bill

It’s an unusual alliance that puts Breitbart on the same side as Facebook and Google, two major opponents of the bill, even as Breitbart continues to attack “Big Tech” over the online giants’ alleged censorship of conservatives.

the legislation, p. 673 (117th) other HR 1735 (117th)could conceivably benefit Breitbart financially — but the outlet says it is concerned that Breitbart could be left out of the “media cartel” the bill would create, to the benefit of rivals such as Fox News.

Other factors complicate the issue: Breitbart is one of the only conservative media outlets that participates in a Facebook program in which the social network sends traffic to news sites. And its opposition to the news media bill comes at a time when congressional Republicans and powerful conservative groups are divided on other legislation aimed at checking Silicon Valley’s power, including bipartisan antitrust proposals that would make it easier to break up the tech giants.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Breitbart spokesperson Elizabeth Moore defended the publication’s coverage of “this anti-competitive legislation” but didn’t address questions about whether its journalists have urged lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The bill has drawn support from an array of Democrats, as well as Republican Senate co-sponsors including John Kennedy of Louisiana, SuzanneCollins of Maine and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming. They say the legislation would help local news outlets as well as conservative media negotiate better terms with Google and Facebook, which rake in the lion’s share of online advertising revenue.

But the bill has also attracted major GOP critics such as Florida Sen. Marco RubioTennessee Sr. Marsha BlackburnHouse Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio, all of whom have done interviews with Breitbart opposing the legislation. McCarthy told Breitbart that the bill poses”a tremendous threat to free speech and a free press,” alleging that it would harm start-up publications competing with established media companies.

As part of its opposition to the bill, Breitbart has alleged that the JCPA is being pushed by GOP supporter Rupert Murdoch’s company News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal and other outlets. Both the Journal and Murdoch-owned Fox News are members of trade organizations that back the bill, and News Corp. has lobbyed on it directly.

news corp declined Wednesday to comment on the bill. Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill has especially strong support from the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing more than 2,000 news organizations, including POLITICO owner Axel Springer.

POLITICO reported in 2019 on efforts by Axel Springer and other publishers to win legislative changes to lessen Google’s and Facebook’s economic dominance, as well as the role of a top Axel Springer executive, senior vice president for public affairs Dietrich von Klaeden, on the News Media Alliance board. (At the time, POLITICO was independently owned but shared ownership of POLITICO Europe with Axel Springer.)

Moore, the Breitbart spokesperson, took note of that relationship in her response to POLITICO’s questions.

“Unlike Politico whose parent company Axel Springer SE literally has an executive named Dr. Dietrich Von Klaeden on the board of the special interest group — the News Media Alliance — that has spent millions lobbying for this legislation, Breitbart News is one of the only publications actually reporting on the dangers of this anti-competitive legislation, doing the duty of the Fourth Estate by questioning the government when it tries to use its power to create specialized carve outs in federal antitrust law that would allow Big Tech and Big Media to collude to create winners and losers,” she said.

The role of Breitbart and its news staffers in opposing the bill has been much more direct, according to the three people with knowledge of the conversations.

Breitbart reporters, including Washington bureau chief Matthew Boyle, have told Republican lawmakers’ offices that the legislation would hurt Breitbart specifically, according to the three people. Those individuals said the journalists have reached out to discuss Breitbart’s position.

A fourth person — a lobbyist who has spoken with Republican aides to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Breitbart’s advocacy — expressed surprise about the company’s level of outreach to lawmakers, especially given most news outlets’ efforts to separate their business and editorial operations.

“With the amount of contacts they’ve had on the Hill, it seems like they should be registering to lobby,” said the lobbyist, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Breitbart staffers have spoken extensively with the office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) over the past year about the JCPA, according to a congressional staffer who was one of the people with direct knowledge of the discussions. Cotton serves on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, which held a hearing on the legislation Wednesday.

“The JCPA would create a media cartel that would censor conservatives,” said James Arnold, press secretary for Cotton. “Senator Cotton believes the bill is flawed and is opposed to it.”

A Breitbart article published last week had predicted Cotton’s stance, reporting that he “is itching to lead the intra-committee fight against this.” But Cotton did not appear at the hearing on Wednesday.

Offices of other Republican lawmakers, including blackburn, did not respond to questions about Breitbart’s outreach. Kennedy’s and Rubio’s offices declined to comment.

In this case, one Republican congressional aide said GOP lawmakers are nervous about the backlash they could receive from Breitbart, an important player in the conservative media ecosystem, if they back the legislation on the news bill. This aid was not directly familiar with Breitbart’s discussions with lawmakers.

The news legislation has divided the major tech companies as well. Microsoft, which unlike Google does not gain a huge chunk of its revenue from online advertising, is lobbying for the bill.

The legislation would allow news organizations to demand better financial terms from Google and Facebook — seeking to address what backers call one reason for the massive shriveling of newspapers and other outlets in the past decade and a half. A 2020 report from the UK government estimated that Google takes 90 percent of revenue from search advertising in that country and Facebook more than 50 percent from display ads, leaving little for the websites themselves. Australia has adopted similar legislation, leading to Deals between media companies and the social media giants.

Many conservative media organizations — including Newsmax, Town Hall, the Washington Examiner and the Washington Times — have come out in support of the legislation. A collection of conservative media executives from those publications argued in a letter to lawmakers last year that it is “more important than ever to protect quality journalism that is independent both from government and from powerful Silicon Valley companies.”

Meanwhile, Breitbart has staked out the opposite position, contending in articles and private conversations that the JCPA would create a “cartel” of mainstream media publications that would exclude conservative news outlets.

“Breitbart is a very conspicuous outlier when it comes to conservative media support for the JCPA,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance.

“Almost every other conservative outlet understands that they are under the thumb of Facebook and Google, and they want a means to band together and fight back,” Chavern said. “Breitbart seems weirdly content to live under the current Big Tech regime.”

Chris Reen, the president and CEO of Clarity Media Group, which owns the Washington Examiner, said he’s been speaking with people in Republican offices who are “confused” about where they should come down on the legislation.

“We’re antithetical to Breitbart’s argument that somehow this would only benefit certain publishers of a certain size or that are left-leaning somehow,” said Reen, who added he doesn’t understand Breitbart’s position. He said he and other conservative media executives have been “educating” Republican lawmakers who feel “caught in the middle between big tech and news publishers.”

Breitbart has a different relationship with Facebook than many of its media peers do. Breitbart in 2019 became one of the first news outlets to join Facebook’s news tab, a program that allows news outlets to monetize their content through Facebook. Facebook does not pay Breitbart directly, but that partnership drives traffic and advertisers to Breitbart’s site. (POLITICO is part of the same program.)

Facebook also kept Breitbart on a “white list” that exempted the outlet from the social media platform’s rules against spreading misinformation, according to a whistleblower affidavit that The Washington Post obtained after it was submitted by a former Facebook employee last year. Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, whom the whistleblower accused of signing off on the white-listing, said in a statement to the Post that he has “consistently pushed for fair treatment of all publishers, irrespective of ideological point of view.”

Supporters of the JCPA say it will provide news publishers with leverage over the tech giants after years of losing revenue and power. “Protecting the free press in the age of Google will take an act of Congress,” said Buck, who has promised to ensure that the bill covers conservative media organizations as well.

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