Breitbart News, the once-dominant force in conservative media circles whose former leader Steve Bannon entered Donald Trump’s White House after the election his coverage helped shape, has seen an erosion in its audience as well as its dominance among right-leaning online sites.
Monthly traffic on Breitbart has plummeted nearly 72% from 17.3 million in January 2017, when Trump took office, to 4.9 million in June 2019, according to the data-tracking firm ComScore. And while traffic on most politically oriented news sites has dropped significantly in 2019, the decline has been particularly acute for Breitbart.
As recently as December 2018, when the site had just under 7.2 million monthly unique visitors, Breitbart nabbed a bigger audience than any other conservative website tracked by Howard Polskin’s aggregation site TheRighting aside from the cable-TV-backed behemoth FoxNews.com.
But by June, the most recent month for which figures are available, Breitbart dropped to sixth — behind such upstarts as the Philip Anschutz-backed Washington Examiner (10.0 million), Washington Times (6.7 million), Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (6.0 million) and the Tucker Carlson-founded Daily Caller (5.0 million). (Fox News, of course, dwarfed them all with 103.2 million visitors.)
Breitbart was “firmly established” as No. 2 to Fox News for a long time, Polskin told TheWrap, but while “they’re still bringing in a lot people, they’re not the force that they used to be.”
Founded in 2007 by the late Andrew Breitbart, the site came into its own under Bannon — who took over after Breitbart’s death in 2012. During the 2016 election, the early Trump backer described the operation as “the platform for the alt-right” and found a huge audience with shocking headlines like “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew.”
By the time Bannon and fellow Breitbart alum Sebastian Gorka landed positions in the Trump White House, the site had “the perception of outsized influence due to perceived proximity of their former colleagues,” former spokesperson Kurt Bardella told TheWrap. But all of that changed, he said, after “Trump exiled Bannon” and ejected him from a senior adviser role in August 2017.
Five months later, Bannon was ousted from Breitbart itself after his public criticisms of Trump in Michael Wolff’s best-selling book “Fire and Fury” caused an outcry among conservatives — and alienated one of the site’s top financial backers, Rebekah Mercer.
In addition, Breitbart appears not to have recovered from an advertiser boycott led by the advocacy group Sleeping Giants beginning in 2016. By May 2017, the site had lost 90 percent of its advertisers in just three months, according to Digiday.
In the 2018 documentary “The Brink,” Bannon admitted that the site was in “tough financial shape” because the ad revenues he projected to hit $8 million for 2016 had dropped 90 percent following the boycott campaign. “All the right-wing media, the top 10 companies — except for Fox — will be donor-based,” he said in a July 2018 conversation captured in the film. “You’ll have to have a donor come in and write a check.”
A spokesperson for Brietbart did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the site, its traffic and its financial status.
Not only does Breitbart in its current incarnation lack the money to grow, Bardella said, “the audience they are targeting — the alt-right/racist/white nationalist audience — isn’t one that is ever going to expand. It is as large as it will ever be. There’s no room to grow it.”
And the competition in the right-wing media space has increased dramatically, including from former Breitbart staffers like Ben Shapiro, whose DailyWire site is inching up on Breitbart with 4.3 million unique visitors in June.
John Ziegler, a conservative columnist and filmmaker known for his own inflammatory takes (earlier this year, he tweeted that “the entire ‘Penn State/Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky Scandal’ is a myth“), said he hasn’t looked at Breitbart “in at least two years,” which he said is “bizarre” since he used to write for the site. “I already know what they are going to say and it’s not credible,” he said.
Others suggest that Breitbart has struggled as the far-right views that used to make it stand out have become mainstream. “Fox News’ embrace of the extreme has left Breitbart with no real space that they uniquely own,” said Bardella, who switched his affiliation to the Democratic Party after leaving Breitbart. “Fox News programming during this time of Trump mirrors what Breitbart homepages looked like pre-Trump. Fox has gone full-tilt Breitbart and in the process made Breitbart irrelevant.”
Still, some observers are not so quick to write off Breitbart under its current top editor, Alex Marlow.
“There is clearly an appetite for the type of information they’re producing. I would not rule them out,” Polskin said, pointing out Breitbart is currently seeking to hire new assistant editors and investigative reporters. “They are a very strong brand, whether you are repulsed by the name Breitbart or you think it aligns with your political view or view of the world.”