Former top Trump advisor Steve Bannon on Thursday took aim at CNN and Facebook, defended his dishing in the White House tell-all “Fire and Fury,” and deflected questions about his involvement with the Cambridge Analytica firm at the center of the data breach controversy that has enveloped Facebook.
Speaking at the Financial Times’ Future of News conference in New York, Bannon careened through a range of topics in a combative interview with Financial Times editor Lionel Barber. Bannon also vigorously defended President Donald Trump’s track record, calling him “the greatest orator we’ve had since William Jennings Bryant.”
Bannon predicted that Trump will not hold a face to face meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and he predicted that the role of the Chief of Staff in the White House will be replaced by a system “like there was in Trump Tower” in which five or six key lieutenants report directly to the President.
Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, said he was looking around for a possible next act in media but didn’t get specific. “A lot of people have been talking to me about different media things,” Bannon said. “This is a very difficult time in news. It’s a tough time in media.”
Later in the 40-minute conversation, Bannon expressed interest in “mobilizing a digital grassroots army in the United States –a think tank or something to weaponize ideas.”
Bannon said he hasn’t read “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s best-selling account of chaos in the Trump administration. Bannon said he does not regret being an on-the-record source in the book. He also argued that it was “authorized” by former White House communications chief Hope Hicks and Trump himself.
“I haven’t seen anybody refute anything that was said in the book,” Bannon said.
Bannon repeatedly sounded the alarm about the dangers of digital data-mining, the rise of “cryptocurrencies” and digital behemoths such as Facebook and Google. But when pressed about his investment in Cambridge Analytica, Bannon pointed fingers in the other direction, including the use of Facebook data in 2008 by the Obama campaign.
“There’s a marketplace for your data — it’s being sold every day,” he said. He would not comment on his thoughts about Cambridge Analytia CEO Alexander Nix, and asserted that the issues in the spotlight at present were rooted in the activity of a related firm, SCL, based in Britain and “run by Brits.”
He said the focus on Cambridge Analytica and its work with the Trump campaign stems from the unwillingness of the political establishment to acknowledge that Trump won the election.
“The progressive left and opposition media cannot get over one basic fact: Donald J. Trump is President. He beat Hillary (Clinton) and he beat her badly.” Bannon asserted that investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion among Trump campaign officials is a bid to delegitimize Trump’s win. “You struck out on Russia so now you’ve got to go to Cambridge Analytica,” he said.
Bannon painted Facebook as a menacing force and slammed CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has apologized for not taking steps to enforce privacy standards that allowed Cambridge Analytica to siphon up so much information about prospective voters.
Zuckerberg’s “entire business model is built on taking that data for free and monetizing it, and then writing algorithms on a wall that treat you like a hamster on a wheel,” Bannon said.
Earlier in the day, CNN Worldwide chief Jeff Zucker spoke at the conference and slammed Fox News for being too cozy with the Trump administration, calling it “a pure propaganda machine.”
Bannon responded: “You can’t name a more propaganda outfit than CNN. Did anybody at CNN get fired for the awful mess they made of the 2016 campaign, which was a disgrace to journalism? No. That is a propaganda outfit. Every night it’s hate Trump.”