Chris Faraone on Journalism in the Trump Era

When local alternative journalist Chris Faraone sparred with Andrew Breitbart—founder of Breitbart News, the ultra-conservative site that has promulgated racist, sexist and antisemitic content—in 2012, only one came out alive.

Shortly after Faraone and Breitbart clashed on WRKO, Breitbart died. Faraone likes to claim credit for Breitbart’s early death—his book is entitled “I Killed Breitbart.”

Faraone is the founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) and an editor at DigBoston. A self-proclaimed progressive, alternative journalist, Faraone harbors no remorse for Breitbart, whose site has helped fuel the white nationalist alt-right movement.

Following President-elect Donald J. Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon, former chairman of Breitbart News, as his chief strategist, alt-right media has been lifted into public consciousness.

“[The alt-right] is not the antithesis of the alt-left,” Faraone said. “We report on things that aren’t being covered and on things that are being covered but in a different way. And in that sense I guess you could say that we have that in common with the so-called ‘alt-right,’ but at the same time they cover things that don’t really exist, often. Of course, they would say the same thing about us.”

Faraone posits that portions of alt-right media will write anything that will make money.

“Steve Bannon—Harvard Business School, former Goldman Sachs. This isn’t some obscure guy from out of nowhere. This is a businessman. There’s big money in racism, there’s big money in bigotry, there’s big money in trashing progressives and liberals,” Faraone said.

Concerns surrounding false news have exploded since the election, with outlets reporting that fake news pieces rung up millions of views on Facebook. Coupled with a distrust of mainstream media that Trump has helped propel—portraying the New York Times, long regarded as the pinnacle of journalism, as biased and calling the media “crooked”—these dynamics have led many Americans to disagree on what true facts are.

Unlike some journalists, Faraone has no problem claiming widespread media bias.

“I do not believe there is even close to such a thing as objective journalism. The entire media, for better or for worse, turned against Donald Trump. And it’s fine, I think that’s great, because he’s a complete dirt bag. This farce that there ever was anything but biased media—we all have biases, we’re human beings,” Faraone said.

But his assertions about journalists’ inherent biases aside, Faraone says that conservatives’ denunciation of mainstream media is merely a ploy. He argues that the media rightfully put both Trump and Hillary Clinton through the ringer during the election and that if outlets like the New York Times ran a positive piece on Trump—which he says they would if Trump did something commendable as president—conservatives would still gloat over the praise.

“When really bad things happen—hurricanes, natural disasters, mass shootings, people go to CNN. You get off of Fox, you get off of MSNBC, you get off the partisans and you go to CNN. Why? I suspect these people know they’re full of shit. I think you can get news that confirms your bias, but hopefully [that source is] something that’s responsible,” Faraone said.

Faraone is critical, however, of the media’s blind spot during this election cycle.

“There was a huge malpractice in that people did not see that Trump was going to do significantly well. All you had to do is drive 10 miles outside of even a city like Boston, and you would have seen Donald Trump signs everywhere,” he said. “The writing was on the wall, literally, and we should have seen it. Good reporters saw it. Other reporters stayed on the bus, and they didn’t notice.”

As Trump prepares to take power, many are worried about his sharp criticism of the media and his threats to change libel laws. Trump’s shying away from a press pool adds fuel to these concerns.

But Faraone argues that a fight against the press—and the first amendment—is not one Trump is likely to win.

“I couldn’t think of an army that would be harder for Trump to roll against. Say a reporter’s doing something that the president-elect doesn’t like. The president-elect would be smart to shut the hell up about it or else it’s going to be bigger news than he ever wished,” Faraone said.

While Faraone says that alt-right media is a “marketplace,” he hopes that alternative journalism can operate on the other extreme. He describes the Boston Institute for Non-profit Journalism as a “free-floating incubator” that can do important community reporting.

“When it’s a for-profit model, what have we seen over and over? Who gets screwed, and who doesn’t? I think it’s a pretty easy answer,” Faraone said. “The journalists and the community get screwed.”

Reena Karasin is a freelance reporter for Spare Change News.

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