On Wednesday, May 17, Breitbart News editor-at-large and Niles North alumni Joel Pollak (class of 1995) spoke to AP United States Government and Politics students and several North Star News Editors (myself included) about his experience working for the newly popularized conservative media outlet Breitbart News.
Following President Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon, a founding board member of Breitbart News, to White House Chief Strategist, waves of criticism emerged claiming the media outlet has “pushed racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material,” according to Time.
“Breitbart is probably one of the most diverse news organizations that exist,” began Pollak. “We have black editors, Jewish editors, we have Hispanic writers and editors, we have a Muslim editor who runs our London coverage.”
“I thought Pollak did an excellent job providing an opposing viewpoint in a very liberal bubble. He was very truthful in his answers, and his talk hopefully opened the eyes of some liberal students,” said senior Jon Redmann.
Pollak spent time emphasizing the partisanship and bias in mainstream media today, responding “absolutely” when asked if he believes the New York Times shares the same magnitude of partisanship as Breitbart News.
The student body expressed concerns about Breitbart’s “alt-right” readership and how that speaks to the organization as a whole. “There are elements of the alt-right that are racist, anti-Semitic, anti Muslim, but that’s not all of them. . .we began to become more popular among some people in the alt-right [during the Trump campaign],” said Pollak.
When questioned on what Breitbart is doing, either organizationally or Pollak personally as editor-at-large, to combat the trend of anti-Semitism within the alt-right, Pollak asked the audience “did you know the New Black Panther organization, which is a racial separatist organization, supported Barack Obama?. . did you ever feel Obama should have [denounced their support?] This is the point: you have to apply the same standard to both parties.”
Some frustrations boiled within the student body who felt Pollak was diverting Breitbart’s accountability. “He frequently referred to the left, often as a distraction from the flaws in his own argument,” commented senior Zach Harris. “‘The left does this the left does that,’ when he wasn’t asked about what the left does. . .I don’t think that excuses Breitbart for tolerating anti-Semitic elements within its own ranks. . .He spoke like a politician, not a journalist.”
Pollak addressed the concerns amongst the student body of perceived racism within Breitbart by explaining that such accusations appear to be a criticism commonly extended to all openly right-wing partisan institutions. “[Accusations of being racist] are one of the things they’ll use against you; if you’re conservative this will happen. It’s not an even playing field. . .this is not new. This is what happens when you’re conservative. This is what happens when you’re successful. You get marginalized in this way,” explained Pollak.
“I really like how [Pollak] dispelled many of these myths, that are just that: myths, about his organization and what he does and his online news outlet. I welcomed a differing opinion than is often presented in mainstream sources as well as in the school,” explained Humanities teacher Aaron Minkus.
After graduating Niles North, Pollak went on to earn his B.A. in Environmental Policy and Juris Doctorate (law degree) from Harvard University. In addition, he holds an M.A. in Jewish Studies from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In 2010, Pollak ran for Congress as a rising Tea Party Republican against the Democratic incumbent Jan Schakowsky to represent Illinois’ 9th district (which includes a vast majority of District 219), losing with 31.1% of the vote. Pollak then became in-house counsel for Breitbart News, later rising to editor-at-large.
Featured image courtesy of PBS