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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Breitbart.com managing editor Wynton Hall has frequently used the website to promote a nonprofit that employs him as a communications strategist, as well as at least one client for a separate communications firm he runs.

Hall, a conservative writer and activist, began writing for Breitbart in 2011. He became the right-wing website’s managing editor in 2013 as part of an effort to help ensure “a 24/7 editorial team focused on the site.” He is second only to Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow, according to a masthead provided last month to the congressional credentialing committee.

But while Hall’s title suggests that he plays a key role at Breitbart, that is not his only job. He also serves as the communications strategist for the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a conservative advocacy organization.

Breitbart and GAI are inextricably linked: Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer serves as the nonprofit’s president, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon led both organizations from 2012 to 2016, and GAI’s main funders, hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, are partial owners of the website.

Members of the Senate Press Gallery’s Standing Committee of Correspondents have questioned whether Breitbart is editorially independent given these overlaps. The committee is currently reviewing Breitbart’s bid for permanent congressional credentials, but has to this point denied its application.

At GAI, where Hall received a six-figure salary and worked 40 hours a week from 2012 to 2015, according to the group’s publicly available IRS filings. He is responsible for engineering public relations strategies that ensure that the organization’s dry research achieves maximum impact.

Hall has capitalized on his role at Breitbart to boost GAI’s efforts. Hall wrote 151 Breitbart posts that promoted GAI or Schweizer, according to a Media Matters review of all 1,382 posts Hall authored between 2011 and 2015.

In addition to his work at GAI, Hall also has private communications clients. He owns his own self-named celebrity ghostwriting and branding agency; he claims its client list features major figures in politics, business, sports, and the arts, presumably creating a wealth of conflicts of interest with his work at Breitbart. Hall is also senior strategist at Oval Office Writers, the communications agency that Schweizer co-owns.

Hall has used his Breitbart platform to promote at least one of his clients: The website published several stories on one of the books he ghostwrote without mentioning his financial ties to the book. Because neither Hall or Oval Office Writers publishes a client list, it is impossible to tell how frequently this occurs.

It’s unclear how Hall could work full time at a nonprofit while also serving in a senior editorial role at Breitbart, running a third business, and working for a fourth. Critics say this apparent inconsistency “raises serious questions of private inurement and excessive compensation.”

Indeed, Hall’s malfeasance is only a small part of a massive web of self-dealing and interconnected conflicts of interest linking Mercer, Bannon, GAI, Breitbart, and for-profit companies.

Hall’s work at GAI is both lucrative and extensive; according to the group’s IRS filings, Hall worked 40 hours a week at GAI from 2012 to 2015 and received a total of $600,000.

At GAI, Hall is the “creative mind through which all its research flows and is disseminated,” with a mandate to “transform dry think-tank research into vivid, viral-ready political dramas that can be unleashed on a set schedule, like summer blockbusters,” according to an October 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Bannon.

His strategy, as he described it in an interview with the magazine, is to “anchor left” by placing the stories with reporters at mainstream publications, then “pivot right” by turning those stories into narratives at conservative outlets. “We don’t look at the mainstream media as enemies because we don’t want our work to be trapped in the conservative ecosystem,” Hall says.

Trying to get reports written up by major news outlets is a typical communications strategy for a nonprofit. What’s unusual is that Hall, Bannon, and Schweizer have been able to implement the plans Hall designs in his role with GAI through their leadership positions at Breitbart. Hall typically plays a key role in producing content at Breitbart that promotes GAI’s research.

In August 2012, Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out, which alleges widespread financial corruption by members of Congress, hit the stands. Hall, who has worked with Schweizer since at least 2007, when they co-authored a book as fellows at the Hoover Institution, joined Breitbart to promote the work.

In fact, Hall’s first 17 pieces at Breitbart, and 22 of his first 24, authored over the span of six weeks in late 2011, all promoted Schweizer’s book, a 60 Minutes segment on the book that “anchored” it in the traditional media, and the legislative fight its publication spurred, according to a Media Matters review.

Hall’s posts were clearly geared toward building support and readership for the book on the right. His work included a series of press-release-style summaries of the book’s “bombshell revelation[s],” sometimes branded as “EXCLUSIVE”; criticism of media’s failure to report on the book’s claims; and reports on politicians and media outlets that praised the book or pushed for legislation in response to it. The constant stream of posts helped maintain a drumbeat on the right around its publication.

Hall has continued to promote GAI’s work in his writing for Breitbart. He authored 1,382 posts between November 2011 and July 2015, at times writing three a day; a whopping 151 of them referenced Schweizer or a GAI product. In addition to 51 posts mentioning Throw Them All Out, Hall wrote 18 posts on Schweizer’s 2013 book, Extortion; 10 or more pieces on GAI’s reports on presidential daily briefs, food stamps, and presidential meetings; and multiple articles on GAI’s work on campaign finance violations, Justice Department decisions, and the growth of wealth in Washington, D.C.

Here is a sampling of headlines from Hall’s pieces about Schweizer and GAI:

Hall’s promotion of GAI reports typically followed the same pattern: a blitz of press-release-type pieces before or immediately after the report’s release, highlighting its premise, exclusive tidbits, and any “anchoring” press; write-ups of Schweizer appearances on TV or radio shows talking about the work; and a long tail of follow-up posts that use news hooks to reiterate the premises of the GAI report and remind the audience about it.

After Hall became managing editor and gained additional responsibilities at Breitbart, other Breitbart writers who were not employed by GAI joined in his effort to promote the nonprofit’s work. In 2015, Schweizer authored Clinton Cash, a trainwreck of sloppy research alleging corruption by Bill and Hillary Clinton that received widespread media attention for its claims even though it contains numerous falsehoods and fabrications. Breitbart played a key role by pushing the book’s claims in more than 400 posts, none of which were authored by Hall.

When Martin Greenfield, a Holocaust survivor who had tailored men’s clothing for more than 60 years out of a factory in Brooklyn, was looking for someone to help him tell his story, he turned to Hall. The result was Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor To Presidents’ Tailor, a memoir released November 10, 2014, with both of their names emblazoned on its cover.

“Thank you, Wynton, for helping me gather my scattered thoughts and keeping me focused. This book could not have been assembled without your laser vision and talent,” Greenfield writes in the book’s acknowledgments. “He became me,” reads Greenfield’s testimonial on the website of Wynton Hall & Co., the celebrity ghostwriting firm that Hall has owned and operated since 2008.

Hall’s client list consists of politicians, business leaders, and top figures in sports and the arts, according to his firm’s website. In addition to writing memoirs, Hall and his team of two offer comprehensive brand management, speechwriting, and media training services.

But when Greenfield hired Hall, he didn’t just get someone who could help him organize his thoughts, or even just a talented ghostwriter who could also help him promote the book. Whether he knew it or not, Greenfield was also getting the full support of Hall’s other employer, Breitbart.

The conservative website published at least six stories on the book in the three days following its publication, running two of them on the top of its front page for a total of 18 hours. The front page posting claimed that “Martin Greenfield has been hailed ‘America’s greatest living tailor’ and the ‘most interesting man in the world.'”

Five of the stories were published without bylines, including two excerpts from the book, aggregated storiesfrom other outlets about it, and a post featuring audio of Mark Levin reading from the book during his radio show in what the piece claims was a “rhapsodic radio performance … that was at times operatic in its tone.”

The sixth, bylined by Hall, purports to be a written Q&A with Greenfield — described as “America’s greatest living suit maker” and a “legend.” Hall’s hard-hitting questions included, “Why did you write Measure of a Man?” and “Talk about some of the other men you’ve made suits for.”

Several of the pieces include Amazon links to Measure of a Man. None includes a disclosure that Breitbart’s managing editor had helped write the book — even the post authored by Hall. In fact, every piece lists only Greenfield as the memoir’s author, even though Hall’s name appears on its cover. This practice has continuedin the months and years since the book’s publication

None of Breitbart’s competitors in the conservative media have provided anything close to that level of coverage of Greenfield’s book. Then again, none of them employ Greenfield’s co-author.

It’s unclear how often Hall has used his top editorial position at Breitbart to promote his clients. The firm’s website provides testimonials from some of the subjects of “Wynton Hall’s books,” but it does not provide a comprehensive list. And Hall’s brand management clients are completely opaque — he appears to offer an exclusive list of 12 clients services that include biweekly marketing strategy calls, speechwriting, talking points for media appearances, and ghostwritten books and articles.

In addition to his personal communications firm, Hall is also a senior strategist at Oval Office Writers, the four-man group that was co-founded by Schweizer and former Bush White House speechwriter Marc Thiessen. Oval Office Writers does not list any of its clients, but its website’s list of services suggests that they are corporate leaders and politicians.

Images by Sarah Wasko, Shelby Jamerson contributed research.