This year was supposed to be a time of triumph for the "alt-right" website Breitbart.com and its readers. The website's CEO Steve Bannon became one of the most powerful men in the country, a senior White House adviser with a reputation for ruthlessness in the name of forwarding his white nationalist ideology.
However, according to Vanity Fair's Tina Nguyen, Breitbart.com has been racked by internal struggles in recent months and is seeing its once-plentiful traffic numbers take a steep dive.
Back in November, Breitbart's post-Bannon CEO Larry Solov boasted that the website's reader base is deep and loyal and predicted that the right-wing news hub would continue to be one of the most-trafficked blogs in the world.
"While several publishers have enjoyed an uptick in traffic due to election coverage, we are proud to have built a massive and deeply-rooted community that will remain long after the election cycle fades," Solov said.
For a few weeks, stretching into early 2017, that appeared to be true. In February, a press release from Breitbart.com announced they were "the 29th most trafficked site in the United States, surpassing PornHub and ESPN.”
"The numbers speak for themselves," Solov preened to an in-house interviewer.
"Just a few months later, the numbers have a different story to tell," said Nguyen. "As of May 26, 2017, according to Alexa.com—the same web-ranking analytics company that Breitbart drew its numbers from in January—Fox News is the 64th most-trafficked site in the country. Huffington Post is at 60. Buzzfeed is at 50. The Washington Post, on the strength of a series of eye-popping scoops, is at 41."
"Breitbart," she said, "is in 281st place."
Web analytics can be a woolly discipline, Nguyen noted, but across the board, Breitbart's numbers are suffering. "ComScore estimated that Breitbart had nearly 23 million unique visitors during the month of November 2016, but only drew 10.7 million in April 2017, a 53 percent drop. Last month, the site had fewer visitors than it did in April 2016, when 12.3 million people visited the site."
Other conservative media outlets are suffering in the Trump era as well. The Daily Caller, National Review Online, the Drudge Report and Infowars.com have all seen their numbers fall in recent months, even once-unstoppable ratings juggernaut Fox News has fallen to third place in critical demographics.
None of them, however, have seen the kind of crater-like drop-off that Breitbart has.
“If you’re anti-Trump, there’s never been a better time to read news," said an unnamed editor at another conservative media outlet to Nguyen. "It’s like Christmas every morning.”
Another editor said, “So every time you open the newspaper or open Twitter or turn on Facebook, you get to enjoy the fact that there are a lot of other people who don’t like Trump and there’s a lot of news stories that show Trump in a negative light. Whereas if you’re Breitbart, you’re scrambling to explain or defend or continue to back the guy that you backed throughout the election. And eventually, if your posture continues to just simply be reactive and trying to explain away things that are happening to or by the president, I think people slowly become sort of disheartened by politics.”
Breitbart.com has walked the line of the acceptable, spewing out thinly-veiled hate pieces about feminists, people of color and anyone deemed to be "politically correct." But now, with its enemies purportedly routed and their nominee in power, Breitbart doesn't know what to do with the inchoate rage that it has inculcated among its users.
In the past, staff could simply point to their massive traffic numbers and say the method seems to be working. Now, however, as readers depart, the conflicts and contradictions that have long bedeviled the website are becoming more apparent and more urgent.
Furthermore, one of Breitbart.com's biggest enablers, the Drudge Report, seems to be losing interest in the blog that sprang out of Drudge's relationship with former employee and website founder Andrew Breitbart, who died in 2012. Without Drudge as the engine driving its traffic numbers, Breitbart.com has slipped precipitously.
Breitbart.com's spokesman Chad Wilkinson brushed off Nguyen's questions about his website's traffic plunge, but Wilkinson said he just doesn't have time to talk about it.
“I don’t follow the traffic all that much and I am heading out of town. I will see what I can find in the meantime but I don’t anticipate having a hard answer in the next 13 or 14 hours," he said via email.
One former staffer said that the website has no one to blame for its troubles but itself. Breitbart.com went all in on the candidacy of Donald Trump. Now that his presidency is in crisis, readers have run away.
“When you tie yourself to a candidate you shouldn’t be surprised,” said the former employee. “If the candidate has trouble, you’re going to have trouble. And if your goal is to provide cover for that candidate and the news is about that candidate, it’s going to be difficult to cover the news in a way that’s interesting.”
"The numbers," Nguyen quipped, "speak for themselves."