The right edge of Conservative Media took a hit last week when billionaire donor Robert Mercer intentionally distanced himself from Breitbart leader Steve Bannon and provocative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos before announcing his plans to divest himself of his stake in Breitbart and step down as CEO of the Renaissance Technologies hedge fund.
While Mercer’s shares will stay in the family – he is selling them to his daughters – the move was interpreted as a break from the media mogul and a major “face” of the modern far-right movement.
Mercer’s relationship with Breitbart has been clear since the beginning. He was one of the founding donors and maintained an ownership stake in the publication. However, his relationship with Yiannopoulos, the former conservative darling who has recently fallen from grace, was always mostly rumor.But, in the digital age, rumor is even faster than it was when it could get around the world before the truth got its pants on. Today everyone “just knows” Mercer was one of Yiannopoulos’ key funding partners. Mind you, there’s really no direct, confirmable evidence of this, but that hasn’t stopped people from talking.
What can be confirmed is the timing of Mercer’s break from Breitbart, coming on the heels of an expose by the web media competitor, BuzzFeed, which linked Breitbart and Yiannopoulos to white supremacists. That story upset many people over at Renaissance Technologies. Mercer, initially, thought the trouble would blow over. But that proved to be a miscalculation.As the story continued to swirl, that forced Mercer to make a decision. It was one thing to be a public funder of provocative right-wing media, but something else entirely to be tangentially linked to white supremacists.
Mercer came out publicly to explain both his motivations for supporting Breitbart, as well as where he drew the line. He expressed support for “small government” saying that motivated his initial support for Breitbart. He also said he sometimes discussed politics with Bannon, though they did not always agree.Mercer appreciated Yiannopoulos representing the kind of open debate, he said, was too often squashed today, especially on college campuses. But, in light of the recent revelations about the firebrand, Mercer told CNN, “I was mistaken to have supported him… For several weeks I have been in the process of severing all ties with him… actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate.”
While Mercer’s split may not immediately mean any changes at Breitbart, his may only be the first defection. Politics are shifting in America, as are the consequences for public figures who support those on the fringes of either side.