Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary, thinks the Clinton campaign underestimated what he calls “the Breitbart effect.”
“One of the realities that I don’t think was truly appreciated by our campaign,” Fallon told a Yale University audience Tuesday, “was just how profound the Breitbart effect was in cultivating a standalone ecosystem in conservative media that very aggressively and successfully promoted certain stories and narratives we had a blind-spot for during the campaign.”
Fallon was the guest of Yale’s Politic Magazine. The aim of the talk was to reflect on his thoughts about the 2016 presidential election and the current state of media.
When Fallon sat down — wearing a charcoal blazer, with his black hair slicked back — he shut off his phone and quipped to light laughter that “an hour can be a lifetime in the Trump era.”
Having graduated cum laude from Harvard, Fallon got his start writing for the Crimson and later moved to D.C. to intern for the Washington Times. He parlayed a career in sports writing to politics, serving as press aide to the Kerry-Edwards campaign before becoming chief spokesman for Senator Chuck Schumer in 2011 and working for Attorney General Eric Holder’s office in 2013. This past election cycle, he signed on as press secretary for Clinton’s campaign, going from rising star in the Democratic Party to direct liaison between the Democratic nominee and the media.
“We had a lot of policy we were trying to communicate that got overshadowed by whatever Donald Trump tweeted,” sighed Fallon. “The email controversy was the most nagging problem we were presented. If I had to pick one, October 28, when Jim Comey sent the letter, that was a pretty stark realization how far the winds were blowing in our faces the last ten days.”
Despite polling favoring Clinton, along with all his expertise in policy and communication, Fallon failed to make Clinton’s message resonate with American voters and was bulldozed by Trump’s ability to keep the spotlight trained on him throughout the horserace.
Fallon lamented that the “Breitbart effect” means the press can’t as easily damage Trump’s reputation as it would of been able to in the past.
“The right has innovated a really good infrastructure that has not only insulated Donald Trump from criticism that should be driving his numbers down, but has brought the conversation to the right,” says Fallon.
“Politics coverage is increasingly mimicking sports coverage when you see these huge panels assessing debate performance on election night, sometimes even called ‘the game day sets,’” Fallon explained. “There was too much punditry on Twitter on Friday over who was going to take the blame for the health-care bill.”
Fallon is now a paid CNN pundit.
Davis Richardson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. His writing has appeared in Vice, Nylon Magazine, Bullett Media, and Capitol File. Follow him on Twitter.