Down the Breitbart Hole

The editor in chief of Breitbart News is a 31-year-old craft beer enthusiast from Los Angeles named Alexander Marlow. Probably starting about here, the official style guide of The New York Times Magazine would have me refer to him as ‘‘Marlow,’’ but this is a story about storytelling — about the stories we choose to tell and the way we tell them; the fictions that we entertain when we claim to write nonfiction — so I’m going to blow past the usual journalistic claptrap and just refer to our subject as Alex, because that’s what everybody who knows him calls him, and people who don’t know him tend to call him something much worse.

Alex has been the editor of Breitbart for about four years. In 2008, he was the first employee hired by its founder Andrew Breitbart, and he began to lead the editorial staff when Breitbart died in 2012, although it would be another year and change before he claimed the title of editor in 2013. However you cut it, that puts Alex in charge of Breitbart long before last year’s election, responsible for the daily decisions about what to cover and how. If right now you’re thinking that it’s kind of weird how you’ve been reading about Breitbart more or less constantly for the past year, following the daily exploits of former employees like Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, but this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Alexander Marlow, that’s by design. People close to Alex refer to him variously as ‘‘a shut-in,’’ a ‘‘misanthrope’’ and a ‘‘hermit,’’ who communicates with his staff primarily by phone/text/email and doesn’t have a lot of friends. In fact, if you have come across Alex before now, it was probably in mid-June, when some of the people on the business side of Breitbart persuaded him to appear on the HBO show ‘‘Real Time With Bill Maher.’’

Before we get into that debacle and the jeweler’s-loupe clarity it gave to Breitbart’s predicament, you should know that in the weeks leading up to the appearance, Alex was nervous for all the wrong reasons. It seemed as if every time we got together, the topic of the show would arise, with Alex saying something along the lines of how much he hoped it wouldn’t happen. It wasn’t that he worried what Maher would ask him or how he should respond. Alex grew up in one of the crunchier enclaves of Los Angeles, went to school at Berkeley and lives today in Washington on the boundary between Dupont Circle and Georgetown, which is another way of saying that he has spent his whole life surrounded by liberals who can’t figure out why he doesn’t get it. More than most of us, he is accustomed to defending his job and his opinions to the postman, the neighbors and his wife’s colleagues with a faint, forbearing smile and quickly changing the subject if the vibe starts going south.

What troubled him about the Maher appearance had nothing to do with the interview per se. It was the fact that after trying for years to maintain a certain balance in his public life — broadcasting his thoughts on Breitbart’s website and radio program but declining most invitations to appear on television and public stages — he was apprehensive about trading 15 minutes of face time on cable TV for the precious anonymity that allows him, for example, to shamble through his neighborhood every afternoon, walking his two dogs, without running into the rabble of protesters who have been known to picket Breitbart offices, or being spit upon by the 30-to-1 ratio of Democratic voters at the dog park.

Read more at The Times Magazine.