Robert Kuttner was sitting at his desk in the Berkshires on a working vacation when he got an email that gave him an unexpected opportunity.
“I got an email from a guy at the White House saying that Mr. Bannon read my column on China and Korea and trade and wanted to meet with me at the White House,” he said during an interview on Boston Public Radio today. “It was pretty bizarre.”
A few minutes later, Steve Bannon called Kuttner on the phone and started in on the flattery, praising the writer’s column on trade.
“About two or three minutes in, it dawned on me that he has not said whether this is on the record or off the record, and I’m certainly not going to tell him,” said Kuttner.
Thus began the scoop of the week, an interview with the elusive chief strategist and former media mogul behind Breitbart News, the self-described “platform for the alt-right,” Stephen Bannon.
Kuttner said Bannon talked about trade policy, the so-called “alt-right” and North Korea.
“It was almost like a stream of consciousness,” Kuttner said. “It was Stephen Bannon uncensored, talking strategy the way you would talk strategy with somebody who was on your staff or somebody who was an ally and kind of convincing himself that because there was a convergence of views on the need to take a tougher line with China, that we were somehow soulmates.”
Kuttner is an editor at The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine. He described the exchange as “truly strange.”
The column that came out of that interaction has made the rounds online, and Bannon has responded with a few contradicting explanations for his candor. At first he said he didn’t realize the interview was on-the-record. Later, he revised that statement.
“Yesterday, bizarrely, he gives the Daily Mail ... an interview in which he says, 'Oh, I did this deliberately because I wanted to divert attention from all the president's trouble of Charlottesville,’” Kuttner said. “Both things can’t be true, and it’s now just what we were saying before: He changes the spin from day to day depending on what’s convenient.”
Kuttner was also struck by Bannon’s focus throughout the interview: himself.
“This was all about grand strategy according to Bannon, how he’s going to deal with his enemies around taking a harder line on China, who [sic] he’s going to get fired,” he said. “Nowhere during that 25-minute interview did he say anything to defend Trump.”
Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and a professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is "Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility." To hear the interview in its entirety, click on the audio player above.