Bud Kennedy

Long before Breitbart, Trump CEO Bannon ran Ed Bass’ Biosphere 2

Stephen K. Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chief executive, Saturday in New York.
Stephen K. Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chief executive, Saturday in New York. AP

Donald Trump’s new chief executive has taken on a whopper of a job before.

More than 20 years before he took over Trump’s presidential campaign, media executive Stephen K. Bannon was the investment banker hired to rescue Fort Worth philanthropist Ed Bass’s Biosphere 2 environmental research project.

It was Bannon who ousted the original residents of the 3-acre Arizona laboratory as dysfunctional and reshaped the project from — his words — a “space colonization” test to what is now a University of Arizona science program.

In 1993, according to Star-Telegram archives, Bannon was hired to take over the project, which was losing an estimated $12 million to $15 million per year, according to later trial testimony.

At the time, he was identified as a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker with his own company based in Los Angeles and New York, specializing in media and entertainment investments.

There are those who say that’s still his primary business.

“He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who just works in a campaign,” said associate professor Aaron Chimbel of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University.

“Fox News has been No. 1 for what, 15 years? I think he may try to outfox Fox.”

Of late, Bannon has been executive chairman at California-based Breitbart News, a political advocacy blog in newspage format backing tougher immigration enforcement and secular conservative causes.

Basically, it’s for activists who think Fox is for wimps.

It is not clear whether the site is so staunchly pro-enforcement out of nativism, as critics complain, or to dissuade newcomers who might be less conservative.

In a speech Thursday, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton read hostile Breitbart headlines: “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” and “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?”

If [Stephen K.] Bannon wanted to challenge Fox … there’s never a time like now.

TCU communication associate professor Aaron Chimbel

With the departure of Fox executive Roger Ailes, several network personalities might be available for a new network, Chimbel said: “If Bannon wanted to challenge Fox, or sign Bill O’Reilly or [Sean] Hannity, there’s never a time like now.”

In the two years Bannon ran Biosphere 2, he also produced and promoted a nuanced documentary on illegal immigration near the Sonora border about 100 miles south.

As a filmmaker, Bannon is best-known for the 2011 Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated.

As a filmmaker, he is best known for the 2011 love letter to Sarah Palin, The Undefeated.

Fort Worth consultant Martin Bowen also worked on the Biosphere 2 turnaround.

“All I know about Steve is, he’s smart, driven and he doesn’t sleep,” Bowen said Thursday.

“He put everything together out there. I didn’t know anything about his politics then. I don’t follow it much now.”

Back then, a Tucson newspaper reported on a lawsuit by disgruntled former employees describing Bannon as a “foul-mouthed, sexist corporate takeover artist.”

Sounds like just the guy for this year’s campaign.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.