Media push back against Bannon & Trump – along with a GOP dissident
Donald Trump and his toady Steve Bannon went to war with the press this week with declarations that the press is an “opposition party” and should “shut up“. They forget that we live in a free market where owners will fight back against attacks on their business free nation where journalists who see their First Amendment rights under siege will fight back.
Christiane Amanpour demolished Bannon’s strategic blunder late Thursday:
ANDERSON COOPER (HOST): I want to ask you on this other subject, of what something Steve Bannon said today, an interview he gave to The New York Times. He said, quote, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated, and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” When you hear Steve Bannon …
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: I would say no chance on that, Steve, buddy. But look, seriously, Steve Bannon is playing the role that he set out for himself. There is obviously some kind of strategy here, although it’s hard for me to comprehend it because, you know, I operate in the truth and the fact-based universe.
But he’s playing a strategy which involves creating straw men and women, creating an enemy out of the press, and then, you know, dividing, diverting, obfuscating while other things are going on. That’s the only thing I can imagine — obviously there are many other — I want to say totalitarian regimes in the past which use this same kind of strategy.
And I mean — if I was going to be funny, I’d say that he’s angling for an order of merit from president Sisi, Putin, Erdogan and all the others. That is how they treat their press. That is what they believe the press should be, a compliant state propaganda unit in the service of the president.
It is not the tradition of the American press. So of course we’re not going to shut up, and why should we? And what have we done wrong? And why should we be humiliated? About what? The story was right, we reported the story, whatever it is, we got it right.
CJR‘s David Uberti saw the Bannon broadside as fighting words:
The Trump Administration will continue calling critical media mean names. It will try to undermine the journalistic enterprise wholesale. No amount of well-reasoned arguments about a free press’ role in democracy will change that. If the media is as crucial as we all claim it to be, it’s time to show the public—not tell it—and reclaim the role of agitator on our own journalistic terms.
Poynter.com’s James Warren, who had attended a Thursday evening symposium at the University of Chicago, offered his own analysis and counter strategy to Bannon’s “shut up” outburst:
The war between journalists and the White House is only just beginning. In fact, [Bannon] is counting on it. … [The media’s] response [to Bannon’s provocation]? Reasoned and tough-minded indifference. It’s a de facto prescription that might drive the new tweeter-in-chief and his sledgehammer-wielding sycophants daffy in their search for a Jacksonian revival. …
[The symposium] was a meaty hour — nobody’s keeping their “mouth shut,” as Bannon “demanded” — with a variety of inside-journalism topics broached. Those included the need to be judicious in over-covering pedestrian White House briefings (a point made by [CBS News chief David ] Rhodes); the positive side of Trump-inspired heightened ratings and newspaper readership ([CNN boss Jeff ] Zucker); the perils of now feverishly “doubling down” on White House coverage at the expense of many other important matters ([Nieman Foundation leader Ann Marie] Lipinski); and the potential limits of fact-checking’s influence ([Yahoo News columnist Matt] Bai and Rhodes).
For sure, Bannon’s red-meat target audience would have been unmoved by these declarations of good intentions by representatives of the evil mainstream media. But it remained reassuring to listen to reasoned dialogue, given the premeditated Trump histrionics and fabrications (or “sincere beliefs,” as his surrogates, like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, would have it). …
It will take ample self-discipline, even courage, to keep one’s eye on what’s real, avoid breathless stories and get old-fashioned scoops. If this plays out as hinted in these early days, there may be no shortage of folks in government and Congress willing to leak like a sieve out of unease, frustration, even shock.
As the panel implicitly suggested, this could be a rather glorious time to be in the business as a countervailing force, if not an opposition party.
Howard Fineman explained Bannon’s tactical attack as part of a long-gane strategy to tar the media, and, in invoking the name of another “tricky” president, pointed out that we’ve seen this before:
“I want you to quote this,” Bannon said, sneeringly. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country.” He added that the “elite” media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
The insinuation that the press isn’t part of America is a dangerous old Nixonian trope. The slurring of the media as “elite” was especially laughable coming from a man who made his early connections at Harvard Business School and prospered for years at Goldman Sachs in New York and as a movie producer in Hollywood.
Of course Bannon & Co. know that journalists won’t shut up, and in truth he doesn’t want them to. He and his boss want the media to take the bait and declare that they’re proud to be the “opposition party” ― and in so doing, confirm the prejudices of Trump’s supporters.
The good folks at Mother Jones quite understandably, and even subversively, used it as a sales pitch for their newsletter (full disclosure: Dave “Doctor” Gonzo is a subscriber to the mag), framed with solid reasoning:
[These are] the actions of a man with a temperament and behavior we haven’t seen in the White House in modern times, if ever. Trump personally, as near as we can tell, believes in few things except himself; his actions are often precipitated by rumors and stuff on TV that makes him mad; and most significantly he, along with many of his closest advisers, is inclined toward authoritarianism and a retrograde sort of nationalism. The actions that flow from these qualities are the ones that transcend normalcy entirely. Insisting that the constitution doesn’t apply when you don’t want it to; chastising the press for reporting obvious facts and calling it “the opposition party”; perpetuating a massive smear against the electoral system by claiming that millions voted illegally: Those things are not even at the outside edges of normal. Those things draw from another playbook—not that of democracy.
So. What to do?
One of the most important things at a turbulent moment like this is to step back: to sift signal from noise and consider which developments rattle the foundations of democracy and which are simply the fallout from a change election. … Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, says the press should “keep its mouth shut.” No. Here at MoJo, we’re doubling down on the stories that matter the most, and getting them out to people who don’t intend to shut up. When the administration labels the press as the “opposition party” and talks about “alternative facts,” they want you to believe there is no such thing as truth. They will fail.
Evan McMullin, who has emerged as a leading Republican opponent of Trump, told CNN’s Jale Tapper:
“I think Mr. Bannon and Mr. Trump’s attacks on the media are highly dangerous. The media, the press, plays a significant role in our democracy, and in any democracy they are highly critical. You can have disputes and disagreements over bias and even over points of fact; but to continually attack and try to erode the credibility of the media when it’s doing its job, and doing its job well I would say, in the past week especially, challenging Trump, I think is dangerous.”
CNN’s intelligence analyst Philip Mudd opened up a new front against the White House late yesterday, calling out their lies:
“Look, let’s step back here for a moment,” the former CIA agent began. “I’m not part of the media, by the way, I want to be clear on that. I’m a former CIA officer, I only appear on CNN. So, I feel impartial here.”
Mudd asked how Trump could possibly be accusing those on television of being dishonest.
“After he mentioned during the camapign, ‘We’re gonna lock her up,’” Mudd quoted Trump. “Nope. ‘We’re going to give you my tax returns after the election.’ Nope. ‘We got a secret plan.’ Nope.”
Mudd pointed out that this goes back even further when Trump called his ratings for his NBC television show “The Apprentice” a top ranked show.
“He knew when he put that information out there that it was false,” Mudd continued. “My response to the president is this: We’re dishonest? I want to know why there’s an air gap between what you say and what the truth is because it happens every day.”
‘Nuff said, Philip!
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