The media have risen as one with a resounding message: We will not shut up!
Not that anyone seriously imagined they would.
The collective media establishment was responding to some comments by Steve Bannon to that pillar of the media establishment, the New York Times.
And a day later, in an interview with CBN’s David Brody, Trump embraced the notion that the press—much of the press, at least—is the “opposition party.”
When I asked press secretary Sean Spicer about the phrase for yesterday’s “Media Buzz,” he said: “I think in many cases there are stories and journalists who start off with a negative disposition on how they’re going to cover the president and his actions.”
As Trump’s senior strategist, Bannon makes no secret of his disdain for the press. The former chairman of Breitbart built an alternative outlet on the right that challenged the premises of the mainstream media. But he very rarely grants interviews, so this was news.
My view is that Bannon was being deliberately provocative and much of the media took the bait. His remarks gave them an opportunity to proclaim their First Amendment duty to challenge those in power.
But let me put my press card down for a moment and try to fairly evaluate his statements one at a time.
— On the election, Bannon told the Times that “the elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”
Well, the elite media—all the media, really—totally blew the election. Most journalists admit this. Many dismissed Trump from the day he got in the race, insisted he wouldn’t make it to Iowa, insisted he wouldn’t win the nomination, and up until Nov. 8 insisted he wouldn’t win the election. And worse, they missed the anger and frustration in much of the country that fueled the Trump candidacy. The word “humiliating” stings, but it’s on target.
— “The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign.”
True. Being a pundit means never having to say you’re sorry—or lose your job. This was true in the Iraq war debate and many other stories, and it was true in the 2016 campaign.
— “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: They were outright activists of the Clinton campaign ... That’s why you have no power. You were humiliated.”
The tweets by some of those who cover Trump can be negative and snarky. Only a small number of journalists colluded with or were too cozy with the Hillary campaign. As for having “no power,” that can’t be true, or the president of the United States wouldn’t be spending so much time trying to discredit the media.
—“The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence and no hard work.”
I’d assign numbers higher than zero and much higher than “no” work.
—“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
Embarrassed? Sure. But Bannon is being a little colorful in his rhetoric. He doesn’t expect anyone in the media to suddenly go silent. But “listen for a while” is an interesting point. Because many journalists, especially in such places as New York and Washington, could benefit from listening to the voices of Trump supporters and those who are angry and frustrated by the economy and the culture. There have been some tentative steps in this direction, but not enough.
—“You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Now we’re not the opposition party in the sense that we’re not organized, we don’t have conventions, there are no membership cards. And we’re not the opposition party in the sense that many journalists are trying to do their jobs, even if they are being more negative and perhaps prosecutorial toward this president as opposed to the last one.
But consider for a moment: What does it say about the press that some of those in Trump World think we’re the political enemy? All administrations come to resent the press, but hasn’t the coverage since last year given Trump and company reason to think they can’t get an even break from the fourth estate?
Trump and Bannon, of course, are speaking as combatants in what the president has called a “war.” But a little self-reflection by the media might be in order.