Via Mediaite, this is the smart way to reply to what Bannon told the NYT today — with comic dismissiveness, not the long-winded sanctimony that’ll inevitably characterize every other commentary about it in media. I’m already having douche chills thinking about Olbermann’s next rant for GQ.
The “keep your mouth shut” line from Bannon’s chat with the Times will get all the headlines but in context his point was that the media should try to better understand Trump’s voters if it wants to improve the quality of its reporting. It’s not so much “shut your mouth because you have no right to criticize” as “do less talking and more listening and you’ll be better at your jobs.”
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.
“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”…
“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”…
Asked if he was concerned that Mr. Spicer had lost credibility with the news media, Mr. Bannon chortled. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning his integrity’ — are you kidding me? The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Mr. Bannon said. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
When I read that, in my mind I hear the quotes in Andrew Breitbart’s voice, not Bannon’s. Conservatives who dislike Breitbart.com’s Trump cheerleading like to complain that the site would have looked different last year if Andrew were in charge, but I’ve always thought that was overstated. Bannon is giving you pure #WAR here. Their goals may be different — Bannon is a nationalist while Breitbart, as I understood him, was more of a libertarian — but the idea of the media as the archenemy of the right is the thread that tied them together, and tied both to the rest of conservative media. The line between Breitbart and Bannon is thinner than anti-Trump righties would like to believe. If you don’t like the #WAR attitude from a Republican White House, at least don’t pretend that it’s all Bannon’s doing.
The line between Bannon and some Democrats is thinner than liberals would like to believe too. We’ve heard the rhetoric about the media as “opposition” before, haven’t we?
2009: Obama aide Anita Dunn told me, "We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent." Them: Fox News. https://t.co/jSl8tgw7ig
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 26, 2017
The left will counter by noting that Fox News is just one outlet while Bannon is at war with the media writ large, but you know the counter-counter to that. Was Team Obama fixated on Fox because Fox is uniquely bad or were they fixated on Fox because it was the lone significant splotch of red in a media sea of blue? If the Obama White House had to contend with a national media that leaned right, maybe Anita Dunn’s grumbling would have sounded more Bannonesque.
Two clips below, one of Tapper’s winking reply and the other of an interview with Evan McMullin, whose reaction to this is more of the lecturing bent I described earlier. His exchange with Tapper about authoritarian strategies toward media is worth paying attention to, though. Tapper says he has conservative friends on Facebook who seem unsure what to believe anymore, to which McMullin replies that that’s how authoritarians operate: “They attack the press because they want to undermine any other sources of information, so that people believe that only the authoritarian can be the source of information. Because, if authoritarians are able to do that, if leaders are able to undermine every other source of information, source of facts and truth, no one can hold them accountable.” That’s too pat — the press has gotten stuff wrong about Trump this week, and may be more prone than usual to get things wrong going forward because of the temptation to fight fire with Trumpian fire of its own.
But McMullin’s basic point, that authoritarian governments do a lot of gaslighting and they do it for very specific strategic reasons, is true. Bannon’s goal today, I think, was simply to impress this idea upon the American right: You can be for Trump or you can be for the media, but you can’t be for both. You must choose. Conservatives have spent the last 30 years being primed for that appeal, but it is, as our now (thankfully) ex-president Barack might say, a false choice. The side to take in any dispute is whichever one has the facts. Sometimes it’ll be Trump, sometimes it’ll be — sigh — the media. It’ll change battle by battle, which is the whole problem with the concept of #WAR. If you commit to one side in every factual dispute irrespective of the truth (and of course many liberals are doing that too right now in aligning with the media against Trump), you’re destined to wage #WAR on behalf of lies. Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.