It is no secret that the Trump administration has a tense relationship with the institutional media. Conservatives have long felt that the media is biased against their point of view, and with the exception of Fox News, who could really argue with them? The "objective" media, to the extent it ever existed, is an endangered species.
And this election cycle, for the first time, that media bias didn't really matter. In this election, the media was almost in lock-step in both its desire to defeat Trump, and in its complete confidence that it would succeed. Up until this election, if the press arrayed itself against a candidate or a position, the people followed.
For better or worse, those days are over.
Steve Bannon reminded the media of that this week.
Let's take a look at the evolution of that story:
Bannon said something to the press that it didn't like to hear. Let's start with looking at what the New York Times pushed as the quote:
Well that's just eerie, isn't it? Cries of GOEBBELS and NAZI wash across the twitter-sphere. The theme? THE PRESS IS UNDER ATTACK!
And if that was all Bannon said, they might have a bit of a point. At least thematically.
But lets tease out a little more of what he said:
Hmm… doesn't conjure the same images of jackbooted crowds and long red banners with swastikas on them, does it?
And now, lets get the entire quote:
“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.”
So lets break this down:
Should the media be "embarrassed and humiliated?"
Yes. Perhaps it should. It chose its candidate. It then shouted her name into an echo chamber, and then it reported what it heard echoing back to it as fact. You see the media got used to being able to frame the issues (framing theory). It got used to its agenda setting strength. And, it totally missed out on the fact that millions of Americans just decided they had enough of it, and they bypassed the media.
How did the media totally miss this? Some contributing factors: Journalism schools are focused more on training public relations professionals than fundamentals of journalism. Newspapers and magazines took a beating, and didn't have the resources to do what they were supposed to do. "Access journalism," where journalists were more reliant on access to those in power, than investigating those in power. There certainly are many other possible explanations and co-factors. But, what is undeniably true is that Mr. Bannon is right. The media should be embarrassed and humiliated.
"Keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.
So this is where the media felt attacked. It focused on the "keep its mouth shut" and then stopped listening.
I disagree with Mr. Bannon on the "keep its mouth shut" portion. I realize that he was speaking hyperbolically and not giving instructions. But, shouldn't the media be encouraged to listen for a while? It hasn't done a good job of that. If it did, we wouldn't have woken up on November 9, 2016 as a nation collectively turned into Brett in Pulp Fiction.
The only person "the media" recognized who called the election was Michael Moore. Why? Because say what you will about Michael Moore, the man knows how to listen. The media does need to listen. Because Bannon is also right that the media does not understand this country, nor do they understand why Trump won.
Advantage: Push. Bannon was right, but had he kept the "keep its mouth shut" portion out of it, it wouldn't have taken over his overall message.
"The media is the opposition party."
Damn right it is.
As I said on CNN yesterday: The media should always be the opposition party to anybody in power. that's the media's job. I would not be afraid of that. I would look at that as a challenge and say 'game on'"
Remember when it chose to stop being that and Judith Miller just acted as the public relations arm of the Bush administration? Yeah, that's what happens when the media stops being the opposition party.
When the media is the opposition party, it is doing its job right. But, it can't do its job right if it doesn’t listen.
On balance, Bannon is right.
And instead of freaking out, the media should take it as a challenge — a challenge to listen, do better, and always, always, always be the "opposition party" — no matter who is in power.
Marc Randazza is the national president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association
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