Here is what the recent war of words between the Trump Administration and the media is about, and what the future could be.
Over the past couple days there have been some disturbing – albeit predictable – headlines involving journalists in America. The first was the news that there were journalists who were arrested on felony charges on Inauguration day. Activist organizations that work to protect freedom of the press and journalists are absolutely right to point out that this is a disturbing act, and if it is any indication of the future in this country, we can assume that the US will rapidly sink even more than it already has when it comes to press freedoms. That should be a terrifying concept, considering this nation is supposed to be the beacon of freedom – setting an example worldwide.
If police intervention against the press wasn’t bad enough, the next headline dealt with chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, and his thoughts on what the media should do during the Trump presidency. So there is absolutely no confusion on this from the Washington Post:
Just days after President Trump spoke of a “running war’’ with the media, his chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, ratcheted up the attacks, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by the election outcome and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.
“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.”
While that is quite disturbing all by itself, it is important to place those words in proper historical context. Bannon arguably made the majority – if not all – of his financial and political fortunes on the back of Andrew Breitbart, after Breitbart’s death. There is only one real reason why this is rarely pointed out in exactly that way, and that is because Andrew Breitbart’s friends and family do not tend to speak publicly about him – ever. Some made that choice on their own, but others have been silenced by legal agreements attached to the Breitbart media corporation – Bannon’s former employer. Of course, that is why he typically agrees to interviews with that media company, while turning down most others.
That general silence from the personal friends of Andrew Breitbart is part of the reason why some members of the media, myself included, will occasionally remind people that Andrew Breitbart the man probably would not recognize nor endorse what Breitbart the media company has become. It’s also safe to guess that Breitbart the man would not endorse Bannon’s recent statements about the press. That is because even if many members of the media are infinitely annoying in their habit of overlooking misdeeds of public officials they like, he would not believe that they should be silenced.
Thankfully, this was not taken sitting down, as Jake Tapper quickly latched onto the statement and gave the only response from the press that Bannon deserves – no. Susan Wright at RedState also was quick to point out that beyond the low information voters who put Trump in office in the first place, everyone else is pretty much thinking that Bannon needs to sit down before he hurts himself and Trump any more than he already has.
Personally, I latched onto the coincidence that as all of this has been going on, Victor Davis Hanson was analyzing a theoretical reason why Bannon (or anyone else in his position) could justify the statement he made. The article at the Hoover Institution website focused on fake news primarily created by left-wing journalists over the past several months (and years) to promote their preferred world views. I sincerely doubt that Bannon thought very deeply about his advice to the press, so I will not suggest that he was referring anything remotely related to Hanson’s thesis. However, I will say that the Hoover Institution article brings up an important issue when it comes to “truth” versus “fact” in journalism. The former is purely a public perception that may have no relation whatsoever with the latter, and that is the true problem of fake news. The current witch hunt over blatant tabloid-style lies is arguably keeping the public focused on a fake problem, while both sides continue to feed the masses false information which is adopted as true.
I am not suggesting that we are faced with a massive conspiracy by the media and government to keep us from knowing what is really going on in our world. It’s not truly organized in any way, and probably wasn’t started intentionally. As we made the full leap from hard news to infotainment over the past few decades, a shift occurred which has left a large opening for anyone with an agenda. Because of the emphasis on entertaining the masses even when it is more important to inform them, it became much easier to feed them misinformation, particularly of the kind that evokes heavy emotional responses. Play to the people’s passions, and you get viewers – and that is what advertisers want. Like most anything else in this country, follow the money.
Bannon knows this, because it is part of the way he built his fortune. Even Andrew Breitbart’s name and legacy can only get you so far. It’s safe to assume that Bannon and the administration he serves will not respect the First Amendment, and we will see further abuses against our freedom of the press. While it is too early to tell yet, I fear that the truly insidious, non-tabloid fake news will get worse than it was coming primarily from the left for one reason. The left-wing journalists were out to promote an agenda. With Bannon in the game in the West Wing, it’s likely to get far more personal. What we’re heading into isn’t just about changing the course of a nation – it’s about revenge. Bannon all but said it himself, when he claimed that the media had no idea why Donald Trump became president. It was an act of hubris to assume that, but he was using a very wide brush, at least in his own mind. Many members of the media do not know why it happened, and have been spinning their wheels trying to place the blame just about anywhere but where it belongs. Many does not equal all. As for silencing the media, it is true that Bannon can probably count on having done that personally when one considers the current members of the media spread out across various outlets after the quasi-mass exodus from the Breitbart websites. More cynical writers like myself are already calculating the odds on whether or not fear of legal retaliation will be sufficient to keep them silent for good. From where I sit, the odds aren’t swaying in Bannon’s favor, and will get worse if he continues as he has so far.