Why the Trump Team sees the media as the opposition

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President Trump’s senior adviser and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon told the New York Times this week that the media should “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.

“I want you to quote this,” 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.”

{mosads}Most in the media, as one would expect, have reacted with shock and horror.


Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: “I don’t need Steve Bannon’s permission to do my job.”

Joy Reid, MSNBC: “When a white nationalist tells you to shut up, who knows humiliation and embarrassment like someone who cuddles up to the frog Nazi movement?”

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith: “A lie as much as anything else… No reason for media to let him make this true by saying it over and over.”

Huffington Post’s Michael Blackman: “I’m surprised he didn’t refer to it as the Jew media.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “What country are we in?”

Of course, the press shouldn’t ever just step back and let governing happen. But that may not be Bannon’s point here, as the media – and this is specific to political media – still hasn’t done much introspection on what happened in 2016.

Already in the new year, we’ve seen some horrific mistakes that all seem to play into Team Trump’s point around constant negativity as it pertains to this administration: The Washington Post exclusive on the Vermont power grid being hacked by the Russians (false); the release of an entire unverified and uncorroborated dossier on Trump by BuzzFeed (never verified or corroborated); the New York Times’ exclusive on Rick Perry not knowing what the job of energy secretary entailed (false); Trump moved a bust of Martin Luther King out of the Oval Office on the day he moved into the White House (false).

There are other examples, but you get the idea: 2017 is no different than the disaster-for-political-media that was 2016. Combine that with WikiLeaks revelations – which damaged the Fourth Estate more than it seems to realize – that clearly showed several veteran media members colluding with the Clinton Campaign by sharing debate questions in advance, sending stories in advance for approval before publishing, advising the campaign, and acting as advocates more than journalists in general.

“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Bannon told the Times. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: They were outright activists of the Clinton campaign.”

“That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”

And in the eyes of Trump supporters (basically half the country) the opposition party Bannon says is the media is there in plain sight, on paper via John Podesta’s emails, fairly or unfairly, and therefore a sitting duck to attack with the broadest brush possible every time, say, a BuzzFeed publishes a document clearly for the purpose of damaging Trump.

Almost all other media outlets rightly pushed back on BuzzFeed for doing so, because they knew Trump wouldn’t single that publication out, but instead use it as another, “See, they’re all out to get Trump,” moment. And it worked.

Poll numbers also show why Bannon laid down this marker so explicitly: Gallup’s annual “Trust in Media” poll showed in September that 32 percent of Americans trust it. Before you say, “That’s actually a higher number than I thought it would be,” drill down further. 

When breaking down by party affiliation, only 14 percent — less than 1 in 7 — Republicans trust the media. And if D.C. politics have taught us anything, attacking an unpopular institution (think: Congress) doesn’t have much downside. 

Poll numbers of a different kind also give Bannon a spear to which there is little defense: Polls that showed that Donald Trump had almost no chance of winning on November 8. The Times’ own “Upshot” forecast had Hillary Clinton winning at 85 percent. Trump would go on to capture more electoral votes than any Republican (304) in nearly 30 years in winning instead. 

“The paper of record for our beloved republic, The New York Times, should be absolutely ashamed and humiliated,” Bannon said. “They got it 100 percent wrong.”

That’s not to say the Trump/Bannon media-bashing model has always gone smoothly. Last Saturday’s briefing by Sean Spicer – which served as his debut as White House Press secretary and therefore as an important first impression – was widely panned when a petty fight he couldn’t win around crowd sizes was specifically broached by the administration. It also stepped on positive stories around Trump’s meetings with other world leaders, including the now-cancelled one with Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. 

If “the media is the opposition” meme sounds faintly familiar, it should. Here’s what former President Obama’s adviser Anita Dunn told the same New York Times in 2009: 

“We’re going to treat them (Fox News) the way we would treat an opponent … As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” 

Bannon may see most of the media in 2017 the same way: As a hopelessly-biased extension of the Democratic party and therefore as the opposition. 

“You’re the opposition party,” Bannon hammered home again in the New York Times interview. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Just think, we’ve only finished week one of 208 weeks of the daily theatre that is the Trump administration versus the press. 

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Concha media New York Times Stephen Bannon

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