‘Keep your mouth shut!’
On Wednesday The New York Times talked to Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, above, formerly executive chair of the far-right website Breitbart News. What Bannon had to say is startling.
“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.”
That would be unremarkable if it were just another blurt on Twitter by one of the vast army of far-right trolls who have found so much happiness there. But Bannon is now an important member of the executive branch of the actual government of the US.
He’s not a giggling troll enjoying the outrage of the Social Justice Warriors any more, he’s someone with power and influence over a large and heavily militarized country. He’s telling The New York Times that journalism and journalists are the enemy and that they should stop doing journalism and “just listen” – to the bosses. It’s an outrageous thing for someone in government to say – and what he says next is even worse. “They don’t understand this country” is classic them v us territory; it’s classic othering. It’s reminiscent of Goebbels.
Let’s read some Goebbels. Let’s read some of the essay “The Jews Are Guilty!” from 1941, translated by Randall Bytwerk.
Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle, regardless of whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or carries on his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. All Jews by virtue of their birth and their race are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They want its defeat and annihilation, and do all in their power to bring it about. That they can do nothing inside the Reich is hardly a sign of their loyalty, but rather of the appropriate measures we took against them.
What Bannon said is too much like that for comfort. Calling the news media “the opposition party” is a good deal too much like calling them part of an international conspiracy, and it literally is calling them “our enemy.” And Goebbels hated the newspapers too:
It always happens that when we take some measure against the Jews, English or American newspapers report it the next day. Even today the Jews still have secret connections to our enemies abroad and use these not only in their own cause, but in all military matters of the Reich as well. The enemy is in our midst.
Bannon’s words are an unashamed move to delegitimize journalism, and they’re shocking coming from a powerful figure in the White House.
The interview continues:
Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”
During a call to discuss Sean M. Spicer, the president’s press secretary, Mr. Bannon ratcheted up the criticism, offering a broad indictment of the news media as biased against Mr. Trump and out of touch with the American public. That’s an argument familiar to readers of Breitbart and followers of Trump-friendly personalities like Sean Hannity.
“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.”
Like a taint, a mark of Cain, a pollution.
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.”
Mr. Bannon mostly referred to the “elite” or “mainstream” media, but he cited The New York Times and The Washington Post by name.
“The paper of record for our beloved republic, The New York Times, should be absolutely ashamed and humiliated,” Mr. Bannon said. “They got it 100 percent wrong.”
I would like to think of all that as just a common-or-garden Internet rant, but it’s coming from inside the house.
Meanwhile the Trump administration has ordered the government agencies concerned with science to shut their mouths.
Scientists and environmentalists reacted with fear this week as the Trump administration purged nearly all mention of climate change programs from the White House and State Department websites and ordered a freeze on federal grant spending at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies.
Memos ordered employees of at least four agencies not to send out news releases or to create social media posts, blog entries or official website content, and to consult with senior officials before speaking to the news media.
The memos were sent to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. There is an argument that this is simply standard procedure when there is a change of administration, but many employees of the agencies say a total media blackout – a “keep your mouth shut” – is unusual.
On the hopeful side: telling us to shut our mouths is the surest way to get us to talk louder and more.