The American Carnage of Steve Bannon’s Media War

(Updated February 7, 2017)

First we heard from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that the nation had just witnessed the largest inaugural event turnout of all time, period. The press challenged him on this unexplained and apparently vastly incorrect assertion, to be rudely rebuffed by an irate Spicer. Even corporate America joined in the fun, lampooning Spicer’s (and by extension, President Trump’s) love affair with extreme hyperbole. In the Art of the Deal, Trump defends such rhetorical tactics as “truthful hyperbole.”

Next, we heard from President Donald Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway about the wonderful world of alternate facts, when she was pressed to hold Mr. Spicer accountable for his factual assertions. And Chuck Todd finally did what the mainstream media has been reluctant for a long time to do: call a falsehood by its real name. In the effort to afford equal time to opposing sides of any issue, the media has sometimes unwittingly allowed a great deal of falsehood to be communicated without challenge or qualification.

As if the pace of these disturbing developments wasn’t rapid enough, on January 26, 2017, Steve Bannon, one of President Donald Trump’s top offical advisors tasked with hyping the President’s public image, tells us, according to a New York Times article, he’s waging a war against the American media, a group he describes as “the opposition party” that “has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.” Bannon is unwilling to give the media 1 percent or 2 percent or 3 percent intelligence, but instead insists that it must be zero (which if true would make it impossible for journalists to report anything at all). To justify this claim, Bannon presents his central argument: The media incorrectly guessed the outcome of the Presidential Election of 2016.

In other words, Bannon is attacking the media’s fact-reporting integrity by bashing guesswork that the media never presented as any sort of confirmed truth. In other words, Bannon thinks that you can’t trust anyone to report on observable, confirmable facts that already occurred because sometimes when they look into crystal balls they can’t predict everything about the future. Bannon’s argument falls into this open trench of illogic. Readers should use their basic reasoning skills to analyze statements like Bannon’s before offering them any shred of credence.

“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.” Note the presence of spite in this wild assertion: a lasting, indelible stain! Really? “That’s why you have no power,” Mr. Bannon added. “You were humiliated.” “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.”

Mr. Bannon, we got your message the first time. Why is it that the weakest parts of arguments are often those that are most loudly hyperbolized as truth? Perhaps this is a shameful stratagem to deflect us from what should be our duty as citizens to reason through any claims and arguments made by our fellow citizens in positions of great authority.

If the media were already so humiliated, why does Bannon linger on the humiliation theme and hope so ardently that an entire nation of journalists should suffer from painful guilt feelings throughout eternity? Whence this urge to promote such suffering without presenting some sort of reasonable, actionable basis for imposing such an intensely harsh judgment? If this is not a sign of mental imbalance, it could be a call to arms in the sense of a request to the Trump faithful to continue vilifying all independent journalists who have the gall to doubt or disagree with the current Administration even in the most insignificant details like whether Trump has ever worn a bathrobe.

Perhaps the recent Bannonization of the Voice of America, an $850 million per year taxpayer funded government propaganda media outlet plays a role in this war on the independent media. The most recent annual Congressional defense spending bill authorizes the President, instead of the old independent board of directors, to directly control the Voice of America. Perhaps Bannon’s plan is to have the US taxpayers fund and consume all news from the Voice of America and a smattering of a few right wing outlets like Fox News and InfoWars that agree to take their marching orders from Bannon, while snuffing out the free press for good.

The Republican plan to take over the Supreme Court includes ideological preferences such as repealing or suspending any civil rights the enforcement of which would result in a net loss of votes for the GOP in elections. Free expression enables opposing parties to be heard and considered. Therefore Bannon has applied the label “opposition party” to the free press, as a clear signal to conservative justices and judges in every federal circuit in America to clamp down on any press freedoms and rights, with the exception of the Voice of America and any right wing news outlet listed on the nice list and not the naughty one.

Bannon called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.” And yet Bannon himself promotes journalists at “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” 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.”