President Trump is right: the media are the opposition.
Despite all the media headlines blaring that Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon said that the media should “shut up,” Bannon actually advised the media to “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while…The media here is the opposition party. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is president of the United States.”
That’s Bannon advising the media to stop talking and listen long enough to hear the voices of people who are critical of their nonstop anti-Trump spin after eight years of unending pro-Obama spin. But here’s the CNN headline from my appearance this morning: “Steve Bannon says the ‘media should keep its mouth shut.’”
It’s because of headlines like that that I’ve been compelled to defend Bannon. Because here’s the truth: Bannon isn’t wrong.
The media are Trump’s opposition. They were Mitt Romney’s opposition. They were John McCain’s opposition and George W. Bush’s opposition and Ronald Reagan’s opposition. The media are populated by people who largely vote with the left, and who willingly sign off on lies when those lies spring from the left – or at least bias their reporting toward the left.
This lack of objectivity – or even attempted objectivity, in many cases – gives Republicans the opening to simply deny anything the media ever say. As Nate Silver points out, quite correctly, “Trump’s got this clever strategy of leaking trial balloons, then blaming ‘dishonest media’ for reporting the story if & when they flop.” That strategy only works because the media lack credibility, and because they keep stepping all over themselves in their attempts to report Trump’s foibles, real and imagined.
Here’s the reality: if the media wish to be taken seriously by the public again, they must treat the White House as the opposition no matter who occupies it. One of President Obama’s top advisors, Anita Dunn, called Fox News the opposition; Richard Nixon thought the mainstream media were his opposition. That attitude isn’t rare from the executive branch. The problem here is that the media don’t see all presidents as their opposition – only the presidents with whom they disagree politically.
And that means that they’re a partisan opposition, not an honest one worthy of respect from both sides of the aisle. Which means they lack the power to truly check politicians they hate most.
An honest media would see itself as purveyors of truth, grilling politicians from all sides with equal relish. Instead, the media seem determined to convince themselves that their credibility is undiminished, even as Trump uses their lack of credibility to successfully push his agenda.