The Trump White House ratcheted up its escalating war on journalists on Wednesday, when the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, in a rare moment of actually speaking to the press, repeatedly called the news media the “opposition party.”
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Bannon, the former owner of the white supremacist trash news-site, Breitbart News, told the New York Times.
“I want you to quote this: 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.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Bannon repeated to the Times’ reporter. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Well, he is correct on one count, at least: The Democratic Party is not the opposition party. Not at all.
Trump’s self-declared “running war” with the U.S. news media was a hallmark of his presidential campaign. In the recent squabble over the size of his pitifully under-attended inauguration ceremony, Trump called journalists, “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
During a Jan. 11 press conference at Trump Tower in New York, Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, flippantly telling him, “Not you. Your organization is terrible.”
The then-president-elect proceeded to blast CNN as “fake news,” and called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.”
Now, as president, Trump and his administration are continuing to push an authoritarian, anti-fact agenda by not only remaining openly hostile toward the media and reporters, but by constantly insisting the news they disseminate is not factual, but is rather, “fake news.”
The irony of a millionaire celebrity like Trump (who received hundreds of hours of free media coverage on the campaign trail, which arguably contributed to his winning the election) biting the veritable hand that feeds him aside, distrust of the “elite” news media is a major common trait among Trump’s supporters.
And, frankly, I can’t say that I blame them for distrusting the media.
While the notion that the corporate media maintain an overwhelmingly “liberal” bias is patently absurd (and has been widely debunked by numerous analyses), there is, nonetheless, good reason to be skeptical of the major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.
These are the same institutions that uncritically accepted the Bush administration’s lies justifying the Iraq war. They failed to foresee the 2008 housing crisis and the subsequent Great Recession, despite warnings from prominent economists. They unanimously championed the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks that gambled with customers’ money and sent the global economy into a tailspin.
And now they are passively echoing the CIA’s completely unverified claims that Russia covertly influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, thus raising the specter of a new Cold War between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
With a track record like this, who wouldn’t distrust the media?
“What is typically presented as news analysis,” Amy Goodman writes in the introduction to her 2009 essay compilation, Breaking the Sound Barrier, “is, for the most part, a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. While they may appear to differ, they are quibbling over how quickly the bombs should be dropped, not asking whether they should be dropped at all.”
And the problem is not limited to Fox News —though they are a big part of it. “Liberal” outlets like MSNBC, the New York Times, and NPR do just as much lying, spinning, and obfuscating as the unapologetically corporate networks. (Right-wing billionaire, David Koch, even sits on the board of NPR.)
In an actual democracy, the media act as a vital check on corporate and governmental abuses of power. The press serves as a vigilant “watchdog,” entrusted to alert readers to government malfeasance, and to speak truth to power. The role of the press, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
But we do not live in a true democracy. We live under capitalism. Though widely viewed as synonymous, the two systems are, in fact, highly incompatible.
News under capitalism is little more than a commodity. Nike sells sneakers. Starbucks sells coffee. The Wall Street Journal sells “news.”
Six corporations own and control 90 percent of the print and television media Americans get their news from. As such, the major media outlets do more to obsequiously kowtow to the ruling power elites and parrot their lies, than to challenge them. They are more lap-dogs than watchdogs.
(Still think the media are “liberal”? Try comparing the size of the “Business” section in your local daily newspaper, to the size of the “Labor” section. Oh wait … There is no “Labor” section!)
And the rise of celebrity journalists like Anderson Cooper (average earnings: $11 million), Rachel Maddow ($7 million), Bill O’ Reilly ($17 million), Megyn Kelly ($6 million), and Katie Couric ($10 million) has only further removed the news-reporting profession from the concerns of working class people.
These pseudo-journalists place a premium on maintaining their access to officials in power. But that access only comes to reporters who are obedient, non-confrontational, and generally tow the corporate-party line.
“US establishment journalism is anything but an outsider force,” writes Glenn Greenwald in his book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.
It is wholly integrated into the nation’s dominant political power. Culturally, emotionally, and socioeconomically, they are one and the same. Rich, famous, insider journalists do not want to subvert the status quo that so lavishly rewards them. Like all courtiers, they are eager to defend the system that vests them with their privileges and contemptuous of anyone who challenges that system.
This cozy relationship between the press and the state was perfectly encapsulated during the 2007 Radio-Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner, when then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove launched into a seemingly impromptu rap (dubbing himself, “MC Rove”), while Meet the Press host, David Gregory, danced awkwardly behind him.
It is a painful, eye-rolling sight, to be certain. But it is one that proves it is not merely Hollywood–the right’s second-favorite political punching-bag–that is “out of touch” with working class Americans.
Indeed, it is for good reason that investigative reporters like Goodman and Seymour Hersh are not invited to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. True journalists are hated and despised by the bourgeois power elite.
While Bannon likely intended his “opposition party” label as an insult, it is actually an accurate description of what, ideally, journalism should be.
All of this is to acknowledge that just as the working class in this country has no real political party, it also has no media that accurately speaks to working people’s daily lived experience. The corporate owned and controlled media serve to reinforce society’s ruling ideas–which, as Marx and Engels understood, are the “ideas of the ruling class.”
For this reason, socialists have a long tradition of writing, printing, and circulating their own newspapers, produced by and for the working class. These papers–like the International Socialist Organization’s monthly publication, Socialist Worker–aim to both spread socialist ideas, and empower readers with local and national news of the latest strikes, protests, walk-outs, and anti-war rallies.
These explicitly left-wing newspapers are in keeping with Jello Biafra’s mantra, “Don’t hate the media. Become the media.”
Finally, it is important to note that Trump’s “running war” with the media is, in fact, nothing new. It started under Barack Obama.
While Obama never explicitly targeted the entire media industry as Trump has, he did wage a vicious war on investigative journalists and whistleblowers. Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act (the same law socialist leader, Eugene Debs, was imprisoned under, in 1918) than all previous administrations combined.
I realize liberals do not like to hear these inconvenient truths about their Nobel Peace Prize-winning president’s legacy. But it is crucial we understand that the policies Trump is already pursuing have not materialized in a vacuum. The neoliberal policies presented by the “lesser evil” Democrats inevitably pave the way for the “greater evil” of President Trump and the radical right.
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed,” George Orwell wrote. “Everything else is public relations.”
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