Well, if the Trump White House has caused the news media’s blood pressure to rise over the past few days, it’s about to spike big league over remarks made by chief strategist Stephen Bannon. In an interview with The New York Times, Bannon said that the news media is the “opposition party,” and that they were humiliated during the 2016 election. As a result, they should keep their mouths shut for a while:
Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the American press during an interview on Wednesday evening, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by an election outcome few anticipated, and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.
“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.”
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.”
On the telephone, Mr. Bannon spoke in blunt but calm tones, peppered with a dose of profanities, and humorously referred to himself at one point as “Darth Vader.” He said, with ironic relish, that Mr. Trump was elected by a surge of support from “the working class hobbits and deplorables.”
For the elites, this is troubling. It’s a de facto attack on the press. For Trump’s supporters, it’s another example of delivering an upper cut to the media, which was appallingly biased against the president during the election. For someone who was eager to see the media get punched in the mouth for their reporting of Republicans and conservative causes, this is a dream come true. Even President Trump called out the news media for ignoring protests that draw hundreds of thousands of people for conservative causes, like Friday's March for Life demonstration.
In an interview with ABC News’ David Muir Thursday night, Muir asked if the president was able to hear the Women’s March from the White House. Trump said he didn’t, but noted that the press should cover today’s pro-life march. By comparison, NBC, CBS, and ABC gave 129 times more coverage to the Women’s March than the 2016 March for Life, which highlights the explicit media bias that’s frustrated conservatives. With Trump, we have a president who will rip into the media, but he isn’t the first president to feel slighted by the media. Moreover, if people are worried about the Trump administration going after the media, they should probably go back and re-read what the Obama administration did to the Associated Press and Fox News’ James Rosen. Also, they can thank the Obama White House for setting the precedent.
First, a trip through history, where the late President John F. Kennedy saw newspapers as his natural enemies, though he felt differently about individual journalists:
He both assisted and resented the press corps as they dogged his every footstep," wrote long-time aide and speechwriter Theodore Sorensen in his biography Kennedy. "He had an inexhaustible capacity to take displeasure from what he read ... and an equally inexhaustible capacity to keep on reading more than anyone else in Washington."
Mike Allen, author of the Politico Playbook, re-printed other Sorensen writings on Kennedy and the media.
They sound awfully familiar:
"He [Kennedy] regarded [journalists] as his natural friends and newspapers as his natural enemies. He was more concerned about a news column read by thousands than a newscast viewed by millions. …
"He always expected certain writers and publications to be inconsistent and inaccurate, but was always indignant when they were. …
Flash-forward to 2013, where it was discovered that the Obama White House was spying on Fox News journalist James Rosen because he reported on leaked information about North Korea. He was named as a co-conspirator under the Espionage Act of 1917 in the charges filed against a former State Department staffer who gave Rosen the details:
The Justice Department spied extensively on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, tracking his movements in and out of the State Department and seizing two days of Rosen’s personal emails, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
In a chilling move sure to rile defenders of civil liberties, an FBI agent also accused Rosen of breaking anti-espionage law with behavior that—as described in the agent's own affidavit—falls well inside the bounds of traditional news reporting.
Journalists, First Amendment watchdogs and government transparency advocates reacted with outrage Monday to the revelation that the Justice Department had investigated the newsgathering activities of a Fox News reporter as a potential crime in a probe of classified leaks.
Critics said the government’s suggestion that James Rosen, Fox News’s chief Washington correspondent, was a “co-conspirator” for soliciting classified information threatened to criminalize press freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Others also suggested that the Justice Department’s claim in pursuing an alleged leak from the State Department was little more than pretext to seize his e-mails to build their case against the suspected leaker.
“It is downright chilling,” Fox News executive Michael Clemente said in a statement. “We will unequivocally defend [Rosen’s] right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.”
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said, “Asking for information has never been deemed a crime.”
The reactions followed a Washington Post report on the inner workings of a Justice Department investigation into a possible leak of classified information about North Korea.
The case centers on Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department arms expert accused of passing details to Rosen from a classified report within hours of its release to a small circle within the intelligence community. Investigators also targeted Rosen, calling him a co-conspirator in an affidavit seeking a search warrant for Rosen’s personal e-mails.
Then-Attorney General Eric Holder would eventually regret naming Rosen as a co-conspirator.
Oh, and let’s not forget how the Obama administration obtained phone records from Associated Press journalists from Verizon with no questions asked. The Department of Justice was investigating who leaked information about a failed terror attack. This also occurred in 2013 (via Slate):
When the feds came knocking for AP journalists’ call records last year, Verizon apparently turned the data over with no questions asked. The New York Times, citing an AP employee, reported Tuesday that at least two of the reporters’ personal cellphone records “were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena.”
A quick refresher on the back story: It emerged Monday that the Justice Department obtained AP journalists’ phone records as part of what is believed to be an aggressive probe into a leak about a foiled terror plot, which led to a May 2012 AP scoop. The government seized the records for more that 20 separate phone lines assigned to AP staff in April and May of 2012, the AP reported. The seizure of the records has prompted a backlash from media organizations, while Attorney General Eric Holder has tried to justify the intrusion by insisting that the leak “put the American people at risk.” The AP says that it published the story only after receiving assurances from the government that “the national security concerns had passed.”
The New York Times’ James Risen, who was involved in a leak case of his own and was given details about a failed intelligence operation regarding Iran’s nuclear program by an ex-CIA agent—wrote that if the media is worried about Trump going after them, they can thank President Obama [emphasis mine]:
Criticism of Mr. Obama’s stance on press freedom, government transparency and secrecy is hotly disputed by the White House, but many journalism groups say the record is clear. Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.
In a scathing 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of The Washington Post who now teaches at Arizona State University, said the war on leaks and other efforts to control information was “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”
When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, press freedom groups had high expectations for the former constitutional law professor, particularly after the press had suffered through eight years of bitter confrontation with the Bush administration. But today, many of those same groups say Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit. “Obama has laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, added: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.”
Press freedom advocates already fear that under Senator Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s choice to be attorney general, the Justice Department will pursue journalists and their sources at least as aggressively as Mr. Obama did. If Mr. Sessions does that, Ms. Dalglish said, “Obama handed him a road map.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to relive those days regarding the White House and the press under President Obama. Yet, it’s hard to defend the media because a) they've been horrible during the 2016 campaign; and b) if they're worried about government coming after them--it already has. It happened when the news media was drooling all over the Obama White House. So, if there is an instance where the Trump White House is perceived as going after the press, please refer them to the events of 2013 regarding Rosen and the Associated Press.
Also, if there is a concerted effort to criticize the Trump White House on transparency, again—let’s go back to 2013, where Paul D. Thacker wrote in Slate that Obama was a disaster on that front too:
After seeing years of heavy-handed secrecy and incessant White House claims of national security to hide the ball from Congress, I supported President Obama’s efforts to clean things up and restore some balance. But like most reporters, I am suspicious of these types of promises, especially from politicians. Regardless of who occupies the White House, I understand that power wants power. Scrutiny just gets in the way.
President Obama is no different. Whether it’s responding to Congress, media questions, or FOIA requests, this administration is no better than its predecessor. The big difference: Obama is a Democrat. And because he is a Democrat, he’s gotten a pass from many of the civil liberty and good-government groups who spent years watching President Bush’s every move like a hawk.
Indeed. Soon after he was sworn into office, Obama appointed an “ethics czar” named Norm Eisen, a successful attorney, who had been one of the president’s classmates at Harvard Law School and later became a major fundraiser to his campaign. Eisen was likely handed the ethics portfolio for a specific reason: He was steeped in the world of Washington watchdogs. (Eisen is one of the co-founders of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.) With Eisen on board, the administration was able to make cosmetic changes and neutralize harsh disapproval with a classic Washington maneuver—inviting potential critics to the White House for meetings. The administration understood that many of these groups would be satisfied by getting meetings with the ethics czar, and would calculate that if they became too critical of the president that their newfound “access” would be in peril. So the watchdogs have scampered up to the White House time and again, hopeful that maybe with the next election, the next initiative, maybe even the next meeting, something would change.
The most absurd example came a couple years ago when a group of Washington watchdogs went to the White House to give the president a “transparency” award, and the president refused to accept the award in public. The meeting wasn’t even listed on the president’s public schedule.
The watchdogs shouldn’t be fooled so easily. In March 2010, the Associated Press found that, under Obama, 17 major agencies were 50 percent more likely to deny FOIA requests than under Bush. The following year, the presidents of two journalism societies— Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Professional Journalists—called out President Obama for muzzling scientists in much the same way President Bush had. Last September, Bloomberg News tested Obama’s pledge by filing FOIA requests for the 2011 travel records of top officials at 57 agencies. Only about half responded.
Even when members of his own party ask questions, the Obama White House throws down an iron curtain. After demanding answers about the government response to the BP oil spill, Democratic Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva sent a long letter to Obama expressing disappointment with the “unjustifiable” redactions he received, “including entire pages blacked out in the middle of pertinent e-mail conversations.”
Alas, I forgot that Trump is a Republican. Therefore, the media’s quest for truth, crusade for accountability, and asking the tough questions has been reactivated. Bannon is a controversial figure. No doubt about that, but if they start a fight with Trump over press freedom and transparency, they must admit that Obama was no different. That is a fact. Their god was quite vengeful at times.