President Trump’s chief strategist just said flat out what has been clear for weeks: This administration considers journalists the enemy and plans to do everything it can to weaken and delegitimize the free press over the next four years.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Steve Bannon told The New York Times yesterday. “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.”
“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Bannon added. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign. … That’s why you have no power. You were humiliated.”
Bannon has laid bare the Trump administration’s expectations for the press. Trump’s team has no respect for the place of adversarial journalism in the democratic process. The president and his administration's officials want -- and believe they deserve -- favorable coverage. And if they don’t get it, they will lash out at reporters, outlets, and the media as a whole.
Sycophants and propagandists -- like Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump website Bannon ran until joining the Trump campaign last year -- will be favored. Those who dare to publish stories that damage the administration, or point out Trump and his administration’s lies, will be punished.
Throughout his campaign, Trump laced into the press, blacklisted journalists and outlets who provided critical coverage, threatened to use the power of the government against them and open up libel laws, and condemned them to press pens where he could mock them for the surrounding crowd. His former campaign manager physically battered a reporter who got out of line.
Now he’s president, and there is no sign of a pivot. Instead, his performance draws eerie parallels to the actions of authoritarian regimes that have targeted and crushed the independence of the press in their own countries.
Reporters can stand up for the principles they hold dear, or they can be steamrolled and humiliated.
On Friday, Trump will give his first press conference as president. It will be his next opportunity to bend them to his will -- and their next chance to do something about it.