Senior White House adviser Steve Bannon has made quite a few headlines for labeling the media as the “opposition party,” but comments like his are not new and they’re certainly not exclusive to conservatives.
In 2009, former President Barack Obama’s White House communications director Anita Dunn said the then-new Democratic administration planned to “treat Fox News the way we would treat an opponent.”
“I mean the reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” she said at the time. “When they want to treat us like they treat everyone else — but let’s not pretend they are a news network the way CNN is.”
Bannon, a former executive at the right-wing Breitbart News, made similar comments to the New York Times Thursday, saying, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper responded Thursday afternoon to the rebuke from Bannon, offering the White House counselor a one-word response: “No.”
Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro, an ex-Breitbart staffer who is no fan of Bannon, went on CNN Friday morning to push back against the mainstream rejection of the top Trump adviser’s comments:
What he actually said was the media should shut up and listen more to the American people so they can get better at their job, was essentially what he was trying to say.
I think that what he’s saying here is not entirely incorrect: There is a vast gap between the media’s perception of itself and the public perception of the media. The reason Trump keeps picking fights with the media is because it’s a fight he can win.
The American people don’t actually trust the media at this point, mainly because the media seem like they’re representing their own interests, we’re like a separate class, as opposed to people who are defending the interests of the American people.
Nearly every mainstream media outlet — save Fox — has piled on Bannon and the Trump administration for the adversarial position the White House has taken toward the press corps. And when a similar situation developed with Fox News under former President Barack Obama in 2009, many in the media did the same.
In fact, Tapper, then the White House correspondent for ABC News, challenged the Obama administration for suggesting Fox is “not a news organization.” He had this to say to then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs:
It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one?
Tapper continued to challenge Gibbs on the “sweeping declaration,” but the former press secretary didn’t budge, ultimately saying, “That’s our opinion.”
And Tapper wasn’t the only one in the news media to come to Fox’s defense. CNN media analyst Brian Stelter, who at the time worked for the New York Times, wrote that, while attacking the media “is a time-honored White House tactic,” the Obama administration did so “to an unusual degree.”
The ordeal reached a boiling point when the White House tried to exclude Fox, and the entire White House press pool, which consists of five networks, presented a united front:
The Treasury Department on Thursday tried to make “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews to every member of the network pool except Fox News.
But the Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks consulted and decided that none of their reporters would interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included.
Ultimately, the White House caved, granting interviews to all five pool members and Bloomberg TV.
As for Bannon, senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended her fellow staffer Friday morning on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” claiming many in the media aren’t reporting but broadcasting opinions.
“There’s an awful lot of opining going on by individuals who call themselves reporters, and you’re supposed to talk about the news, not use a snarky comment here, an eye roll there, an adjective that’s insulting or congenitally negative — that’s really not the job,” she said.