Trump’s Aide Is Right: Media Do Need To Shut Up And Listen

Trump’s Aide Is Right: Media Do Need To Shut Up And Listen

The media are upset at a Trump aide's criticism. But he's absolutely right that they need to talk less and listen more if they want to report better.
Mollie Hemingway
By

Top Trump aide Steve Bannon took an interview with The New York Times to deliver a message to the media. The full story is worth a read, but here’s the beginning:

WASHINGTON — Just days after President Trump spoke of a “running war’’ with the media, his chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, ratcheted up the attacks, arguing that news organizations had been ‘humiliated’ by the election outcome 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 a while,’ Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.

‘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.’

The rhetoric is direct, but none of this should be surprising. The media have been openly and avowedly warring with Donald Trump ever since he won the Republican nomination, if not before. They have obviously positioned themselves as the opposition party to the current administration. This same media completely misread the underlying fundamentals of the 2016 election in just about every way it was possible to mis-read an election. Also, apart from a brief mea culpa here or there, the major media made virtually no effort to understand the country that just elected Trump president. They not only didn’t apologize for their mistakes or attempt to rebuild trust with readers, listeners, and viewers, they also made no systematic changes to the way they hire or promote employees or stories.

Bannon said “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” This is, essentially, what ombudsmen tried to tell their papers in the aftermath of their 2016 election coverage failures. Here, for example, is New York Times ombudsman Liz Spayd saying just that.

Okay, here’s how our media reported Bannon’s comment.

The Twitter curated imoments section described this interview this way:

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For the love of all that’s holy.

First off, could we please simmer down? Could we stop pretending the media’s entire posture toward Trump since he won the nomination has been anything other than oppositional? And that Trump has been anything other than oppositional to the media?

Now, it’s undoubtedly true that both are engaged in some serious dysfunctional codependency in which they thrive on each other. Some reporters have been vocal about the need to stop him. Others have said he must not be “normalized.” Precisely no one is confused about whether the media are part of the elite establishment that Trump has vocally said needs to be destroyed.

For war language against the press, look no further than Team Obama in 2009, as reported in The New York Times: “’We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,’ said Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, in a telephone interview on Sunday. ‘As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.’”

Second, if you’re going to react to Bannon on the media, give the quote! And learn which part of the quote is meaningful. The important part of the quote wasn’t about shutting up, but listening.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.

Just listen for a while!

Yes, we know the media are defensive. But how could you miss the actual point of the quote? If you don’t know why Trump won, if you have made no effort to understand the moment, maybe stop telling people what they should think and just listen. Like reporters are supposed to. It’s actually unbelievably helpful advice that, were the media to take it, would render them much more able to hold the Trump administration accountable.

As I put it a couple of weeks ago:

Politico press critic Jack Shafer reacted to Bannon:

Of course, “shut up” is the most cartoonishly stupid and self-serving interpretation of what Bannon said. That’s why reporters rushed to it for in-group and peer-group Twitter affirmations.

“Listen,” on the other hand, is the most devastating and biting press criticism, and the one that the media are ignoring. As one reader put it, “Kind of perfect that Bannon tells the press they should listen more and they don’t even wait to hear him say that.”

For an example of what listening journalism is like, look to photographer Jayne Riew. She just posted photos of seven women who defied stereotypes to vote for Trump and told a little about their reasoning. She introduced her piece by writing:

I was very apprehensive about a President Trump. But I was repelled by the ugly stereotypes and facile theories about his supporters. In the subway and coffee shops of lower Manhattan I overheard people trying to picture the Americans who had handed Trump the election: ‘people who haven’t seen the world,’ ‘no one with a daughter,’ ‘resentful of our success,’ ‘unskilled and no-tech,’ ‘old and behind the times,’ ‘duped,’ ‘white people who are afraid,’ and all the usual –ists.

In many parts of America, female Trump supporters knew they had to keep their voting intentions hidden, not just from pollsters, but from people close to them. That intrigued me. What else did they have to say?

To reach 42%, Trump had to have drawn in women who didn’t fit the stereotype. I set out to find some. Asking friends of friends, I identified dozens of women and reached out to them. Most said no. A few felt they could take part in a photo essay only if I hid their faces and identities. Others backed out when they learned that I had voted for Clinton. But seven generous women gave me their trust as well as their insights and personal stories.

Go look at the pictures here. Riew looked and listened. In the process, she did more to serve the public interest than a thousand wailing groupthinkers pounding out identical tweets showcasing the outrage du jour. May more follow her lead.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway

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