Investigative Fund reporter with The Nation Institute
The battle between Donald Trump and the press escalated Thursday after one of Trump’s top advisers called the media the opposition party. In a rare interview with The New York Times, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said, "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, added, "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." We speak to reporter Sarah Posner, who interviewed Bannon in July. In August, she wrote a headline-grabbing article for Mother Jones about Steve Bannon titled "How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists."
AMY GOODMAN: The battle between Donald Trump and the press escalated on Thursday after one of Trump’s top advisers called the media "the opposition party." In a rare interview with The New York Times, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said, quote, "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut." Bannon added, "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," unquote.
Bannon is the former head of right-wing Breitbart Media, which frequently publishes racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and xenophobic news. While he rarely speaks to the media, Breitbart is now playing a key role in the new administration. According to reports, Bannon wrote part of Trump’s inuaugural speech and penned Trump’s executive orders on everything from expanding the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to weakening the Affordable Care Act. Bannon also recently tapped Breitbart’s national security editor, Sebastian Gorka, and immigration reporter, Julia Hahn, to join the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the president himself was interviewed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night and described much of the media as "fake news."
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The media—much of the media, not all of it—is very, very dishonest. Honestly, it’s fake news. It’s fake. They make things up.
SEAN HANNITY: So, then, here’s my question. Between Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I think—I think you reach 50 million people.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, pretty close.
SEAN HANNITY: But if—we know now, through WikiLeaks, some of these networks were colluding—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah.
SEAN HANNITY: —with Hillary’s campaign to defeat you.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right.
SEAN HANNITY: I’ve seen major newspapers, two cable networks that used the word "liar." And my question to you is: Does that make you want to rethink, entirely, how this in administration will deal with the media?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, they’re the liars. Let me give you an example. When Sean got up, he talked about the audience. And he talked about I had the largest audience or—I did. I had the largest audience, if you add the television, you add all the sources, the largest audience in the history of inaugurations. I did. They try and demean it. ... They are so demeaning, and they are so dishonest and, in many cases, not smart. But when you bring up—
SEAN HANNITY: But I don’t remember them treating Barack Obama this way.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They don’t. Look—
SEAN HANNITY: There is a distinct difference—or Hillary.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That could never have happened.
SEAN HANNITY: Yeah.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The things that happened to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us right now is Sarah Posner, Investigative Fund reporter with The Nation Institute. In August, she wrote a headline-grabbing article for Mother Jones about Steve Bannon titled "How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists." Her most recent piece in Rolling Stone is headlined "Trump Makes Good on His Nativist Campaign Promises."
Sarah, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, comment on Stephen Bannon’s statements to The New York Times that the press is "the opposition party" and "should keep its mouth shut."
SARAH POSNER: Well, this is an effort by the Trump administration to intimidate the media, first. And second, the comments are directed not just at the media, which I would predict is going to be not intimidated by Bannon, but it’s also directed at Bannon’s own audience at Breitbart News and the entire constellation of the alt-right, for which Bannon claimed that Breitbart is the platform. He told me in July that Breitbart is the platform for the alt-right. So, this is an effort to delegitimize the media in the eyes of the Breitbart audience—the Trump base, more broadly—by suggesting that the media has dishonestly covered Donald Trump, when, in fact, the chief complaint that has been lodged against the media by the Trump administration, and amplified on by President Trump last night in that clip that you just played, is based on hard facts about numbers that Donald Trump doesn’t like.
Now, ironically, the alt-right spends much of its time deriding colleges and universities across the United States as havens for weak and hysterical people who need safe spaces and trigger warnings; meanwhile, the president of the United States cannot accept the cold hard facts of how many people were at his inauguration, and sent his press secretary out to complain that the staff has been demoralized by the coverage, which was just based on those facts.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Sarah, if you can talk more about Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, you know, the top aide to President Trump, telling the media to shut up. Breitbart News, talk about this institution, also bringing in two more Breitbart News reporters to the inner circle of the White House.
SARAH POSNER: Well, I would suggest to your viewers to take a look at Breitbart News. I know that a lot of people don’t want to look at it. They consider it to be fake news, rightfully so. It’s basically just propaganda. But looking at it and reading some of the coverage there and reading the headlines will give someone a lot of insight into how the Trump administration is functioning, because Bannon has the president’s ear.
Breitbart News was founded by the conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, and Bannon took over after Breitbart died suddenly about four or five years ago. Under Bannon’s leadership, even former reporters and editors at Breitbart have said that it became a haven for the alt-right, for white nationalists, for racists. The coverage—the so-called coverage on the site, that was written by—that’s written by its reporters, feeds into these racist and xenophobic themes. It portrays refugees and immigrants as criminals. It has derided the Black Lives Matter movement. And the coverage is not news. It’s definitely from a very far-right perspective. And if you read it, it will cause you to question your sense of reality, which is exactly what they’re looking for. You read it, and you think, "Wow! This is not what I’ve seen with my own eyes." And that’s exactly what the Trump administration wants the public to start questioning.
So, Bannon, when I interviewed him at the Republican National Convention in July, like I said, he told me that Breitbart is the platform for the alt-right. He denied that the alt-right is a white nationalist movement, but he basically admitted that it’s an ethnonationalist movement, and he pointed to these far-right, authoritarian, populist movements in Europe that were the model for the alt-right. And he said that these nationalist movements were alive and well in the United States before President Trump became a candidate for president, that he did not create this movement. And Bannon actually credited somebody else with really spurring this movement, and that’s Jeff Sessions, who’s about to become Trump’s attorney general.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Steve Bannon speaking in 2013 at the Future of Conservatism conference. At the time, Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News.
STEPHEN BANNON: I think anger is a good thing. I think if you’re fighting—this country is in a crisis. And if you’re fighting to save this country, if you’re fighting to take this country back, it’s—you know, it’s not going to be sunshine and patriots. It’s going to be people who want to fight. I mean, Andrew Breitbart was all about the fight. In fact, we call ourselves, internally, the fight club. Right? And our watchword is kind of "fights that matter." ... I am not in agreement, at all, that we need to be the party of empathy—and by that, I mean false empathy—because that is just the slow walk to statism. There is a certain point in time that you have to explain that these programs have not worked and they’ve enslaved people.
AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Posner, your comment on Steve Bannon?
SARAH POSNER: Well, this is part of the ideology that has fueled the alt-right and has fueled Trump’s rise, the idea that the civil rights movement or the women’s rights movement have altered American society in terrible ways, that it has changed life for white Americans in ways that have been detrimental to them. And this is—this is a fight, in Bannon’s own words, over the soul of what America is. Is America a pluralistic democracy, or is America an authoritarian, nationalist, populist society? And this is the battle that Steve Bannon is waging from within the White House and drawing the media into it by portraying the media as something—as an institution that’s not—not an institution that is protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution. You notice in those comments that he made, that you just played, he doesn’t talk about the Constitution at all or how the Constitution protects a free press or the free speech rights and many other rights of Americans. He portrays all of that as having run amok, basically. And this is—this is one of the chief advisers to President Trump right now, chief strategist to President Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Stephen Bannon has faced questions about domestic abuse and anti-Semitic comments. He was charged in 1996 with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. A Santa Monica, California, police report said Bannon grabbed his wife at the time, Mary Louise Piccard, quote, "by the throat and arm" and threatened to leave with the couple’s twin daughters. Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were later dropped that year when Piccard didn’t appear in court. She claimed in divorce proceedings Bannon pressured her not to testify. Piccard also said in a sworn 2007 court filing that Bannon made anti-Semitic comments when the two argued over whether to send their daughters to a private school. According to one document, Piccard said, "He said [that] he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be 'whiny brats' and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews," unquote. So, this report of him grabbing his wife by the throat, now this whole idea of really trying to choke the press by telling them to shut up.
SARAH POSNER: Well, I think it’s fairly obvious, even without those allegations in the domestic cases, which Bannon has denied—I think it’s obvious that he’s behaving like a bully. And if you’ve seen the reaction of the press—I mean, there was a clip that was going around last night of Jake Tapper reading back the quote from Bannon and then basically—you know, saying that the press should shut up—and Tapper just says, "No." This is going to be the reaction of the press. The press is not going to listen or be bullied by Steve Bannon to, quote-unquote, "shut up." I think you and I both know that.
But I would like to point out something about the anti-Semitism charge. Something that really struck me when I interviewed Bannon back in July was that I asked him about what had happened to one of his former employees at Breitbart, a reporter and editor by the name of Ben Shapiro. After Shapiro left Breitbart in the wake of Breitbart not standing by its reporter, Michelle Fields, after she was grabbed at a Trump press conference by then Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, he was subjected to a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse—Shapiro was subjected to a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter and other social media, email and so on. One prime example of it was, after he had announced on Twitter the birth of his and his wife’s second child, someone tweeted back at him, "To the ovens with all of you." I asked Bannon about that at the convention, and he cut me off before I could even finish the sentence, and said, "Ben Shapiro is a whiner." So, rather—I was surprised, because I would have thought that most people would have said something more along the lines of "I’m very sorry that that happened to my former employee, and I do not condone that kind of behavior," but instead, he just said that Shapiro was a whiner. So I thought that that was very telling of what Bannon thinks about that kind of harassment and abuse online and how seriously he takes the charges of anti-Semitism.
AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Posner, I want to thank you for being with us, with the Investigative Fund with The Nation Institute, most recent piece, we’ll link to, in Rolling Stone, "Trump Makes Good on His Nativist Campaign Promises." Also, Sarah Posner is author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.
When we come back, the Mexican president cancels his trip to Washington, D.C., saying Mexico will not pay for the wall. Stay with us.