'Keep your mouth shut!'

'Keep your mouth shut!' January 27, 2017

On Wednesday The New York Times talked to Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, above, formerly executive chair of the far-right website Breitbart News. What Bannon had to say is startling.

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

That would be unremarkable if it were just another blurt on Twitter by one of the vast army of far-right trolls who have found so much happiness there. But Bannon is now an important member of the executive branch of the actual government of the US.
He’s not a giggling troll enjoying the outrage of the Social Justice Warriors any more, he’s someone with power and influence over a large and heavily militarized country. He’s telling The New York Times that journalism and journalists are the enemy and that they should stop doing journalism and “just listen” – to the bosses. It’s an outrageous thing for someone in government to say – and what he says next is even worse. “They don’t understand this country” is classic them v us territory; it’s classic othering. It’s reminiscent of Goebbels.
Let’s read some Goebbels. Let’s read some of the essay “The Jews Are Guilty!” from 1941, translated by Randall Bytwerk.

Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle, regardless of whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or carries on his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. All Jews by virtue of their birth and their race are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They want its defeat and annihilation, and do all in their power to bring it about. That they can do nothing inside the Reich is hardly a sign of their loyalty, but rather of the appropriate measures we took against them.

What Bannon said is too much like that for comfort. Calling the news media “the opposition party” is a good deal too much like calling them part of an international conspiracy, and it literally is calling them “our enemy.” And Goebbels hated the newspapers too:

It always happens that when we take some measure against the Jews, English or American newspapers report it the next day. Even today the Jews still have secret connections to our enemies abroad and use these not only in their own cause, but in all military matters of the Reich as well. The enemy is in our midst.

Bannon’s words are an unashamed move to delegitimize journalism, and they’re shocking coming from a powerful figure in the White House.
The interview continues:

Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”
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.”

Like a taint, a mark of Cain, a pollution.

Asked if he was concerned that Mr. Spicer had lost credibility with the news media, Mr. Bannon chortled. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning his integrity’ – are you kidding me? The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Mr. Bannon said. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Mr. Bannon mostly referred to the “elite” or “mainstream” media, but he cited The New York Times and The Washington Post by name.
“The paper of record for our beloved republic, The New York Times, should be absolutely ashamed and humiliated,” Mr. Bannon said. “They got it 100 percent wrong.”

I would like to think of all that as just a common-or-garden Internet rant, but it’s coming from inside the house.
Meanwhile the Trump administration has ordered the government agencies concerned with science to shut their mouths.

Scientists and environmentalists reacted with fear this week as the Trump administration purged nearly all mention of climate change programs from the White House and State Department websites and ordered a freeze on federal grant spending at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies.
Memos ordered employees of at least four agencies not to send out news releases or to create social media posts, blog entries or official website content, and to consult with senior officials before speaking to the news media.

The memos were sent to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. There is an argument that this is simply standard procedure when there is a change of administration, but many employees of the agencies say a total media blackout – a “keep your mouth shut” – is unusual.
On the hopeful side: telling us to shut our mouths is the surest way to get us to talk louder and more.

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  • MrGrumpyPants

    I’ve seen over two years of bullshit-spasms by the media over Trump. The quality is less than stellar, to put it mildly, and a tiny fraction of it is actual journalism and the rest is all overhyped fearmongering and tabloid ‘jouranalism’ where he is compared to nazis – sort of like your article here.
    When Bannon tells you to shut up, he means all the stupid tabloid fearmongering bullshit parade that is often funded by Soros and all those Davos idiots.
    Dammit, the fucking Huffington Post is fucking UNREADABLE now because of people like you.
    Yeah. Shut the fuck up already unless you have something INTELLIGENT to say about PRESIDENT TRUMP because, frankly, this op-ed of yours is like a poster child for stupid.
    Just my opinion, but acting like you drank some apeshit koolaid isn’t going to win you any awards with me, but why should you give a fuck what I think?
    You wanted to write and get published.
    Well, here you are. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Daz

    Do you have any actual criticisms, or is empty ranting all you have to offer?

  • Gill Kerry

    @daz. Seconded.

  • Mr. GrumpyPants

    So a guy names himself Mr. GrumpyPants, comes along and yells out his grumpy criticisms.
    Then some yobs sneer that they didn’t read any criticisms because it was grumpily put.
    Gee whillikers I guess any grumpy people better watch out we got some wee beasties a-snarlin’ away here. Someone might get bit and catch rabies or summat. Stand back everyone! I once stayed at a Holiday Express, so feck off.

  • Daz

    I don’t care how “grumpily put” your criticisms were. I care that they’re content-free. I would merely like to see some criticisms which are based on discussion of why and upon what grounds, you claim something Ms Benson said was wrong.
    All you’ve done so far is to echo Bannon’s instruction to “shut up.” To which my only possible reply is “Why on Earth should I?” Some reading for you.

  • Peter Sykes

    Nice try, but I don’t think there’s any hope with this guy.
    The loony left are bad, but the rabid right are just weird!

  • Oh no, I’ve rendered the Huffington Post unreadable?!
    I’m so ashamed.

  • Brian Jordan

    Topical, sure, but hardly on-topic here. Trump & Co look like having far more to answer for in facilitating the religious right than in criticising their media critics. For instance, their attitude to reproduction seems horrendous and I dread to think how many creationists are waiting to come from the voodvork out.
    (Apologies to Reginald Bretnor)

  • Stephen Mynett

    Sorry Ophelia, it is a great accolade but I fear a great many made PuffHo unreadable some time back, their love of trendy politics and those who accommodate Islam finished them off.
    As for the Grumpy one, I suggest you check out criticism in the academic sense, it requires reasoned argument and, where possible, examples or quotes. Just shouting insults and swearing does not fall into that category.

  • Miss Bannon certainly looks very dainty sat there in that chair, as though she hasn’t a care in the world. It must be said that her blue shorts and hairy legs are most becoming. I do hope that President Trump is able to control his ardour when in Miss Bannon’s presence, and that no unseemly ‘grabbing’ occurs.

  • Hardly on-topic here? Really? You don’t think a free press is relevant to freethinking? You don’t think government threats and bullying of a free press are relevant to freethinking? What can we think freely about if there’s no free press?

  • Brian Jordan

    @Ophelia Benson
    The American press isn’t up to much, if it lets a few remarks like that worry it. But then, maybe it’s still reeling because the populace didn’t listen to it and chose the wrong horrible person.
    I grant you that potential censorship is relevant to freethinking but there are plenty of voices berating Trump for his politics. Whereas people here tend to focus more on the dire effects of religion – which could well be delivered in spades by his administration.

  • Grumpy is very amusing! I do hope he posts many more comments here in future. Let’s face it, we could all do with a bit of a larf now and again.

  • Brian Jordan – what do you mean “people here tend to focus more on the dire effects of religion”? What “people here”? Are you saying I’m an interloper violating the norms of the club?

  • Brian Jordan

    @Ophelia Benson
    Barry has given you a slot, no doubt recognising the strength of your record and, I’m sure, invited you to write whatever you think is appropriate . I’m simply expanding on what I meant by off-topic and suggesting what I, personally – and maybe others – would welcome hearing you discussing if you choose to talk about Trump’s presidency.

  • Ah, ok, thanks for clarifying.
    Honestly I don’t think I’ve failed in my duty to write about the oppressions of religion here. I’ve done quite a lot of that. I could ignore Trump and talk about something else, but since I think he represents a terrible looming threat to practically everything…I write about that. As for talking about religion and Trump – I don’t believe that’s where the threat is.

  • Also (she added belatedly)…I like to consider the ways thought is made unfree that are not to do with religion as well as the ways that are. Trump & co detest free thought and will shut it down if they can.

  • Dan

    Where does the Freethinker apply for Soros funding?

  • Wtf?

  • So we’re getting anti-Semitic trolling now.
    Breitbart News’ Twitter account used anti-Semitic rhetoric, commonly used in 1930’s Nazi propaganda, to attack philanthropist George Soros’ efforts to combat voter suppression laws. The anti-Semitic attack is in keeping with a troubling pattern of anti-Semitism from Breitbart, which President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon formerly ran and has bragged is home to the “alt-right,” a racist white nationalist movement.
    Linking to a “flashback” story about Soros’ financial role supporting “legal battles against state voting laws,” the Breitbart Twitter account tweeted on November 28, “Like an octopus.”
    The “octopus” wording is overt anti-Semitic rhetoric dating back to at least the 1930s, when it was a common theme in Nazi propaganda. The imagery of a Jewish octopus engulfing the globe or ensnaring political institutions can be found on other white supremacist and neo-Nazi online forums, as well as on Fox News’ airwaves.
    That Breitbart is attacking Soros with anti-Semitic rhetoric is not surprising — the white nationalist site was formerly run by Bannon, who has bragged that Breitbart News had become home to the “alt-right” — which is merely a racist code word for white nationalists. In 2007, Bannon’s ex-wife swore in court that Bannon “said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to school with Jews. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart attacked media and political figures using anti-Semitic rhetoric, to the point where a former Breitbart employee accused the website of embracing “a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

    That piece is dated November 28 – before Trump took office and made Bannon his chief advisor and a principle on the National Security Council.
    Nazis and anti-Semites are not actually fans of free thinking you know.

  • Daz

    Might be anti-Semitic, or it might not. My guess, which is a guess, is that it is, but it’s possible that Dan’s “merely” attempting a cheap-shot reference to Soros’s well-known and very publicly expressed dislike of Trump.
    Either way, it’s nice to see such intelligent, issue-engaged discussion of his (and GrumpyKnickers’, I might note) objections to points made, ain’t it.

  • Dan

    No, no, mrgrumpypants first ridiculous post here said:
    “the stupid tabloid fearmongering bullshit parade that is often funded by Soros and all those Davos idiots.”
    This is conspiratorial nonsense, of course, and I was posting ironically. But perhaps a bit late,which meant I got misunderstood.

  • Dan

    I would also say that the Freethinker has always covered issues beyond the narrowly religious. This is because it stands for a set of values, not only atheism. Go back through the Ft pages and you’ll find regular scraps about politics, and quite right too.

  • Ohh, beg pardon – I skipped most of Monsieur Grumpypants’s comment and instantly forgot what I did read, so yes, I missed the reference.

  • Stephen Mynett

    An interesting piece from the National Secular Society site: http://www.secularism.org.uk/blog/2017/01/president-trump–american-theocrat

  • Daz

    Fair enough. Sorry for misunderstanding.

  • Brian Jordan

    Daz says:
    Might be anti-Semitic, or it might not. My guess, which is a guess, is that it is, but it’s possible that Dan’s “merely” attempting a cheap-shot reference to Soros’s well-known and very publicly expressed dislike of Trump.
    My guess is that it isn’t anti-Semitic. Just because Soros is Jewish is no reason to suppose that all opposition to his politics is anti-Semitic. Just as there is no reason to suppose that any criticism of Islam is an attack on all Muslims.
    Soros actually appears to be against the state of Israel. Should he be labelled anti-Semitic then?