Steve's take on the Trump administration's ban on The New York Times and CNN...
There is a new item at the top of my bucket list this
morning. I was too young to get on Nixon’s enemies list, and I don’t know how
many more mentally unstable narcissist Presidents I will get to write about in
my lifetime. This is my chance, and I’m
not going to throw away my shot.
President Trump, please immediately ban BornToRunTheNumbers.com from all
future Sean Spicer press briefings!
This week witnessed Donald Trump ratchet up his administration’s war against
the news media by pointedly banning (perhaps, more accurately, Bannoning) reporters from The New York
Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and
several liberally-leaning websites from attending Sean Spicer’s daily press
briefings. This news appeared timed to delight the Donald Trump’s legions at
CPAC, the annual convention of Ann Coulter-geist
and Ted Cruz missiles.
Bannon! We wanna be banned, too!
There’s more than ego at stake here. It is totally unfair
for Donald Trump to single out these huge media organizations for a public
relations bonanza. What better way than making Trump’s “enemies list” is there to
revitalize the fortunes of the sagging newspaper industry and an aging cable
network that is surviving on ads for plaque psoriasis treatments and the AARP? We
want some of that action!
Ah, if we could only get Trump to say how awful we are! I will even write the tweet for him:
– fake news! Tom – so wrong! Wendy – paid protesters! Steve -- NOT FUNNY! BornToRunTheNumbers now banned from future press
conferences. #So sad!”
Yes… exactly 140 characters!
No doubt people over at CNN are dancing in their cubicles,
ecstatic that they have been officially grouped with The New York Times as the pre-eminent purveyors of what Trump lustily castigates as fake news. I
suspect that for serious journalists, being ordered to not attend a Sean Spicer
briefing is a bit like ordering a ten year old to not to attend waltz lessons. But
for CNN, which of late only witnesses ratings spikes when Malaysian airliners
stray from their flight path, this is a coup.
And coup does indeed seem to be the direction that Bannon and Trump are headed. Constitutional democracy?
Free and independent press? Freedom from persecution based on religion? Boy,
that stuff is so 1776!
Banning major news services from Spicer’s utterly banal
press conference is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. It is, however, a sinister display of loathing
for the role that a free press plays in our democracy. It is an emphatic statement that this White
House intends to respect only those news organizations that believe Trump’s assertions
are imbued with the infallibility usually accorded only to the Pope when he is speaking ex cathedra. Perhaps it would be appropriate to refer to Spicer’s
future sessions with the news media as “Alternative Press Conferences.”
It is also clear signal that Steve Bannon is deadly
serious in waging a holy war against dissent.
The nascent Trump presidency is creating so many
simultaneous shit-storms that no single one is getting the urgent attention it
deserves. The Russian hacking scandal is at the top of the list because
there is a potentially impeachable offense lurking in that cesspool. The de facto Muslim ban is on the back
burner while Trump licks his wounds and reloads. There are the sweeping changes
in long standing U.S. foreign policy that
are conveyed through the pungent passing of early morning tweets, only to be
contradicted in the next news cycle by Trump’s own emissaries. Two Chinas, but
no two-state solution; we’re seizing Iraqi oil – not!
And yet the single item that feels most like the eerie echo
of fascist dictators past is this administration’s open war on the free press.
If there is one thing that every citizen in the United
States should be terrified by, it is that Donald Trump senses that our free and
independent press is at one of its most vulnerable moments in our nation’s
A confluence of forces has brought this about. The rise
of cable television splintered viewing audiences into slivers, radically
eroding the type of impact that a Walter Cronkite held in a simpler media era
of three television networks. Cable also
enabled the creation of 24 hour news channels, which saw crass economic
opportunity in appealing to specific audience segments. Where ABC, NBC, and CBS
operated under broadcast licenses issued by the Federal Communications
Commission, no such restriction pertained to emerging cable channels. Fox News
grew in leaps and bounds by offering a version of the news that was curated to
please the beliefs of conservative viewers. Flavored news flourished in realizing that packaging news in order to please the viewer was more profitable than challenging the audience with objective reporting.
But it was the rise of the internet that inflicted the
deepest wounds in the Fourth estate. The internet exponentially expanded the number
of “flavored” news outlets, each operating on the nascent internet economics of
offering free readership and hoping to “monetize eyeballs.” The traditional newspaper
industry was brought to its knees by the radically lightened cost structure of
But the internet’s most lethal blow to the notion of a “free
and independent press” was the rise of social media. With the proliferation of
shared links and Twitter feeds, information flew freely to readers without
having passed through any organization which held itself to a standard of
verification. Some would argue that Richard Nixon was brought down because Ben
Bradlee would not run a Woodward and Bernstein story until it had been verified
by two sources. Today, the test of verification appears to be “I read it on the
internet.” At least, that was the rationale frequently offered by
then-candidate Donald Trump.
Today, Trump and Bannon see the opportunity to
exploit the weakened state of Fourth Estate for their own purposes. With direct access to 35 million Twitter
followers, Trump is waging character assassination on those independent news
services that he perceives to be the biggest threat to his presidency.
We here at BTRTN are mere butterfly wings in the thin
oxygen of the outer blogosphere, hoping that perhaps our earnest but barely
measurable flapping may somehow be causal and additive; that we, in
concert with thousands of other voices, can help create a hurricane of protest.
But when our government leaders need to be challenged – be it on
a matter of constitutional authority, the use of military power, or the
enforcement of law – it takes media organizations with mass, clout, and raw
audience to effectively mount that challenge on a timely basis.
Walter Cronkite went to battle against Lyndon Johnson
armed with ten million loyal viewers. Ben Bradlee commanded the full battalions
of the Washington Post to fall behind two young reporters on a righteous
mission. It was when Look Magazine and network television cameras shed daylight
on the atrocities facing the civil rights activists in places like Alabama and
Mississippi that Washington recognized that the enforcement of civil rights
cannot be ceded to states…not in 1964 about African-Americans, any more than it
can be ceded to states today on issues of the rights of transgender
And now, when a powerful Fourth Estate is need more
urgently than ever, it is under direct assault from our own government.
If Walter Cronkite had made his famous damning critique
of LBJ’s Vietnam policy in today’s media environment, the only people who would
have seen it would be the people who were already against the war. Fox News would have lambasted Cronkite for
biased reporting and reassured their audience that victory in Vietnam was
imminent. The President would have tweeted CRONKITE
= FAKE NEWS to thirty five
million unquestioning faithful. The majority of news reporting on Vietnam would
have been controlled, in shocking measure, by the very people who were making
government policy. And we would have been stuck in the mud of the Mekong Delta
for a decade longer, with thousands more young Americans asked to die for a
When the President of the United States attempts to
silence critics, you can call that propaganda, you can call that de facto censorship, and or, in this
case, you can call it a collision between the Fourth Estate and the Fourth Reich. It
is a clear and present danger to democracy.
The final irony here is that websites like Breitbart News
exist because our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. So Breitbart
can rise to power by heaving bullshit into the willing ears of fellow
travelers, and then, having gained astonishing power, can now attempt to use
that power to shut down other competing voices.
What can we all do about this? Yes, there are the town
halls, the petitions, the letter campaigns to Congressional representatives. They
are all vital. But they are not truly addressing the carnage being wrought by
this administration in this particular front… the lifeblood of a free press.
There is one simple thing we can all do: pay for our news.
Subscribe to The New York Times. Turn CNN on and leave it
on all day. Get a digital subscription to The Washington Post. Pay for your news, so your news organizations
can pay top-notch, principled, relentless professionals to bring us the truth.
As Deep Throat said, if you want to find the truth, you have to follow the
Give the real front-line soldiers in our battle the
oxygen, the munitions, and the weaponry they need to fight against a tyrant who
has signaled his intent to destroy them.
Fund The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN. In
the world of media, audience equals advertising, and advertising equals
revenue, and revenue equals oxygen.
Invest in the truth. The payback will be priceless.
And, yeah, be sure to tell your Republican friends about
a nasty and horrible little website called BornToRunTheNumbers.com that is
spreading terrible stories filled with fake news about Donald Trump. Go ahead, Donald, Bannon us, too.
Make our day.
The issue is the survival of a free press, and we’ll keep
flapping these butterfly wings as fast as we can.