The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
In case you haven’t heard, Steve Bannon, chief strategist in the White House and former editor of Breitbart News, said on Thursday that “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
In an interview with The New York Times, he 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.”
While Bannon cites no facts on this last point — and while “the media,” this gigantic, vague thing that Trump’s administration attacked over and over again, has made it clear based on retrospective research and reflection why Trump is in fact the president — it would be accurate to say that the 3 million additional voters that pushed Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote in this election probably don’t understand why Trump is the president of the United States, either.
In the last week-and-a-half, Trump and his team have been pushing executive order after executive order across the Oval Office desk, inciting outcry, protests and a lot of constitutional questioning.
This is a dangerous time. The lifespan of a fact has essentially reached zero. But we especially step into treacherous territory when we begin to turn our back on the free press and turn it into a monster that it is not.
To say that the press is “the opposition party” immediately postulates the idea that anything the media publishes is a reaction to something. This is not true. The media is not opposition; it is information. And when laws are being made that threaten the constitutional rights of Americans (Dakota Access Pipeline), that send the message that Muslims are not welcome (travel ban) and that reduce access to healthcare, the media is morally obligated to provide information on what that means for the citizens who are wondering, whether they support these executive orders or not.
When “alternative facts” (i.e. lies) are cornerstones of White House rhetoric, then the media needs to find the truth. When the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer won’t answer questions at a press conference, the media is obligated to find out answers for themselves, especially when they contradict what Spicer says. When the U.S. is no longer a safe haven for refugees fleeing horror, the media must explain the palpable repercussions.
Consider this familiar statement:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment essentially touches upon everything that’s been happening in this country since Trump was inaugurated. For Bannon to say that “the media should keep its mouth shut” is rhetoric that is un-American, simply based on this integral part of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. It’s ironic, too, coming from the former head of a grossly inaccurate and incendiary publication.
The media is not going to shut down and close its mouth, and nobody expects it to. In this time of great uncertainty, it’s the media’s job to keep ‘We the people’ updated and included. If those in power didn’t have anything to hide, they wouldn’t be so paranoid about media coverage in the first place.