President Donald J. Trump’s first week in office was marred by intense clashes with the national press over pettiness like Inauguration Day crowd size and the more serious issue of (nonexistent) voter fraud.
The contentious start to the administration’s press operation, exemplified by Sean Spicer’s angry rant to correspondents at a press briefing on Saturday, reached new heights with explosive comments from Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, former executive chair of the alt-right news site Breitbart News.
Bannon called up New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum to “eviscerate” the media.
In a NYT piece, Grynbaum laid out some of the combative words Bannon had for the Fourth Estate: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for while.”
“I want you to quote this,” Bannon continued to Grynbaum. “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.”
Bannon has held these combative views about the establishment, whether in the media or in government, for some time.
Yet the contradictions are stunning: Donald Trump craves media attention; he's a reality star obsessed with ratings. Yet he espoused an anti-media approach throughout the campaign and now during his presidency, a tactic born of Bannon's own hatreds and obsessions.
In speaking with Grynbaum, Bannon called out some reporters as “outright activists for the Clinton campaign,” failing to acknowledge the obvious irony: He was a media executive before taking his post as chairman of the Trump campaign.
We are a mere seven days into the Trump presidency and the White House’s relationship with the press, a bulwark of democracy and open government, is shaky at best. The concerted attempt to bend the truth — "alternative facts" — and harass journalists whose job it is to cover the administration is alarming.
Such aggressive behavior, more reminiscent of authoritarian nations, is an ominous sign for both the Trump administration and the American people — who deserve an honest and respectable leader who defends, not demeans, our freedoms.