Writer: The Media Aren’t the ‘Opposition Party,’ But If They Were, the Public Would Benefit

March 24th, 2017 10:21 AM

According to Leah Finnegan in her Thursday piece for The New Republic, when Steve Bannon cast the mainstream media as full-fledged opponents of the Trump White House, it wasn’t an accurate statement, but it may have been the next best thing: a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“What if, rather than reflexively assuming its defensive posture of ‘objectivity,’ the press embraced this opportunity to go full-offense?” wondered Finnegan, who added, “In declaring the media the ‘opposition party,’ Bannon may have actually done it [sic] a great favor, tacitly casting it as a worthy adversary to Trump’s newfound power. If the press can find a way to conceptualize itself as a true opposition party, then perhaps American journalism might stand for something that would be of value to readers and viewers.”

Finnegan claimed that in response to the Trump administration’s “unprecedented and incendiary declarations of war against the press, journalists and media pundits [generally have] continued to preach the talismanic gospel of self-restraint and evenhandedness.” She acknowledged that “some in the media establishment, including The New York Times, have ventured so far as to use the word ‘falsehood’ in headlines to describe the administration’s knee-jerk tendency to make shit up,” but indicated that that’s an exercise in futility (bolding added):

Given that lying is pretty much the business model of Trumpism…it’s unlikely that this sort of semantic breakthrough will make much of an impression on the body politic. For one thing, the sheer volume of Trumpist prevaricating has created a perverse deadening effect; the news that the president and his minions are systematically lying to the American public is no longer exactly news. Besides, a good deal of Trump’s political appeal stems from telling conservatives the kind of lies they most want to hear…Trump’s backers not only can’t handle the truth; they don’t even want to know what it is.

…If Trump’s lies are what got him elected, and what will keep him popular, then the media’s allegiance to a noncommittal parsing of the blizzard of falsehoods now issuing from the Oval Office is woefully inadequate to our post-truth political environment.

It would be awesome, Finnegan suggested, if the MSM could get back the skeptical verve they had in the 1970s, “when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post broke the story of Watergate.” She opined that such an approach is, at bottom, non-ideological (bolding added):

The “opposition” part of the equation is tricky when it comes to the actual practice of journalism. Journalists best do the work of the opposition when they don’t explicitly know that they’re doing it. Put another way: When you understand that it’s actually your job to expose the government’s misdeeds, crimes, and lies, being the opposition means nothing more than doing your job. This is what’s so frustrating about the reflexive centrist lullabies peddled by old-media savants like [media critic Michael] Wolff and [Washington Post editorial page editor Fred] Hiatt: They mistake the work of reporting for partisan cheerleading. And this is why they are playing directly into the hands of the Trumpists…

It would be nice to think that the media could somehow relinquish its pompous air of self-regard and lay into the Trump administration with Seventies-era gusto. One could argue that Obama, a notorious and talented media manipulator in his own right, has set the stage for Trump, just as Johnson did for Nixon. But that would require the press to acknowledge the inherent flaws --passivity, narcissism, sycophancy, the urge to cling to “objectivity” -- that stand in the way of it telling the government to go fuck itself.