I will be brief because — like the news itself — I’m moving quickly today.
For a moment there I thought these guys were serious about treating the news media as “the opposition party” and trying to remove it as a check on power. That seemed to be the plan. They had the pieces in place. But when Michael Flynn was vanquished from the White House they revealed to us that for now at least they’re unable go through with it.
Trump’s top adviser Stephen K. Bannon has offered up sublime bluster about how the news media has “no power,” arguing that its aggressive reporting on the Trump White House reflects nothing more than panicked media elite shrieking about the “new political order” that Trump is raising out of the ashes of the corrupt old order. As I’ve argued, the Trump White House has established — as an explicit, actionable doctrine — the goal of trying to obliterate the possibility of agreement on the news media’s legitimate institutional role in informing the citizenry, and even on facts and reality itself.
I agree: That’s what they’re trying to do. But if you’re going to do it, you have to really do it. It’s not like reality gives up easily, and lets you roll right over it. You can’t just say to the national press “you’re fake news” and “so biased no one believes you” like some once-in-a-generation tough guy and then when it gets really tough switch back to freaking out over what’s in the news.
The way they’re acting, you’d think these guys had never transcended reality or slipped the bonds of surly pundits before. Look at this report: should have a ‘pitiful if true’ sticker on it.
According to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.
“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.
The trigger was a news report? That’s not how you do it. Leaks that are published in the fake news media (Trump’s term) are fake leaks! You have to call them that. And you have to act on that understanding. As soon as you let on that you’re using the news media the way other people do — to find out what’s happening, for real — you’re showing reality that it can roll you. I can’t believe I have to explain this to a Graduated Leninist like Steve Bannon, but I guess I do. Here are the steps:
1. “This isn’t happening.” Basic stuff! Anyone who says it is happening is off the team, outside the circle of power. These stories about Mike Flynn connecting with Russian officials, talking about sanctions on Russia, lying about it to the Vice President: that’s the biased media being the opposition party and spreading misinformation again. Like the news is fake, the sources are fake. If these “government officials” know so much, let them identify themselves. If there are recordings, where are they? Anyone can fake a transcript. Etc.
2. We are not the investigated, we investigate! You don’t fire your guy because journalists report he’s a liar and a cheat. That’s reality-based. You’re against all that, remember? You keep him in his post and start digging into who’s leaking and receiving the nation’s secrets. Every time the press asks about the Flynn mess you brag about how far-reaching your leak investigation is. They say Flynn’s calls were monitored? Well, we know how to monitor calls to find out who’s passing you this fake information. Drop the hint. This is Distortion Field 101, fellas.
3. No one in the press or the DC establishment will believe you; that’s the whole point! Incredulity is their gift to you. The opposition party is everyone who listens to the news and says: actually, this Flynn thing is happening. The more shocked and voluble they are, the better for you as our polarizers-in-chief. The wind of their insistence gives lift to your resistance. Didn’t your instructor in Wedge Tectonics go over any of this?
4. Supporters have to either a.) join in calling it fake news or b.) face spiritual collapse. You used to understand this. Back when you were on your game, like during the Sean Spicer debut. You let everyone on your side know the deal… Wanna be on the team? Then look at those pictures and see larger crowds for Trump. For that’s the price. Price too high? Then you can step off right now. Here, you want the worm of doubt to creep up a little— so it can be banished by core supporters. (And there’s frisson in that.) You gesture toward cognitive dissonance so extreme it would crush normal people, as in: the man who ‘tells it like it is’ lies constantly, about everything. You flash that fact, they flee it. Win for you.
If that’s winning, this is losing. Greg Sargent again:
This Flynn episode suggests that facts and reality do matter. The Trump White House is not invulnerable to them. A dogged and determined press corps can indeed ferret them out, notwithstanding the White House’s efforts to render them meaningless and irrelevant — or indeed to make them disappear.
He’s right. They got rolled by reality, as if reality had that kind of muscle! But what stands out for me is: Bannon, Trump, Miller, Conway, Spicer, the inner circle: they didn’t even try to show reality that it can be rolled. Let’s go over it again: You act as though this isn’t happening. You threaten to investigate those who document that it is. You remind the press that it has no power because it was humiliated in 2016. They remonstrate, you escalate. Use the pundit shows and briefing room to polarize. Cognitive dissonance takes care of your party and core supporters, but you have to show reality who’s boss.
Bannon is the one who surprises me. He pushed for Flynn’s firing? That’s standard eliminate-a-rival behavior, exactly what an establishment climber would do. He’s no Lenin. Turns out he has balls of styrofoam, and I think I know the reason. He reads the New York Times and Washington Post with fear in his heart. Like normal people in power do.