The campaign to control the press: Steve Bannon discredits while Trump disinforms

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com.

What Trump’s “running war” with the media is all about

Here is some past history that should inform the present: The Press in the Third Reich: Establishing Control of the Press

When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers.

The elimination of the German multi-party political system not only brought about the demise of hundreds of newspapers produced by outlawed political parties; it also allowed the state to seize the printing plants and equipment of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, which were often turned over directly to the Nazi Party. In the following months, the Nazis established control or exerted influence over independent press organs.

Here, now, in America we have effectively eliminated our “multi-party political system.” If we tread in the footsteps of the Third Reich, control of the press will soon follow.

Already American media is controlled by just six corporations: “almost all media comes from the same six sources. That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.” So American media ownership is following the same pattern as in the Third Reich example.

Here is another case study from the present by the Huffington Post: Putin’s Press: How Russia’s President Controls The News. “Russia may soon lose some of its last free media.”

After Putin came into power in 2000, he established control over the three main TV stations. In 2001 and 2002, he took control of the two biggest TV channels, ORT (now First Channel) and NTV. The state broadcaster, RTR (now Rossiya 1), was already under his control.

During his subsequent year in power, Putin moved more and more outlets under his influence until he controlled most of the major mainstream media. He appoints editors and general directors, either officially or unofficially. …

… Where will this situation lead? Most likely, honest journalists will have to quit their positions. I’m sending my deepest condolences to colleagues. They are not the first ones though, they are one of the last ones.

So what is happening here and now? Robert Reich reposting at billmoyers.com tells us Trump’s Seven Techniques to Control the Media. “Tyrants always try to suppress a free press; here’s Trump’s playbook.”. For the sake of brevity I’ll list them but you can read the details in Reich’s post.

Democracy depends on a free and independent press, which is why all tyrants try to squelch it. They use seven techniques that, worryingly, [now President] Donald Trump already employs.

Berate the media.
Blacklist critical media.
Turn the public against the media.
Condemn satirical or critical comments.
Threaten the media directly.
Limit media access.
Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.

Historically, these seven techniques have been used by demagogues to erode the freedom and independence of the press.

The word “media” comes from “intermediate” between newsmakers and the public. Responsible media hold the powerful accountable by asking them hard questions and reporting on what they do. Apparently Trump wants to eliminate such intermediaries.

Discredit first, disinform second

Scriber boils all this down to two steps.

Discredit: “to give people reason to stop believing someone or to doubt the truth of something”

Disinform: Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.[1][2][3] The English word, which did not appear in dictionaries until the late–1980s, is a translation of the Russian дезинформация, transliterated as dezinformatsiya.[1][2][3] Disinformation is different from misinformation, which is information that is unintentionally false.[4] Misinformation can be used to define disinformation — where disinformation is misinformation that is purposefully and intentionally disseminated in order to defraud.[5] (See the Wiki entry for the citations.)

Evidence for Scriber’s two-step analysis follows.

Steve Bannon carries Trump warfare against the media

New York Times breaking news: Trump’s Chief Strategist Says News Media Should ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’. The architect of Donald Duck Double-speak fires shots at the press.

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the American press during an interview on Wednesday evening, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by an election outcome few anticipated, and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “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.”

The scathing assessment — delivered by one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted and influential advisers, in the first days of his presidency — comes at a moment of high tension between the news media and the administration, with skirmishes over the size of Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowd and the president’s false claims that millions of illegal votes by undocumented immigrants swayed the popular vote against him.

Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”

During a call to discuss Sean M. Spicer, the president’s press secretary, Mr. Bannon ratcheted up the criticism, offering a broad indictment of the news media as biased against Mr. Trump and out of touch with the American public. That’s an argument familiar to readers of Breitbart and followers of Trump-friendly personalities like Sean Hannity.

You don’t really think that Bannon would stop at that. There is lots more in the Times’ report about Bannon’s campaign to discredit the media.

Dishonest Donald continues the endless stream of lies

The second step is disinformation, the technique perfected by Trump’s friend in Moscow.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports that Trump just gave a remarkable new interview. Here’s a tally of all his lies.

1) Trump repeated his false claim that there was rampant voter fraud in the election, and when pressed on the fact that his claim has repeatedly been debunked, Trump said: “No it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.” The Pew report that Trump is citing did not show what Trump claims it did. The author of that report has repeatedly stated this in numerous interviews.

2) When ABC pressed Trump on the fact that the author of the Pew report undermined his claims, Trump claimed, somewhat unintelligibly, that this author was “groveling.” This is not even remotely true. In fact, the author told The Post’s fact-checking team last night that he stood by his claim that the report did not say what Trump says it did.

3) Trump said this about all of the people who he falsely claims voted illegally in the election: “Those were Hillary votes. And if you look at it they all voted for Hillary. They all voted for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me. I don’t believe I got one. Okay, these are people that voted for Hillary Clinton. And if they didn’t vote, it would’ve been different in the popular.” There is no way Trump could possibly know this even if those illegal voters existed, which they don’t.

4) Trump said this about his glorious victory: “I had a tremendous victory, one of the great victories ever. In terms of counties I think the most ever or just about the most ever. When you look at a map it’s all red. Red meaning us, Republicans.” The context here was the size of Trump’s victory, but there is no reasonable metric by which his margin was either tremendous or one of the greatest ever. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million, and the size of his electoral college win was down toward the bottom in historical terms.

5) Trump said this about the size of the audience for his inaugural speech: “When I looked at the numbers that happened to come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches.” This is absurdly false, no matter what angle you examine it from.

6) Trump said this about immigration: “We have to stop people from just pouring into our country.” This is not exactly a lie, since “pouring in” is not a precise statement, but it leaves an enormously misleading impression. People are not by any reasonable metric “pouring into our country.” The number of undocumented immigrants in this country has been stable for years. As for Trump’s suggestion that we have failed to “stop” this alleged “pouring in,” experts have said that the flow of illegal immigration has fallen in recent years, and that border security matters less than economic and demographic trends in determining that flow in any case.

7) Pressed by ABC on the fact that Obamacare repeal could mean at least 18 million people lose insurance, Trump said: “Nobody ever deducts all the people that have already lost their health insurance that liked it. You had millions of people that liked their health insurance and their health care and their doctor and where they went. You had millions of people that now aren’t insured anymore.” This is not quite a lie, but it is a flagrant distortion. First there’s the claim that, in measuring the impact of Obamacare, “nobody ever deducts” all of those who supposedly “lost” their insurance. This is silly. One of the most widely cited metrics for measuring the law’s impact comes from Gallup, which measures the uninsured rate. Gallup has found that since Obamacare went into effect, that rate has fallen by more than six percentage points. Thus, it’s also a distortion to suggest that the law has left millions uninsured.

Bannon discredits, Trump disinforms. Trace the history: Hitler, Putin, Trump.

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A clear and present danger: Trump’s control of the press

Cross-posted from the original Wednesday January 25th post at skyislandscriber.com.

Scriber is on vacation through Thursday. Unfortunately he cannot escape the news. It’s one holy s#!t moment after another.

I have come to believe that, amidst all the turmoil and disorder being created by Daffy Donald, the most immediate threat to our democracy is that poised by Trump’s war with the press. The single most potent thing authoritarian regimes do is to seek and obtain control of information and that means controlling the press.

We already know – or should know – that Trump is actively seeking to destroy the credibility of the independent, free press. If you have doubts, check out the now notorious rant by Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, reported among other sources by the Washington Post and spoofed by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker. Listening now (Wednesday, Jan 25) to Good Morning America, Trump doubles down on his false claims about winning the election because of voter fraud. Basically he is telling the big lie and Spicer goes before the White House press corps and claims to have evidence. But the only evidence cited is what Trump believes.

Robert Reich identifies Trump’s Two-Step Strategy To Take Over the Truth.

Donald Trump is such a consummate liar that in coming days and years our democracy will depend more than ever on the independent press – finding the truth, reporting it, and holding Trump accountable for his lies.

But Trump’s strategy is to denigrate and disparage the press in the public’s mind – seeking to convince the public that the press is engaged in a conspiracy against him. And he wants to use his tweets, rallies, and videos to make himself the only credible source of public information about what is happening and what he’s doing.

It is the two-step strategy of despots. And it’s already started. It was officially launched the first full day of the Trump administration.

Step 1: Disparage the press and lie about them.
Step 2: Threaten to circumvent the press and take the “truth” directly to the people.

Reich concludes: “Trump and his advisors – Steven Bannon, formerly of “Breitbart News” as well as Spicer and others – understand that if a significant portion of the public trusts Trump’s own words more than they do the media’s, Trump can get away with saying – and doing – whatever he wants. When that happens, our democracy ends. ”

Check out Reich’s post for the evidence for each of his two steps.

What protections can the press invoke in defense against the dark arts of Trumpian dishonesty and disparagement? Apparently damn few according to the authors of this op-ed in the NY Times, Don’t Expect the First Amendment to Protect the Media. (RonNell Andersen Jones is a law professor at the University of Utah. Sonja R. West is a law professor at the University of Georgia.) Here are snippets.

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years.

It is primarily customs and traditions, not laws, that guarantee that members of the White House press corps have access to the workings of the executive branch. Consider the Department of Justice’s policy of forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources only as a last, rather than a first, resort. Journalists have no recognized constitutional nor even federal statutory right for such protection. It’s merely custom.

This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes. Or when he decides not to let reporters travel with him on his plane, or fails to inform them when he goes out in public. Or when he suggests he might evict the White House press corps from the West Wing and have his administration, rather than the White House Correspondents Association, determine who gets allowed to attend briefings.

We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.

By all means march. March for civil rights. March against bigotry. March for health care. But don’t forget to march in defense of a pillar of our democracy – the freedom of the press. The freedom to ask questions of our elected officials and their responsibility to provide truthful answers. Your freedom rests on it.