Channeling My Wisconsin Relatives: They’d Agree With Some of What Steve Bannon Said

Steve Bannon: Shut up and listen.

When I talked with my Wisconsin nieces about why Donald Trump won the state, the first impression was that they disliked Hillary Clinton more than Trump. It seemed it wasn’t so much that they hated Hillary personally; more they were tired of the Clintons and all their money and talk. Trump was new and wasn’t part of the Washington crowd.

And they didn’t care what the media said about how terrible Trump was; they think of the media as mostly a bunch of talkers. And they probably wouldn’t disagree with what Steve Bannon said to the New York Times: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

How did the media react? Google “Bannon media shut up” and you get:

Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Says Media Should ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’ — New York Times

Steve Bannon: Media should “keep its mouth shut” — CNN

Bannon: Media should “keep its mouth shut” —The Hill

Google “Bannon media listen more” and you get:

Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Says Media Should ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’ — New York Times

Gannon Tells Press to ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’ — New York Magazine

Trump Stategist Steve Bannon Says Media Should ‘Keep its Mouth Shut’ – CNBC

Jim Warren’s reaction to Bannon in his Poynter media column: “Keep our mouths shut? Fat chance, say media leaders.”

You have to Google a long time before you find any of the mainstream press talking about listening more.
How did we get here? Here’s a note I sent some journalist pals earlier this week:

I drifted into journalism in 1960 because it didn’t seem as boring as most jobs. You never knew what the day would bring. I didn’t get much sense that other journalists wanted to change the world; we just reported on the people trying to change the world.

Covering the civil right revolution brought more sense of journalism as a way to right wrongs, change the world. The heroes of journalism helped bring down segregation and lessen discrimination.

Watergate made heroes out of Woodward and Bernstein. More young journalists wanted to be like them: Make someone resign, become rich and famous.

Henry Fairlie wrote a Washingtonian piece in 1984 about how journalists were getting rich. Get on television talk shows, get big checks by making speeches. Journalists increasingly could make big money and do just enough reporting to get by. One very good writer in the early 1980s told me he wasn’t going to spend two weeks on a story for $2,000 when he could make that much giving a 60-minute speech. And he didn’t have to write a new speech each time.

Oz Elliott, the former Newsweek editor, then teaching at the Columbia J School, told me that he wasn’t happy that journalists had discovered that selling attitude was a lot easier than reporting.

Then the Internet: To be seen as successful you had to build your brand. Journalists were judged by how many followers on Twitter. That encouraged journalists to be more public, more clever, more opinionated.

David Farenthold made a name for himself in 2016 by dogged reporting on Trump. Now he’s also going to be on CNN. Is speaking at colleges and universities next? Will he be talking more and reporting less?

There’s a lot now written about how distrust of the media has grown. Is that because journalists talk too much, are too full of themselves, and are no longer seen as just reporting the news as we did in the old days?
Steve Bannon said, to mostly deaf ears, journalists should listen more. Some of us think there’s something to be said for that.



    Dear Jack,

    Not listening on purpose is perhaps the greatest weakness of the press, because it is the greatest weakness of so many reporters, writers, and editors.

    If you listen very carefully and don’t stop listening early so you can craft your answer, your reporting and evaluation skills will mature and sharpen.

    Interestingly, Trump is a close listener. The press has to listen more attentively (to everybody) and get the whole point.

    Deaf ear better learn to hear and report much more precisely. Your collection of headlines is sadly damning.


  2. James Brown says

    Don’t think this reasoning is confined to Wisconsin, Jack. I heard plenty in Arkansas as well.

  3. Donald Smith says

    Sometimes it’s spooky how much we think alike. Or maybe it’s your Wisconsin relatives in this case. The same thought crossed my mind when I read the full Bannon quote. Obviously we’re not going to shut up; but I believe the second part, about listening more, was what he meant as the important part As suspicious as I am about this gang’s intentions regarding the media, I’m inclined to agree with him there. Either we’re not really listening to a lot of what they’re saying, or we’re willfully misinterpreting, and trying to present it in the worst light. The headlines focusing on the “shut-up” part speak for themselves.

  4. Richard Mattersdorff says

    Karl Fleming’s SON OF THE ROUGH SOUTH is a good autobiography that includes much about civil rights reporting. A key is separation of editorials from reporting, which can get blurred when reporters “graduate” to writing “analyses.” Dan Balz, Marc Fisher — they can thread the needle, I think, without becoming opinion columnists.

    The weakest argument against Trump is to say, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. Well, yes, you can have your own facts. Go to a mosque on Friday, a synagogue (Orthodox? Reform?) Friday evening, then church on Sunday (Baptist? Episcopal?). How many Vietnam facts changed between, oh, 1965 and Westmoreland’s unsuccessful defamation suit against 60 MINUTES? Saying we must agree on a body of basic facts is really, in current events, similar for better or worse to the anti-diversity theses of U.S. white Christian nativism.

  5. Kevin Doherty says

    To be fair to journalists, this is a case of the ‘tea pot calling the kettle black.”…that is to say, there is enough lack of listening to go around from all sides specific to this situation.

    Journalists probably get used to a certain set of assumptions, habits and they start working on automatic….That results in missing things that should be on radar, dropping stitches. On the other side, the current administration clearly is operating as Trump did in his business dealings. Mentored by rabid bulldog bully lawyer Roy Cohn, basically, Mr. Evil Incarnate, Trump, like Cohn, aggressively pummels any and every one, every agency, every tradition, every American cornerstone….(Nothing is off limits)…..into submission till it capitulates to his singular dictate.

    So, there is no “listening” from the administrations side and moreover there is every desire to silence .The recent defunding of public TV, NPR, and the NEH exemplifies willful censorship of the media. The listening that journalists need to do, as i see it, is relative to keen assessment of this strategic dismantling of our democracy limb by limb, urgently deserving ardent, unrelenting, and equally tenacious written and spoken reporting so we the people know what’s going on and can rise to the occasion in appropriate revolt so that we may save what our founding fathers so wisely established for us.

    • Richard Mattersdorff says

      But wouldn’t Cohn have laughed off the inauguration attendance comparison photos?

      • BARNARD COLLIER says

        Dear Richard,

        Made me smile at a grim time. Tx.


        • Richard Mattersdorff says

          You said it earlier, Barney, but Maureen Dowd in her 1/28 column brings up Roy Cohn. Says Steve Bannon is Trump’s “Roy Cohn.” I don’t know enough about Bannon yet to have an opinion.

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