For the past several days, I have been in transit from New York to Baltimore to Washington, D.C., and finally home -- all while getting sick as a dog, as we would say in East Tennessee. So I confess that I'm a bit out of touch, when it comes to what's been happening in news and social media.
But let me try to pull things together from my fevered point of view. It seems the hot media items have something to do with President Donald Trump's bluster-maestro Stephen K. Bannon saying something about America's elite media needing to "shut up" and/or do some listening. In fact, if you search for "Bannon," "mouth" and "shut" right now on Google News you get a mere 238,000 hits.
Oh my. What did this man actually say to The New York Times?
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.
“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.”
Oh my, again. Never use a flyswatter when a baseball bat will do. But let's assume that this quote should not be read with the kind of hyper-literalism the Times team would be tempted to call "fundamentalism" in another context. (As usual, turn to M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway at The Federalist for a stunning summary of the online storm.)
Instead of jumping straight to the nuclear option -- Trump aide tells press to shut *$^@#*+ up (some of that was implied, to be sure) -- I think it's possible that the actual content of that quote could better be stated as: "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut for a while and just listen."
Right, right. All I did was move the words "for a while." I think that's what Bannon meant, since everyone knows that the press -- when it comes to listening to Americans on tense topics such as politics, culture and, YES, religion -- is supposed to be listening all the time. I think that's an essential part of their job.
Is the actual content of this acidic Bannon comment radically different than what ordinary readers said in letters to Times Public Editor Liz Spayd in the hours after Trump won the White House race? Let's flash back to that, while remembering (hello editor Dean Baquet) that discussions of this kind, at the Times and in other elite newsrooms, often include references to the need to "get religion."
Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”
Another letter, from Nick Crawford of Plymouth, Mich., made a similar point. “Perhaps the election result would not be such a surprise if your reporting had acknowledged what ordinary Americans care about, rather than pushing the limited agenda of your editors,” he wrote. “Please come down from your New York City skyscraper and join the rest of us.”
Certainly, The Times isn’t the only news organization bewildered and perhaps a bit sheepish about its predictions coverage. The rest of media missed it too, as did the pollsters, the analysts, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign itself.
It was time, she said, for more fewer stories about campaign rhetoric -- even if Trump rallies were a key part of the story -- and more chances to hear from ordinary voices in the rallies and elsewhere. Yes, the hateful voices needed to be covered, but not at the expense of all others. Such a sharp focus:
... drowned out the kind of agenda-free, deep narratives that could have taken Times readers deeper into the lives and values of the people who just elected the next president.
In other words, The Times would serve readers well with fewer brief interviews, fewer snatched slogans that inevitably render a narrow caricature of those who spoke them. ...
A fascinating graphic appeared on the front of the paper and home page earlier this week depicting, state-by-state, the powerful American working class -- the less educated it called them. Many in this group make up Trump’s base, and the essential questioned posed by the graphic and to readers was this: to what degree will these voters show up at the polls?
We have our answer. The next question is whether The Times is interested in crossing the red line to see what this America wants next.
So are elite media leaders ready to do some introspection? Is it time for improved listening skills, outside the always-newsworthy east and west coasts?
As our own Bobby Ross Jr. noted, this was the not-so-subtle message of that exchange on ABC News the other day between President Trump and David Muir. I am referring to this passage, of course, which opens with a reference to the Women's March on Washington, D.C.
"I couldn’t hear them, but the crowds were large," Trump responded. "You’re gonna have a large crowd on Friday, too, which is mostly pro-life people. You’re gonna have a lot of people coming on Friday, and I will say this, and I didn’t realize this, but I was told, you will have a very large crowd of people. I don’t know -- as large or larger -- some people say it’s gonna be larger. Pro-life people. And they say the press doesn’t cover them."
Ross was, in my opinion, being oh so kind (as he often is). The actual exchange appears to have gone something like this.
MUIR: ... Let me just ask you while we’re standing outside, could you hear the voices from the Women’s March here in Washington? We know there were more than a million people who turned out, and you are their president now too.
TRUMP: That’s true.
MUIR: Could you hear them from the White House?
TRUMP: No, I couldn’t hear them. The crowds were large, but you will have a large crowd on Friday, too, which is mostly pro-life people. You’re going to have a lot of people coming on Friday. And I will say this, and I didn’t realize this. But I was told. You will have a very large crowd of people. I don’t know as large or larger. Some people said it will be larger. Pro-life people and they say the press doesn’t cover them.
MUIR: I don’t want to compare crowd sizes again. I - I -- I --
TRUMP: No, you should -- But let me just tell you. What you do say is that the press doesn’t cover them?
Muir ignores the subject being raised and returns to his previous line of thinking.
Did he hear what Trump said? Did he hear the question?
Oh, and one more thing: Why is this section of the interview missing from the official ABC News transcript and, I would assume, the archives? Ditto for this dissection by The Washington Post. Am I missing something here? And is there something missing from the "full" interview footage that is posted online?
Oh my, yet again.
I may have to watch ABC News tonight.
Maybe. I stopped watching that news broadcast years ago, after they killed their newsroom slot dedicated to the coverage of religion news.