The announcement has produced intense hand-wringing in Washington and sharp denunciations from political observers and strategists critical of Breitbart News's close association with the alt-right, a fringe conservative movement saturated with racially insensitive rhetoric and elements of outright white nationalism.The story goes on to quote denunciations of Bannon's racism from the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and former John McCain campaign strategist John Weaver, among others. If you read this story, you understand what the concerns are.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, has accused Breitbart of explicitly embracing ethno-nationalism. After Bannon's elevation was announced, the law center tweeted several controversial stories written by Breitbart under Bannon's control, including a piece published two weeks after a mass killing at a black church in Charleston, S.C., last year: “Hoist it high and proud: the confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.”
Now consider the disgracefully incomplete report that appeared on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday. Host Michel Martin talked with Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead politcal editor, about Bannon's appointment and the appointment of Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus as Trump's chief of staff. Here's what Martin and Montanaro said about Bannon:
MONTANARO: ... Of course, Bannon will still sort of be, you know, chief inspiration (laughter) at the White House. And that could mean that if things go wrong - you know, Bannon is no fan of the Republican leadership in Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, that he'll have sort of the - you know, the macho back for Donald Trump in order to fight back, if need be.Um, there's going to be more about that alt-right business, isn't there?
MARTIN: Well, let's talk a little bit more, though, about Steve Bannon. He came into the campaign late but seemed to have a very large effect. Many people attribute the conspiracy theories that were pushed - about Hillary Clinton's health, for example, which were also fanned on the Breitbart website that Bannon led. Can you talk a little bit more about him?
MONTANARO: Yeah. Unquestionably, he's a take-no-prisoners operative. You know, a former Hollywood producer, a Goldman Sachs managing director as well. He ran the website Breitbart, as you said, which has, you know, become kind of synonymous with the alt-right and certainly, like I said, no fan of the establishment Republicans. And establishment Republicans are no fan of them, so they're going to have to figure out a way to get along.
Nope. Martin and Montanaro are through with that. All they can focus on is the possible political infighting:
MARTIN: Well, what about that - again, as you mentioned earlier, and as I think many people who follow this certainly know, that Donald Trump certainly had tensions with the Republican Party. What about his relationship with Reince Priebus?I'm excerpting, but you can listen to the whole thing here. It's appalling.
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, I think that between Priebus and Bannon, you know, they've had a bit of a detente. I mean, Priebus was - it was important for Priebus to be behind the Trump campaign so that the RNC staff could supplement much of what the campaign was able to do. And frankly, Trump and Bannon owe a lot to Priebus and the RNC organization.
NPR's coverage of the election and its aftermath has been awful in recent days -- endless interviews with see-no-evil flacks and loyalists (on both sides), supplemented by voter-in-the-street interviews that repeat the same points you already know from the media's other voter-in-the-street interviews. The belief on NPR seems to be that the media should just let advocates for each side talk, and never seriously interrogate them. I'd compare it to the CNN strategy of hiring loyalist operatives like Corey Lewandowski (and Donna Brazile) for commentary, but on CNN at least those operatives argue with one another. NPR's preferred approach seems to be letting loyalists come on one at a time, and allowing them to spin and spin and spin.
At a time when basic American freedoms are under threat, and unfavored groups are at serious risk, I want to be told about the dangers. I want to hear about more than political power games -- and I don't want to hear one spin doctor after another telling me that everything's going to be all right.
And if you think the presence of supposedly cooler heads will inevitably put a check on Steve Bannon, consider this from the Washington Post story quoted above:
Some of the Trump campaign's most controversial moves in the final months of the campaign were attributed to Bannon, who is known for his combative and unfiltered style. When Trump, before the second presidential debate, invited several women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to hold a news conference, Bannon stood in the back of the room smiling broadly.But an earlier Post story told us that the decision to make those women part of the debate wasn't Bannon's alone:
The gambit to give Bill Clinton’s accusers prime seats [at the debate] was devised by Trump campaign chief executive Stephen K. Bannon and Jared Kushner, the candidate’s son-in-law, and approved personally by Trump.Yes, Kushner was in on that. If you're thinking that the non-bomb-throwers are going to restrain Bannon, think again.