Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the U.S. press during an interview 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 a while,” Bannon said during a telephone call.
“I want you to quote this,” 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 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 Trump’s inaugural crowd and the president’s false claims that millions of illegal votes by undocumented immigrants swayed the popular vote against him.
Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until August, was echoing comments by 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 Spicer, the president’s press secretary, Bannon ratcheted up the criticism, offering a broad indictment of the news media as biased against 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.
“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”
“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Bannon said. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign.” (He did not name specific reporters or editors.)
“That’s why you have no power,” Bannon added. “You were humiliated.”
Of all of Trump’s advisers in the White House, Bannon is the one tasked with implementing the nationalist vision that Trump channeled during the later months of the campaign, one that stemmed from Bannon. And in many ways Trump’s first week has put into action that vision – from the description of “American Carnage” Trump laid out in his inauguration speech, to a series of executive actions outlining policy on trade agreements, immigration, the building of a border wall and the demands that Mexico pay for it.
He is one of the strongest forces in a White House with competing power centers. A savvy manipulator of the press, and a proud provocateur, Bannon was among the few advisers in Trump’s circle who was said to have urged on Spicer’s confrontational, emotional statement to a shocked White House briefing room Saturday, when the White House disputed press reports on the inauguration crowd size. He mostly shares Trump’s view that the news media has misunderstood the movement that the president rode into office.
On the telephone, Bannon spoke in blunt but calm tones, peppered with a dose of profanities, and humorously referred to himself at one point as “Darth Vader.” He said, with ironic relish, that Trump was elected by a surge of support from “the working class hobbits and deplorables.”
The conversation was initiated by Bannon to offer praise for Spicer, who has been criticized this week for making false claims at the White House podium about the attendance of Trump’s inaugural crowd; for calling reporters dishonest and lecturing them about what stories to write; and for failing to disavow Trump’s lie about widespread voter fraud in the election.
Asked if he was concerned that Spicer had lost credibility with the press, Bannon chortled. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning his integrity' – are you kidding me? The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Bannon said. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
While Bannon mostly referred to the “elite” or “mainstream” media, he cited The New York Times and The Washington Post by name.
“The paper of record for our beloved republic, The New York Times, should be absolutely ashamed and humiliated,” Bannon said. “They got it 100 percent wrong.”
He added that he has been a reader of The Times for most of his adult life.
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York.