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Thursday, March 21 , 2019, 10:31 pm | Fair 52º


Mark Shields: Why the News Media Must Be the Opposition Party

In this era of tweets and texts, the White House of President Donald Trump, ever respectful of tradition, is bringing back the personal phone call.

For example, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, by telephone told New York Times media correspondent Michael Grynbaum that his newspaper and “the elite media got (the 2016 presidential election) dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong.”

After a full-throated condemnation of the “mainstream media,” Bannon, designating Grynbaum as the representative of his profession, added: “You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Because it is journalism’s responsibility to dare to speak truth to power and to correct the record when the powerful are wrong, let us also admit when the powerful — Bannon, in this case — are right.

The Democrats took a collective shellacking during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. There are today, compared with January 2009, 63 fewer Democrats in the House of Representatives, nine fewer Democrats in the Senate, 12 fewer Democratic governors and 958 fewer Democrats holding state legislative seats.

Before Election Day, Democrats controlled the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature in just seven states, which was the lowest number since the Civil War. After Nov. 8, in only five states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon and Rhode Island (no state in the 2,554 miles between Sacramento and Hartford) — were voters willing to give Democrats complete control.

By contrast, 25 states — including the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — have a Republican governor and a legislature controlled by the GOP.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are so weakened that the only thing they could possibly pass is the salt. Every one of the 214 House and Senate committees and subcommittees is chaired by a Republican. No Democrat wields a gavel.

As of today, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, who led The Boston Globe’s courageous and significant investigation of the official cover-up of serial sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, is, as the Post’s unflagging investigation has shown, a far more formidable adversary of the Trump White House than any elected Democrat.

Toss in the leadership of The New York Times and fearless journalists everywhere and you have, sadly, the real “opposition.”

It was Baron — a private man who was portrayed by Liev Schreiber in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight, the story of the shoe-leather reporting that broke the clerical abuse scandal in Boston — who made a rare public statement of his paper’s mission, quoting its owner, Jeff Bezos: “We want a society where any of us — any individual in this country, any institution in this country — if they choose to, can scrutinize, examine and criticize an elected official, especially a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on earth.”

Until Democrats, in or outside Washington, are capable of coming up with a better idea or more relevant message than “Make America Sick Again” (their mantra in support of the Affordable Care Act), Bannon is right: Any opposition is we the media.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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