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White House Strategist Steve Bannon Sets Up Fight With News Media


One of the most influential people in the White House has gone out of his way to attack the media. President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon told The New York Times the media is, quote, "the opposition party." And as NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, news executives are trying hard not to take the bait.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: What a way for the new administration to end its first full week in office - the media denounced in terms ranging from distrust to criticism to explosive anger, all from top officials. Now comes chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, perhaps the most severe to date. I'll let Ainsley Earhardt, a host of the morning show "Fox & Friends" on the Fox News Channel, capture just what Bannon said to The Times.


AINSLEY EARHARDT: He said the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.

FOLKENFLIK: Bannon didn't stop there.


EARHARDT: 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.

FOLKENFLIK: The eternal campaign, as though it never ended.


JEFF ZUCKER: It is incredibly inappropriate to try to delegitimize media and journalism the way they're doing it.

FOLKENFLIK: CNN chief Jeff Zucker spoke last night at an event at the University of Chicago.


ZUCKER: You know, listen; this is the most contentious relationship between an administration and the media since Richard Nixon. If they want to have that kind of relationship, OK. You know, that's certainly their prerogative.

FOLKENFLIK: Zucker said Bannon was trying to knock the press off balance.


ZUCKER: As happens in newsrooms everywhere, The New York Times story comes out today, and all the journalists are, you know, emailing this story around and saying, you know, oh, my God, oh, my God. And then, you know, the key thing that I said was just do your job. Just do your job.

FOLKENFLIK: News executives say they aren't the opposition but the watchdogs, that their job involves holding politicians accountable for their actions. CBS News President David Rhodes appeared at the same event.


DAVID RHODES: I mean, look; as management in these things, you're kind of the police officer, the police line with the burning building telling people to remain calm.

FOLKENFLIK: Rhodes says the media has to hold to the same principles and standards as ever.


RHODES: There's always a tendency at the start of an administration - and this one I think in some ways is actually no different - to try to take messages directly around the press.

FOLKENFLIK: As president, Trump's tweets are being treated as breaking news by cable channels. No new administration has had so many ways to circumvent the media, and none in recent memory has criticized journalists so bluntly and so routinely. Here Trump was Wednesday with ABC's David Muir.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: ...Pro-life people, and they say the press doesn't cover them.

DAVID MUIR: I don't want to compare crowd sizes again.

TRUMP: No, you shouldn't.

MUIR: I...

TRUMP: But let me just tell you. What they do say is that the press doesn't cover them.

FOLKENFLIK: The Republican public relations consultant Kurt Bardella says Bannon concluded that the media would be a perfect foil for Trump. Bardella worked daily for Bannon as a consultant for Breitbart News.

KURT BARDELLA: What they're really doing is trying to set precedent for how they will deal with tough questions and potential investigations.

FOLKENFLIK: The White House will deal with it, Bardella says, by dismissing the media.

BARDELLA: They're laying the groundwork so that when those questions come or those reports come or those facts come, that they can say, of course they're writing that; they're the opposition. Of course they're writing that; they're fake news. They're laying the groundwork to try to discredit any type of negative press that could be damaging to the administration in the future.

FOLKENFLIK: The White House's routine denunciation of the media, Bardella says - a marriage of conviction and convenience. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BLOW SONG, "TRUE AFFECTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.