President-elect Donald Trump is beginning to assemble his administration, and one key appointment turned heads: that of Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist. Bannon was formerly the executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, which publishes Breitbart News, a website The New York Times said promotes “a parallel universe where black people do nothing but commit crimes, immigrants rape native-born daughters, and feminists want to castrate all men,” before he left to join the Trump campaign in August. Bannon himself has called Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right” and critics have denounced his appointment.
It’s unlikely Bannon will be the last controversial appointment or decision made by the Trump administration. To discuss the media’s role over the next four years, the Keepin’ It 1600 crew brought in The Guardian’s Sabrina Siddiqui.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
How the Coverage of Bannon’s Appointment Evolved
Jon Favreau: I think that when [the Steve Bannon appointment] was first announced, a lot of the outlets I respect did not do a very good job covering the white nationalist aspect [of his background]. We saw a lot of [reporting saying he’s a] conservative provocateur, [a] fire brand, all that kind of stuff. And so I was pretty disappointed in that first day. Today, I woke up and saw a lot of headlines that I think very accurately reflected Bannon’s ties. What do you think was responsible for that change in the ensuing days? Is it public outcry? Is it politicians speaking out? What has that effect?
Sabrina Siddiqui: I think it’s both. I think that some of [it is] the criticism that the media is met with when it doesn’t do an adequate job off the bat. That can sometimes bring about a change because it forces reporters and editors to have these difficult conversations inside of the newsroom. And I do think that there are people like myself — there are voices in those newsrooms now, even if there might not be enough minorities — who are able to feel free to say, “Look. You need to see this from my perspective.”
Newsrooms Need Diversity Now More Than Ever
S.S.: You see that happen, for example, with an issue like criminal justice reform. If it weren’t for the presence of more and more minorities in the newsroom, I don’t think that the media would cover these police killings in the way that they have. And so when you have someone in this position in the White House who is openly a white nationalist, there are people who are sitting there and saying, “Look, I’m Jewish, or I’m Muslim, or you know, I’m Hispanic, or I’m African American. And I’m one of your colleagues and listen to me when I say this, we can’t sweep this under the rug.” I know that those are conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the newsroom. And it helps them to see it. Because I don’t think people are doing it deliberately.
[I’m] not criticizing my colleagues in media [or trying] to say that they don’t actually care … It’s just that, of course it’s not inherent for certain people to think about these issues if they haven’t been personally affected by them. So I think that causes some of the change. It’s bad that it’s going to be a partisan kind of issue in terms of who’s pushing back, but the more you hear [the more it’s going to] push reporters behind the scenes. And when you throw all these headlines in their face and say look, you know, this is not just someone with ties or who critics say is a white nationalist, the body of evidence speaks for itself. It becomes more and more difficult to ignore.
How the Media Failed During the Campaign
Jon Lovett: Just one last question: How are you feeling?
S.S.: Oh, gosh. I honestly … It’s been really tough. I mean this is the thing, and I’m not going to feel like I’m being subjective or I’m not impartial to be candid about the fact that this is a difficult time for me, for my family. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation, period, if it had been one of the more conventional Republicans who was the nominee.
I think some of the liberal media has failed in this, too. I remember having these conversations in a campaign cycle where people who are kind of in the so-called liberal elite media, [would say] “OK, well Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would be worse than Donald Trump on policy.” And they had the luxury of sitting there, making that argument to say that, “Well, they would follow the GOP orthodoxy. We don’t know what Donald Trump would do. He’s unpredictable.” But I think any person of color, any minority would have told you otherwise. That [had a conventional Republican been elected] you wouldn’t have this large swath of people, of Americans who woke up on November 9, questioning their sense of belonging in this country.
I think people need to see that we are not as evolved as we wish that we were. And so it’s important for all of us to kind of engage together and have these more frank conversations. I’m not sure what I plan to do next, but this makes me even more determined than ever before to stick around and to fight back. I’m not saying fight back against one president or to fight back against one party. I’m saying to fight back against the mainstreaming of racism and of a culture that marginalizes communities of color and minorities and those who don’t have as much of a voice.