Sunday, November 20, 2016

Don't Let Steve Bannon Hide His Bigotry Behind Freedom of the Press

The mind works in mysterious ways. Or maybe not.

Last Thursday night I had an intense dream about the Diary of Anne Frank, the haunting story of a young Jewish girl, her family and friends who hid for years in an attic in Amsterdam from the Nazis who sought their annihilation and ultimately succeeded in the deaths of all but her father.

My dreams often are triggered by something I read or saw during the hours before sleep. I  can’t fall back to sleep until after I’ve written down my thoughts on my iPhone. I remember Thursday evening reading about the suggestion by one of president-elect Donald Trump’s clique that it would be all right to create a registry of Muslims who have entered the country, precedent for that coming from our history of interring Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Trump, himself, had called for a registry of Muslims during the campaign.

And I read how the Israeli ambassador to the United States declared Steve Bannon—a modern day Goebbels spewing racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, xenophobic venom through Breitbart News and just named chief strategist to the next president—kosher and acceptable to the Jewish state.

The moral ground once firmly beneath Israel cries out for solidity. Steve Bannon is no friend of Jews who should beware any person or group that advocates or condones discrimination. He is no friend of any of the ideals upon which Israel, or for that matter the United States, was founded. Sure, he has enjoyed freedom of the press, but he has used that cherished right to issue screeds of hate and division. He is an unworthy counselor for the next president and unworthy of the blessing of Israel.

As Trump’s cabinet and advisors coalesce with loyalists Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general and retired general Mike Flynn as national security advisor the latest to be tapped, it is intriguing to observe candidates who might be welcomed into the Trump orbit. Fascinating not so much because they would offer counterpoint to Trump’s public positions but rather because of what Trump and they said about each other during the primary campaign. 

But let’s be generous and realistic. Trump should not be held to a higher standard than, say, Barack Obama who chose rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state after each disparaged the other in 2008. As in love and war, all is fair in politics.

Under the guise of freedom of the press people are excusing Bannon, as well as Facebook and Twitter, for publishing racially offensive, sexist, misogynist, anti-Semitic screeds.

As a journalist all my adult life, from college newspaper through newspaper reporter and bureau chief, through business magazine editor and publisher to now a blogger, I deeply believe in the values of a free and unencumbered press.

But one should not be able to hide behind press freedom when it comes to the dissemination of intolerance and untruths. As an editor and publisher I read everything to be printed in my magazine. If I didn’t agree with the writer it was my job to change the article or kill it. Nothing, nothing would get printed if it didn’t agree with my viewpoint.

Bannon cannot claim articles or headlines in Breitbart News did not reflect his opinions. He was under no obligation to print bigotry or misinformation.

Breitbart News, like Facebook and Twitter, are not public trusts. They are private enterprises and can choose to print or reject any copy that its editor and publisher find objectionable. This is not censorship. It is the proper exercise of an editor or publisher’s red pencil. 

By his acquiescence, and perhaps even encouragement, Bannon has demonstrated he is not qualified to sit in an office two doors down from the Oval Office.

While in Germany last week President Obama called the spread of fake news a threat to democracy. We have elected as our next president a man who boasts he gets much of his news from the Internet, a domain that we somehow have allowed to be poisoned with falsehoods that, sadly, too many of our citizens lack the education and intelligence to know are untruths. 

Like many I am struggling to understand how the electorate chose a candidate who deliberately lied (more often than his foe) and who did not provide details of his plans for America. It was, many pundits now say, a protest vote against Washington.

The “Not My President” crowd, those who argue that Hillary Clinton should be the next commander-in-chief because she won the popular vote, are challenged by Trump’s claim that he would have garnered more votes if the campaigns were run as national popularity contests and not as a race to 270 Electoral College votes. 

Is he right? Impossible to tell, but there is evidence to support his claim. In the 14 battleground states where the candidates vigorously competed, Trump won 10 states; his total count exceeded Clinton’s by more than a million votes.