How Steve Bannon manipulated Australia's arrogant mainstream media

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Mutual congratulation society: ABC Four Corners reporter Sarah Ferguson and neo-fascist Steve Bannon (Image via @FergusonNews)

In the reaction of the mainstream media to criticism of the Bannon interview, there is a strong impression they are fighting a war against their readers, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

In their latest public performance of what I like to think of as auto erotic asphyxiation, mainstream Australian media personalities last week enjoyed noisy clickgasms as ABC TV's Four Corners presenter Sarah Ferguson interviewed U.S. President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, 

I'm no fan of censorship and de-platforming. A 45 minute program centred round Bannon and strongly contextualised might have been a useful thing. However, Ferguson's interview provided minimal context and lacked rigour, reducing the experience to little more than an opportunity for Bannon to peddle his tired ideology, relatively unchallenged. Although we had been urged to open our minds to the "different ideas" proffered by Bannon, nothing new emerged.

By far more interesting than anything Bannon had to say were the reactions of senior media figures to audience feedback. There was a great deal of well-argued criticism of the Ferguson interview on social media, all of which has been either ignored by journalists, or responded to with abuse and contempt. Critics have been variously described as living in an enclave, inhabiting a silo, occupying an echo chamber, or being "thick," "hysterical," "pitchfork wielding lefties".

It's interesting to note here that one of Bannon's stated priorities during his period as Trump's right-hand man was the destruction of the free press.

In 2017, he is quoted in a New Yorker article titled 'Steve Bannon's war on the press' as declaring:

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Bannon also said, “I want you to quote me on this. 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.”

Bannon did the groundwork for Trump's ongoing feud with the media, in which the President relentlessly accuses journalists of inventing "fake news" and being "enemies of the people".

Given Bannon's loathing for a media he believes are lackeys of what he perceives to be a "liberal elite establishment" he has vowed to destroy, the Australian media, who have not only rushed to defend Ferguson's interview, but have as well hurled a tirade of abuse at anyone who disagrees, could be seen to be working against their own interests.

Bannon is a masterful manipulator playing a very long game. Consider this. His goal is to destroy the mainstream media. He persuades Australian media to give him a platform, in full knowledge of the disruption this will provoke amongst their consumers. He manipulates the media so well that, when consumers do object, that media turns not against him, but against the consumers it needs for its continued existence.

In the reaction of the mainstream media to criticism of the Bannon interview, there is a strong impression they are fighting a war against their readers. Leading media personalities apparently consider themselves under siege. Instead of robustly engaging with legitimate criticisms of the interview, they responded with denigration, scorn or a pointed ignoring of legitimate concerns. This can only feed the already pervasive sense of mistrust and water the growing public reluctance to support them. In their reactions, the media involved have positioned themselves as enemies of the people. They haven't needed a Bannon or a Trump to do it for them.

Bannon has succeeded in setting the elites of the media against the “elites” of the Left and, in so doing, has won the first round of his battle against mainstream media in this country. Of course, he hasn’t done it all by himself. The relationship between mainstream media and its consumers has been going pear-shaped for quite a while. It’s fertile ground for someone intent on furthering the destruction — a Bannon ambition of which the media who support his exposure is apparently entirely unaware, or has overlooked in its desire for the thrill of rubbing up against dangerous fame.

You need to be very careful when you put your head in a plastic bag in pursuit of orgasmic gratification.

I've been told Bannon contacted Four Corners requesting the interview, rather than the other way round. I have no verification of this, however it does make some sense, given that Bannon plans a speaking tour of Australia in November. The interview served as a great introduction to that tour — thank you Four Corners! 

Bannon was offered an invaluable opportunity to introduce his ideology directly to Australian audiences as part of his campaign to take his "Populist Revolution" global. His goal, however, is to foment, throughout Europe and Asia, the kind of chaos and disruption he has managed to achieve in the U.S. through Trump.

The man has far more cunning than to go the full racist nihilist in his introductory appearance on Australian television. It was down to Ferguson and her producers to either provide this context, or refrain from interviewing him, because if you don’t know much about Bannon, he came across as a scruffy, smart motor mouth who doesn’t pose that much of a threat.  This impression was appalling validated by the photo published by Ferguson on Twitter of Bannon and herself after the interview, looking far too cosy, and accompanied by a rather desperately defiant “fuck you if you criticise me” comment.

Ferguson seems to have fallen into the journalistic conceit that the right person conducting the right hard-hitting interview at the right moment can change the course of history. She's not alone in this conceit: the illustrious David Remnick of the New Yorker also pushed this angle as the justification for inviting Bannon to headline that magazine's upcoming festival, promising to "put pressure" on Bannon and confound him with hard-hitting questions.  The invitation has since been rescinded, due to the refusal of many other guests to participate in any festival that headlines Bannon.

I’ll give the last word to Dr Lisa Pryor who succinctly sums up the current state of Australian media:

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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