Just one week into Donald Trump’s presidency, his then-chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon articulated the official White House position on the news media: “You’re the opposition party,” he told the New York Times. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.” Trump deployed the formulation a day later.
Like dozens of other administration cast-offs, Bannon is long gone from the government, having been booted for making stray and unhelpful remarks about many things, though not about the media.
He did make his mark, however. Here is part of a statement issued by Stephanie Grisham, the communications director for first lady Melania Trump, who on Monday made a White House appearance on behalf of a cause: “Yesterday, First Lady Melania Trump unveiled Be Best, her initiative meant to support children and the many issues they are facing today,” Grisham said in a statement. “After giving a strong speech that was met with a standing ovation and positive feedback, the focus from opposition media has been on an educational booklet, ‘Talking with Kids About Being Online’ produced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2009.”
“Focus” is a subjective term, but sure. Various media outlets noted a certain overlap in materials. Politico, for instance:
Included in the rollout for the campaign was a “booklet by First Lady Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission” instructing parents on best practices about “Talking with Kids about Being Online” highlighted on the “Be Best” website.
The report, aside from a foreword from the first lady, appears to mirror nearly word for word an FTC booklet on “Chatting with Kids About Being Online” released in 2014 under former President Barack Obama, according to a Politico review.
On her eponymous MSNBC show, host Rachel Maddow riffed: “The White House also [was] not doing the first lady any favors when they, in conjunction with this appearance put out document and called it, quote, a booklet by First Lady Melania Trump and the FTC. They sent out this document today saying it was created by Mrs. Trump. This brochure was actually created during the Obama administration.” She added, “All they did was put a new introduction on it with a picture from Melania Trump. They also changed the icon inside from an old-looking phone to a sort of new-looking phone to update the iconography there.
Media folks also reminded the public about the mini-scandal at the 2016 Republican National Convention, during which Melania Trump gave a speech that was eerily similar in places to an address given by Michelle Obama.
Mentions of that sort apparently unsettled the office of the first lady, which resurrected Bannon’s “opposition media” terminology. “Despite providing countless outlets with ample background, information, and on-the-record comments from the FTC, some media have chosen to take a day meant to promote kindness and positive efforts on behalf of children, to instead lob baseless accusations towards the First Lady and her new initiatives,” noted Grisham’s statement, which included a supportive quote from an FTC official about distributing the guidance. (See the full statement below.)
Just a couple of facts to put things in perspective: Melania Trump has kept a very low profile since she became first lady, avoiding interviews and the spotlight in general; the “Be Best” rollout was a major moment — “Her focus all along has been children, and this launch is meant to formalize what her role will be for the next three to seven years,” Grisham told The Post in a story earlier this month on the first lady’s White House life. Melania Trump has done few interviews with the media. And according to The Post, she “particularly disliked” Bannon.
Yet here comes her office, channeling Bannonesque rhetoric just because media outlets picked up on a clearly newsworthy aspect of her “Be Best” initiative. Just goes to show you — bashing the media is not merely a political strategy; it’s a narcotic. Why, ever, reckon with your shortcomings when you can go all Steve Bannon on the media?
The full statement from Grisham:
Statement from the Communications Director
Yesterday, First Lady Melania Trump unveiled Be Best, her initiative meant to support children and the many issues they are facing today.
After giving a strong speech that was met with a standing ovation and positive feedback, the focus from opposition media has been on an educational booklet, “Talking with Kids About Being Online” produced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2009. Mrs. Trump agreed to add Be Best branding and distribute the booklet in an effort to use her platform to amplify the positive message within. As she said in yesterday’s speech, she is going to use Be Best to promote people and organizations to encourage conversation and replication, and helping the FTC distribute this booklet is just one small example.
Despite providing countless outlets with ample background, information, and on-the-record comments from the FTC, some media have chosen to take a day meant to promote kindness and positive efforts on behalf of children, to instead lob baseless accusations towards the First Lady and her new initiatives.
As stated by Nathaniel Wood, Consumer and Business Education Division Associate Director, FTC, “We frequently work with members of Congress, the White House, other government agencies, and the private sector. As a small and independent civil law enforcement agency, the FTC encourages our partners to help spread our message to consumers. We were excited that Mrs. Trump distributed this important information about staying safe online. We look forward to continuing to work with her and others to help parents and children use the Internet safely and responsibly.”
Our office will continue to focus on helping children and I encourage members of the media to attempt to Be Best in their own professions, and focus on some of the children and programs Mrs. Trump highlighted in her remarks yesterday.