Publicly resigning from an executive position may well be a failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s shameful. Failures aren’t necessarily humiliating, and the media doesn’t need to suggest they are. Yet this is how The Washington Post and The New York Times portrayed Steve Bannon’s resignation from Breitbart.
The outlets create this view with opinion, and by contrasting dramatic descriptions of Bannon’s prior successes with dramatic descriptions of his departure. The contrast could portray the career change as a fall from grace and disparage Bannon as a person.
Let’s look at both ways the Times and the Post use opinion to create this narrative.
Directly calling it a humiliation“Bannon’s departure from the website is the latest ignominious turn in a career that was once one of the most promising and improbable in modern American politics.” (The New York Times)
“Bannon’s departure was a humbling denouement for a figure who had reached the uppermost levels of power only a year ago.” (The Washington Post)By calling Bannon’s departure “ignominious,” which means shameful or disgraceful, and “humbling,” the outlets present reporters’ opinions as if they were facts. But, leaving his job isn’t automatically a shameful event—that would assume he feels guilt or committed some sort of wrongdoing, and Bannon hasn’t indicated this.
Contrasting success and departureAs you can see with the examples above, the Post and the Times contrast Bannon’s departure with his previously “promising” career and “power.” The articles continue that theme throughout. Consider these excerpts in the Post:
Breitbart helped Bannon become a “ would-be kingmaker,” and “up until very recently, the site has showered Bannon with laudatory coverage …”
Then, “Bannon hastened his own demise …”
And now, his departure from Breitbart “leaves him with no evident platform to promote his views and no financial basis for his preferred candidates.”Bannon is painted as once larger-than-life, but now seemingly left with nothing. The opinion-based language could exaggerate the extremes. Basically, the more important and powerful he seemed before, the lower it seems he has fallen.
It’s true that Bannon’s career has gone through changes in the past year and a half, and given the timeline of events (Trump criticized Bannon a few days before he resigned), one might think his departure from Breitbart isn’t dignified. Yet, the media would be more responsible to provide the data of what happened, without the opinion, and let readers interpret it themselves.
Instead, the Times and the Post use opinion and sensationalism painting the career change as a humiliation, and a dramatic fall from power. Could this style of reporting encourage us to revel in his so-called “demise”? If so, what might it suggest about our society that we celebrate other people’s failures?
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News