A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
While watching the news coverage of Steve Bannon’s initial appearance in federal court on Monday, I kept thinking about his 2018 confession to the acclaimed writer Michael Lewis. His quote is like a compass that orients this crazy era of American politics. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
That’s the Bannon business model: Flood the zone. Stink up the joint. As Jonathan Rauch once said, citing Bannon’s infamous quote, “This is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation.”
So, with that in mind, here’s what Bannon did: He streamed his arrival at an FBI field office, to turn himself in, on his GETTR account. He told his fans to “stay focused and stay on message” despite the “noise” of his indictment. He proclaimed that “we’re taking down the Biden regime.” He used the scene for all the publicity, and presumably political donations, that it was worth.
Inside the courtroom, Bannon was “a lot different,” according the CNN’s Evan Perez, who added that he “answered respectfully to the judge when the judge advised him of his rights.” But after his appearance in court, Bannon came back outside to the cameras; vowed to fight the criminal contempt of Congress charges; claimed that Democrats “took on the wrong guy this time;” and said “we’re going to go on the offense.” He told Vice’s Elizabeth Landers that he “100 percent” plans to continue podcasting: “They’ll never shut down The War Room.”
That’s how he floods the zone – by spinning lies for his podcast “posse” on a daily basis – and by attracting outside and outsized attention. Throughout the day on Monday, I noticed journalists and social media commenters wrestling with this issue. As Charlie Warzel said in 2019, “content creation and shamelessness” is a “potent combination.” That’s even more true today…
The “disorder” report
Aspen’s Commission on Information Disorder report landed on Monday. You can delve into it here. The commissioners are urging big fixes to the “federal approach” to disinfo, among other recommendations.
NiemanLab’s Joshua Benton said it’s a “solid report” that “had me nodding a lot more often than shaking my head,” but he was less than wowed by some of the proposals. “I just think the ‘information disorder’ is both (a) a very real issue that naturally attracts the attention of Big Commissions and Big Think Tanks and Big Reports, and (b) a problem that is uniquely immune to Big Commissions and Big Think Tanks and Big Reports,” he wrote.
Indeed, the report notes this challenge several times, pointing to broader societal ills that are “exploited to promote false information online.”
“The Internet is an amplifier,” Benton wrote in his reaction column on Monday. “It increases both the reach and awareness of society’s ills. As long as the root causes exist — and as long as there are people who seek power, wealth, or fame through exploiting them — things will keep getting louder.” Or to put it another way, the zone will be flooded with more and more shit…