WASHINGTON – The establishment media is spinning the apparent shuffling of chairs in the Trump administration as a substantial demotion for top presidential adviser Steve Bannon, despite the explanation from the White House.
“Trump boots Steve Bannon from key post on National Security Council” declared USA Today, as the major media trumpeted that the key adviser had been removed from the National Security Council, or NSC.
But the facts beneath the screaming headlines in the major media’s accounts told a different story.
What actually happened, according to the White House, was that Bannon was no longer on a list of regular attendees of NSC “principals committee” meetings.
However, the White House added, Bannon rarely, if ever, attended those meetings and he still may attend them, if he wishes. And he still has his security clearance.
“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized,” Bannon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
From the context, “de-operationalized” seemed to mean de-politicized.
Here’s how radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh analyzed the move on his show on Wednesday:
“Anyway, this is all gonna be reported as a major demotion. And the left is gonna be claiming and acting like they just got a scalp, that they are forcing Trump to make moves. And they’re now gonna be speculating what next will happen, what next will Bannon lose, what next will Trump take away from him. Is Bannon on the way out, is that what this means? And if Bannon is on the way out, then maybe that’s gonna be a signal that Trump is moderating. I can see all of this now, so I just want to prepare you for it.”
However, while the mainstream media spun the story as a demotion and loss of power for Bannon, key information inside their own stories contradicted those claims.
The following are the top headlines, along with contrasting information in those stories that speaks for itself.
A White House official portrayed the change as a natural progression rather than a demotion for Bannon. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, contended that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.
A filing on Tuesday in the Federal Register did not list Bannon as a regular attendee of NSC “principals committee” meetings, as he previously was.
Despite the move, Bannon retained his security clearance, NBC said.
Bannon originally served on the committee as a check against Michael Flynn before Flynn was ousted as National Security Advisor, a top White House official told NBC News. However, Bannon only attended one meeting and felt he was no longer needed in that role after the selection of H.R. McMaster as national security advisor.
McMaster, who Bannon wanted in the role, was given authority to reorganize the committee when he joined the White House, according to NBC.
A senior White House official told NBC this was not a power struggle. The official said the White House was bringing back more of a George W. Bush-era-type NSC. The council will be more streamlined and the decision making more deliberative, the official said.
New York Times: “Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post”
A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the N.S.C. after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed.
Washington Post: “Stephen Bannon removed from National Security Council”
Two senior White House officials said Bannon’s departure was in no way a demotion and that he had rarely attended meetings since being placed on the council.
Instead, one of the officials said, Bannon was put on the council early in the administration to guide and keep watch over then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was tasked with reshaping the operation. The official said Bannon did this from afar. The second official said that Bannon attended one meeting in the last month.
Bannon was there to “de-operationalize” the NSC from its Obama-era set-up, the official added, and he feels that has been accomplished with Flynn and his successor H.R. McMaster, and no longer feels the need to be part of the NSC.
“There was a concern when this administration came in that the national security council under the prior admin had grown too large and had taken on operational responsibilities that were not properly its role,” the second official said. Bannon was placed on the committee “to help return the NSC to its proper policy coordinating role.”
A senior White House official confirmed the move, saying that Bannon was given the post as a check on former national security adviser Michael Flynn. But Flynn was fired in February after misleading Vice President Pence about the substance of his discussions with the Russian ambassador after attending only one meeting, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.
Bannon said in a statement released Wednesday that previous national security adviser “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration so I was put on NSC to ensure it was ‘de-operationalized.’ General McMaster has NSC back to its proper function.”