A free and at times adversarial press is essential “if you want to preserve democracy,” Republican Senator John McCain said in response to Donald Trump’s description of the media as the enemy of the American people. The veteran lawmaker joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in pushing back against the president’s latest criticism of the mainstream media. Trump’s comment was “deeply concerning,” added Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Commitee. Dictators “get started by suppressing free press,” Arizona’s McCain said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that he wasn’t saying Trump aims to become a dictator. “I hate the press. I hate you especially,” McCain told NBC journalist Chuck Todd, according to a partial transcript provided by the network of an interview that will be broadcast on Sunday. “The fact is, we need you.” Without a free media, “I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time,” McCain said.
Trump intensified his regular attacks on the news media in a series of messages on Friday and Saturday to his 25 million Twitter followers. “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Trump said Friday. He deleted an initial version of the message that concluded, “SICK!” Followup tweets by Trump berated the media for its reporting of his Thursday press conference and advised followers, “Don’t believe the main stream (fake news) media.”
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White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Trump’s characterization of the media as the enemy should be taken seriously. The media “really needs to get its act together,” Priebus said in an interview to air Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Merkel backed the media at an international security conference in Munich. “I stand by a free and independent press and have great respect for journalists,” the German leader said while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sat in the audience. “We’ve always done well in Germany when we mutually respect each other.”
McCain, 80, has clashed with the president since Trump questioned the former prisoner of war’s hero status during the campaign. This week at the Munich conference, McCain, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told European allies that the new administration was “in disarray.”
McCain said on NBC that “We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve -– I’m very serious now -– if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.”
“When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history,” McCain said.
In an interview to air Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week,” Schiff, of California, said Trump had crossed a line.
“Of all the things he has said since he became president, or since the election, this to me was the most devastating and the most alarming,” Schiff said, according to a partial transcript released by the network.
“That he essentially views the First Amendment — because that’s what these organizations represent — as an enemy of the people. This is something that you hear tin-pot dictators say when they want to control all of the information.”