Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to rebuke President Donald Trump for his attacks on the media.
Flake's remarks came the same day the president previously said he would issue “Fake News Awards” to the media.
The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the lo… https://t.co/MFPjW1foo3— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1515357339.0
What did Flake say?
In a speech, the outgoing senator, a frequent critic of Trump, blasted the president for an “unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally protected free press.”
Flake said the president’s characterization of the news media as the "enemy of the people" is "an assault as unprecedented as it is unwarranted."
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake said.
The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1487368102.0
He said the president’s "shameful, repulsive statement" about the press are a “great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party.”
“And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people,” Flake said.
The senator noted that a free press “is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.”
“When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press,” he said.
Flake said the president’s comments about the media imperil a free press in other parts of the world:
Every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.
Flake said such “despotic language” from an American president “inspired dictators and authoritarians.”
“This is reprehensible,” he said, pointing to recent remarks by Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, among others, that he characterized as comparable.
Flake said the Senate must not “turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions.”
“An American president who cannot take criticism — who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path,” he said. “And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”
Flake pointed to “untruths” told by the president, including his claims about the crowd size at his inauguration and his “oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President [Barack] Obama.”
“Let us be clear,” Flake said. “The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.”
Flake’s speech followed his Monday comments that Trump’s comments about the press being the enemy of the people are similar to some comments made by Stalin.
"I am in no way comparing President Trump to Joseph Stalin — Joseph Stalin was a killer; our president is not," Flake said on CNN. "It just puzzles me as to why you would use a phrase that is so loaded and that has such deeper meaning, the press being the enemy of the people."
Some observers, including David Axelrod, Obama's former chief strategist, asked if the Stalin analogy was appropriate:
@POTUS One of the dangers of @realDonaldTrump is that he prods his critics to become as hyperbolic as he is.— David Axelrod (@David Axelrod) 1516106726.0