18 Jan 2018

Trump's attacks on free press 'reprehensible' - US senator

11:46 am on 18 January 2018

A US Senator has launched an attack on President Donald Trump's relationship with the media, comparing his fellow Republican to former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

US Senator Jeff Flake (R) at a meeting with President Trump in December.

US Senator Jeff Flake (R) at a meeting with President Trump in December. Photo: AFP

In a rare intra-party rebuke from the Senate floor, Flake said Trump's portrayal of the press as "the enemy of the people" and repeated White House references to "fake news" and "alternative facts" inspired modern-day authoritarians such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until he died in 1953, used the phrase "enemy of the people" to describe those he wanted annihilated. Mr Trump's embrace of the phrase "should be a source of great shame," Mr Flake said.

Mr Flake, 55, an Arizona conservative who has frequently feuded with Trump, in October described himself as out of step with his party and said would not seek re-election. His term ends in January 2019.

"Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians ... This is reprehensible," Mr Flake said.

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said Mr Flake's comments about Mr Trump were "bordering on outrageous."

"In a country that is totalitarian, somebody opposing the president ... couldn't sit on the Senate floor and attack the president of the United States," Mr Shah said in an interview with Fox News Channel.

Mr Trump's attacks on the media in response to critical stories about him have been a staple of his Twitter feed and in February 2017 he tweeted: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!"

That same month, President Assad was quoted as dismissing charges of human rights violations at a military prison as "fake news." In the Philippines, President Duterte on Tuesday lashed out at a "fake news outlet" known for challenging his government.

Noting Mr Trump has said he will give out awards for "the most corrupt and dishonest" media, Mr Flake said "it beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle."

Mr Trump had said he would announce the mock awards on Wednesday but on Tuesday press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was a "potential event."

McCain makes similar criticisms

The other Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain, made similar criticisms against Mr Trump on Wednesday in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

"Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets," wrote Mr McCain, who is fighting aggressive brain cancer. "This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit."

In his clashes with Mr Trump, Mr Flake has called his behavior sometimes "reckless, outrageous and undignified" and criticized the president in a book that made the New York Times best-seller list last year.

On Twitter Mr Trump has referred to the senator as "Flake(y)" and said Mr Flake dropped his re-election bid because he was doomed to lose.

He also has called Mr Flake ineffective, "toxic" and weak on issues such as crime and border security.

Mr Flake has still voted for Trump's policies. He supported Republican tax cut legislation last month and voted for unsuccessful bills to repeal and replace Obamacare, both efforts backed by Mr Trump.

Mr Flake laid some "official untruths" at Mr Trump's door Wednesday and said the most vexing was his labeling as a "hoax" the investigation of alleged ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign.

"To call the Russia matter a 'hoax' ... is a falsehood," Mr Flake said.

"We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat," he said. "It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter."

- Reuters

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