“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free — and many times adversarial — press,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on NBC’s Meet The Press. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time — that’s how dictators get started.”
Citing history, McCain told NBC that “the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” though he hastened to add: “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 responded to the echoes of this Trump weekend tweet: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
Defense Secretary James Mattis disagreed with Trump’s “enemy” comment. While “I’ve had some rather contentious times with the press,” Mattis told reporters over the weekend that the media is “a constituency that we deal with, and I don’t have any issues with the press myself.”
Political analysts said there’s a difference between criticizing the press and calling it “the enemy” — a phrase authoritarian governments of the past have indeed used to de-legitimize political opponents and institutions.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace cautioned his colleagues and the network’s viewers Sunday that President Trump’s latest attack on the media had crossed the line.
The “Fox & Friends” anchors had shown a clip of Trump recounting that past presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had fought with the press. They then asked Wallace whether Trump’s fraught relationship with the media was a big deal.
In response, Wallace told his colleagues that Jefferson had also once written the following: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Context was important, Wallace said. All presidents fight with the media, but Trump had taken it a step further in making them out to be “the enemy,” he added.
“Yes, presidents have always had — and politicians have always had — problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said. “But what Jefferson [was saying] is, despite all of our disputes, that to the functioning of a free and fair democracy, you must have an independent press.”
“We can take criticism, but to say we’re the enemy of the American people, it really crosses an important line,” Wallace said.