Senator John McCain issued a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump’s criticism of the press as the “enemy of the American People,” saying that intimidating and suppressing the news media is “how dictators get started.”
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Saturday, the Arizona Republican offered his thoughts on the importance of a free press to a democracy and warned that attempting to “shut down” any adversarial media outlets has typically been a tactic employed by dictators.
McCain’s comments came after Todd asked him about Trump’s tweet Friday in which he referred to outlets that have been critical of his presidency as “fake news” and said they were the “enemy of the American People.”
In response, McCain, while clarifying that he did not think “President Trump is trying to be a dictator,” said that “we need a free press.”
“Without it, I’m afraid that we would loose so much of our individual liberties over time,” McCain said. “That’s how dictators get started.”
When Todd pressed McCain on whether he was saying dictators get started “with tweets like that,” McCain clarified his position.
“They get started by suppressing a free press, in other words, a consolidation of power,” McCain said. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not trying to say that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”
Trump has continually railed against media coverage of his administration on Twitter, and during a rally Saturday night in Melbourne, Florida, he once again slammed the press for “lies, misrepresentations and false stories.”
His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, also appeared on CBS Saturday night and said the American public should take Trump’s attacks on the media “seriously.” Priebus also criticized the press for using anonymous sources, a particularly sensitive subject for the White House, which has seen a steady flow of leaks that Trump has lashed out at in recent weeks.
McCain, meanwhile, garnered attention Friday for his implied criticism of Trump while speaking at a conference in Munich. In that speech, McCain never mentioned Trump by name, but many commentators saw it as a veiled shot at the president nonetheless.
“More and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent,” McCain said in his speech.