Friday 20 July 2018

Republican senator: Trump ‘fake news’ rhetoric recalls Stalin’s words

Jeff Flake called Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media “shameful” and “repulsive”.

Mr Flake delivered a blistering speech on the Senate floor (AP)Mr Flake delivered a blistering speech on the Senate floor (AP)
Mr Flake delivered a blistering speech on the Senate floor (AP)Mr Flake delivered a blistering speech on the Senate floor (AP)

By Matthew Daly

A Republican senator has denounced US president Donald Trump’s use of the terms “fake news” and “enemy of the people” to describe the news media and stories he does not like.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said Mr Trump’s attacks were reminiscent of words infamously used by Russian dictator Josef Stalin to describe his opponents.

In a speech on the US senate floor, Mr Flake called Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media “shameful” and “repulsive”, and said the president “has it precisely backward”.

Mr Flake said that the true enemy of the people is despotism, while a free press is the despot’s enemy and a guardian of democracy.

The senator, a frequent Trump critic who is retiring this year, said when Mr Trump calls stories he does not like “fake news”, he should be the figure of suspicion, “not the press”.

Mr Flake has said he is not comparing Trump to Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of millions, but said the US president’s use of a term favoured by the Russian dictator, “enemy of the people,” is chilling.

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party,” Mr Flake said.

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The Arizona senator called Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media “shameful” (Senate TV/AP)

Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain, also decried Mr Trump’s use of the term “fake news” and said the president was encouraging autocrats around the world to “silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens”.

In an opinion column in The Washington Post, Mr McCain said Mr Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press “make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable”.

Constant cries of “fake news” undercut legitimate reporting and “strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent”, Mr McCain wrote.

Donald Trump’s first year in office “was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government,” Mr Flake said, referring to the president.

Mr Flake said the impulses underlying Mr Trump’s attacks “are not benign”, adding: “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 behaviour on our democracy cannot be overstated.”

Mr Trump’s use of the term “fake news” has encouraged authoritarian leaders around the world, who now routinely dismiss criticism as “fake news”, Flake and McCain said, citing comments by Syrian president Bashar Assad, Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuelan premier Nicolas Maduro, among others.

As a Republican, Mr Flake said he is ashamed of the US leader and said politicians in both parties must stand up to his attacks.

Press Association

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