Sen. John McCain is telling President Donald Trump to stop attacking the media, saying the administration’s attitude makes it easier for oppressive regimes to mistreat reporters and for corrupt governments to be left unaccountable.
In an op-ed published Tuesday for the Washington Post, the Arizona Republican calls the Trump administration’s attitude towards the press “inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.”
“He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with,” McCain wrote. “Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”
Through his presidential campaign run and as late as last week, Trump has discussed beefing up libel laws. And last year, Trump told then-FBI Director Jim Comey that journalists should be thrown in jail for publishing government leaks.
McCain linked Trump’s legitimization of the term “fake news” to the mistreatment of reporters abroad, saying it “is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens.” In 2017, McCain notes, a record number of journalists were jailed and a record number, 21, faced charges of “false news,” according to a report from the advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists.
“For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom,” McCain continued. “But constant cries of ‘fake news’ undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.”
McCain, a frequent Trump critic, has been away from Washington while recovering from cancer treatment in his home state of Arizona.