Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a Tuesday evening op-ed denounced President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press and warned of their broader implications for democracies and press freedom across the world. His admonishment comes as the president prepares to hand out “Fake News Awards” in a ceremony he made up.
“While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets,” the Arizona senator wrote in an op-ed published by the Washington Post. “This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens.”
McCain notes that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit group that promotes press freedom and protects journalists’ rights worldwide, found that 2017 was among the most dangerous years on record to be a journalist. He cites CPJ data that documented the cases of 262 journalists being imprisoned for their work last year and 21 cases where journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.
“For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom,” McCain wrote. “But constant cries of ‘fake news’ undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.”
McCain’s op-ed lands ahead of Trump’s so-called “Fake News Awards,” an event he invented and has been promoting on Twitter. The president initially tweeted that they would be on Monday, January 8, but later postponed them to Wednesday, January 17.
The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th, rather than this coming Monday. The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2018
It is unclear whether the awards are, well, real. When asked about the ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the awards were a “potential event.” They’re not on Trump’s public schedule for Wednesday.
McCain in his op-ed addresses Trump’s “Fake News Awards” and says the president “does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate” around the world. “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,” he writes.
McCain isn’t alone in sounding the alarm about Trump’s sustained attacks on the press this week. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Wednesday is expected to deliver a floor speech in which he will compare President Trump’s approach to the news media to that of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
According to excerpts released by his office, Flake will say that Trump’s description of the press as the enemy of the people is a “testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.” He will also say that Trump’s tactics seeking to discredit the press should be a source of embarrassment:
This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
It is unclear whether Trump’s “Fake News Awards” will proceed as promised.