Trump's Attacks on Media Embolden Authoritarians, Flake Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is emboldening authoritarian leaders around the world by dismissing media coverage of his administration as "fake news," Arizona Republican Jeff Flake said in a Senate floor speech Wednesday.

"It is past time to stop excusing or ignoring or worse, endorsing these attacks on the truth," Flake said. The president’s tweet in February 2017 that news outlets are "the enemy of the American people" uses words "infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies," said the senator, who has been a vocal critic of the president in recent months.

"Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has now, in turn, inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language," Flake said. He pointed to complaints about supposed fake news by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and others.

"We are not in a fake news era as Bashar al-Assad says," Flake said, referring to the president of Syria. "We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself to challenge free people and free societies everywhere."

Trump said in a Jan. 7 Twitter message he plans to give out awards Wednesday to media outlets he claims are "the most corrupt & biased."

"It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle, but here we are," said Flake, who isn’t seeking re-election this year. He urged members of Congress to push back, saying, "If we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost."

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel responded to Flake on Twitter, writing, "Sen. Flake, turn on the news. It’s wall-to-wall with biased coverage against @POTUS. He has every right to push back. Comparing the leader of the free world to murderous dictators is absurd. You’ve gone too far."

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