Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona delivered an impassioned speech to the Senate on Wednesday defending freedom of the press and slamming President Donald Trump and his administration for engaging in what Flake called “a daily assault” on free speech that is “as unprecedented as it is unwarranted.”
In a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Flake said that our democracy will not last without belief in the work that journalists do to align our country around a shared set of facts.
Flake specifically referenced Trump’s characterization last February of the news media as “the enemy of the people,” explaining the dark origins of that phrase.
“So fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”
The senator also lamented that the “fake news” label the president often uses to smear press coverage critical of his administration has spread around the globe, inspiring dictators and autocrats worldwide to use the phrase to attack journalists in their own countries. He offered some specific examples:
From false claims about crowd size to efforts to derail the investigation into Russia’s interference in our election, Flake emphasized that untruths both trivial and consequential represent a threat to American sovereignty and national security.
Though the speech was very clearly aimed at Trump, Flake made a point to say that it’s the responsibility of all American politicians — especially those in the president’s party — to “resolve to be allies of the truth and not partners in its destruction.”
Instead of fearing a dishonest press, Flake said Americans should fear a dishonest president: “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.”
Read the full transcript of Flake’s speech below: