Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of President Donald Trump’s harshest critics from within his own party, plans to give a speech on the Senate floor this week slamming the White House for its “unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press,” according to an excerpt of the speech provided to ABC News by Flake’s office.
Flake will go so far as to compare the president to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin for his use of the phrase “enemy of the people.”
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake’s written speech says.
“It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even [subsequent Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbad its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader,” the senator’s speech says.
The senator’s speech is referring to a tweet by Trump less than a month after he took office slamming the “FAKE NEWS media” as “the enemy of the American People!”
Flake also plans to say in his speech that in 2017 the truth was “more battered and abused than any other in the history of the country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.”
ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Flake on “This Week” Sunday about his plan to deliver the remarks as part of a series of speeches about Trump and his relationship with the truth and the press.
“What are you trying to do with these speeches?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“What I’m trying to say is … you can talk about crowd size, and that is pretty innocuous if there is a falsehood there,” Flake said, referring to Trump’s claims about the size of his inauguration crowd. “But when you reflexively refer to the press as the ‘enemy of the people’ or ‘fake news’ that has real damage. It has real damage to our standing in the world.”
Below is an excerpt of the speech that Sen. Flake plans to deliver this week:
2017 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. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.
Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbad its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin to for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.
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.
I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to commitment and their sacrifice. Mr. President, a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.