February 19, 2017 1:53 pm
Updated: February 19, 2017 2:20 pm

Suppressing free press is ‘how dictators get started’: John McCain on Trump’s media comments

WATCH: U.S. Senator John McCain defended freedom of the press after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the media was "the enemy."

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U.S. Senator John McCain, defending the media against the latest attack by President Donald Trump, warned that suppressing the free press was “how dictators get started.”

The Arizona Republican, a frequent critic of Trump, was responding to a tweet in which Trump accused the media of being “the enemy of the American people”.

The international order established after World War II was built in part on a free press, McCain said in an excerpt of an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that was released in advance of the full Sunday morning broadcast.

“I hate the press. I hate you especially,” he told interviewer Chuck Todd from an international security conference in Munich. “But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

“If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started,” he continued.

“They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history,” McCain said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the importance of a free press at the conference on Saturday, saying, “I have high respect for journalists. We’ve always had good results, at least in Germany, by relying on mutual respect.”

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, told the conference on Sunday she was also concerned about Trump’s comments.

READ MORE: Donald Trump renews campaign vows, declares war on media in Florida rally

“The real danger is the president’s criticism of the media,” Shaheen told the conference. “A free press … is very important to maintaining democracy, and efforts on the part of a president to undermine and manipulate the press are very dangerous.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s assessment of the media as “the enemy of the American people,” saying during his first trip to the Middle East that he had no problems with the press.

Mattis, a retired Marine general seen as one of the most influential voices in Trump’s cabinet, did not mention his boss by name. But asked about Trump’s Tweet on Friday that branded the media as America’s enemy, Mattis took a different position entirely.

WATCH: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s assessment of the media as the “enemy of the American people,” saying he has no problems with the press.

“I’ve had some rather contentious times with the press. But no, the press, as far as I’m concerned, are a constituency that we deal with,” he told reporters traveling with him in the United Arab Emirates.

“And I don’t have any issues with the press, myself,” Mattis added.

The comments from U.S. lawmakers followed Trump’s tweet and came days after the president held a raucous news conference at which he repeatedly criticized news reports about disorder in the White House and leaks of his telephone conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

Since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has fiercely criticized various news outlets that have reported unflattering revelations of dysfunction or other problems in the White House.

He has described them as “lying”, “corrupt” and “failing,” and late on Friday he said the news media was “the enemy of the American people.”

Asked about the latest salvo, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program, “I think you should take (Trump’s Twitter statement) seriously.”

WATCH: White House Chief of Staff Reince Prebus combats CBS Face The Nation’s host John Dickerson over U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet calling the media “the enemy.”

“Certainly we would never condone violence. But I do think that we condone critical thought,” Priebus said, adding the media, in some cases, needed to “get its act together.”

© 2017 Thompson Reuters

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