Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took some jabs at President Trump for how he treats the media.
McCain explained that former President Ronald Reagan established the Reagan Ronald Reagan Freedom Award after he left office to acknowledge those who have promoted liberty around the world. “Reagan recognized that as leader of the free world, his words carried enormous weight, and he used them to inspire the unprecedented spread of democracy around the world,” McCain wrote in an opinion piece published on the Washington Post website Tuesday evening.
Trump, by comparison, "does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate in the same way,” the senator said. “He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. 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.”
McCain pointed out instances abroad of “assault” on journalists and free speech and noted that administration officials are quick to condemn violence against journalists, yet the attacks from Trump against the press have not let up. He argued Trump has given legitimacy to the term “fake news” and that it is being used to “silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens.”
“Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable,” McCain wrote. “For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of ‘fake news’ undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.”
McCain said the U.S. could not allow itself to lose its role as a “defender” of human rights and principles worldwide, and called on Congress to protect free speech and independent journalism.
“Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed,” he wrote. “We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”
Trump has long made it a habit to criticize the media — particularly outlets that publish stories critical of him, leading to his "fake news" charge — and announced earlier this month he would give out "Fake News Awards" in an event scheduled initially for Jan. 8, but later pushed back to Jan. 17.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders cautioned that it was a "potential" event, and Trump's public schedule for Wednesday makes no mention of it.