Senator Jeff Flake announced earlier this week that he will give a speech Wednesday regarding our “Dear Leader’s” penchant to portray the free press as “the enemy of the people,” a phrase employed by Joseph Stalin to silence the media. Sen. Jeff Flake hangs the Stalin label on Trump for attacking the free press.
Today, Sen. Flake’s seatmate, Senator John McCain, joins him in defending the free press against Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press in an op-ed in the Washington Post. Mr. President, stop attacking the press:
After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the honor on human rights icon Natan Sharansky, who credited Reagan’s strong defense of freedom for his own survival in Soviet gulags. 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.
President Trump does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate in the same way. 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.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2017 was one of the most dangerous years to be a journalist. Last year, the organization documented 262 cases of journalists being imprisoned for their work. Reporters around the world face intimidation, threats of violence, harassment, persecution and sometimes even death as governments resort to brutal censorship to silence the truth.
The committee’s report revealed a bleak global climate for press freedom, as more governments seek to control access to information and limit freedom of opinion and expression. They do this not only by arresting journalists but also by fostering distrust of media coverage and accusing reporters of undermining national security and pride. Governments dub the press the “enemy of the people,” weaken or eliminate their independence, and exploit the lack of serious scrutiny to encroach on individual liberties and freedoms.
This assault on journalism and free speech proceeds apace in places such as Russia, Turkey, China, Egypt, Venezuela and many others. Yet even more troubling is the growing number of attacks on press freedom in traditionally free and open societies, where censorship in the name of national security is becoming more common. Britain passed a surveillance law that experts warn chills free speech, and countries from France to Germany are looking to do the same. In Malta, a prominent journalist was brutally murdered in October after uncovering systemic government corruption. In Poland, an independent news outlet was fined (later rescinded) nearly half a million dollars for broadcasting images of an anti-government protest.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s attitude toward such behavior has been inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.
Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. 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.
We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.
We can do this by encouraging our partners and allies to review their laws and practices, including the abuse of defamation and anti-terrorism laws, to better protect press freedom and ensure that they do not unduly shrink the space for free speech. We can authorize U.S. foreign assistance to support independent media outlets and programs that create greater media pluralism. We can do more to foster conditions in which freedom of expression and information can thrive, including working to change increasingly political attitudes toward journalism. And we can condemn violence against journalists, denounce censorship and support dissidents and activists as they seek to speak the truth.
Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. 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.
Donald Trump has sought to destroy the concept of truth and replace it with a propagandistic alternative reality, frequently built on a foundation of lies, something the conservative media entertainment complex has been doing for years. This undermines the media’s role as the watchdog of democracy.
UPDATE: Here is the link to Sen. Jeff Flake’s must-see speech today. Sen. Jeff Flake condemns President Trump’s attacks on media — FULL SPEECH (C-SPAN).
UPDATE: The slack-jawed hillbilly from Arkansas, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, blasted Sen. Jeff Flake shortly after he criticized President Trump during a speech on the Senate floor. From The Hill:
“I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this president considering he is one who was recently defending an actually oppressive regime. He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government,” Sanders said Wednesday during the White House press briefing.
“He is not criticizing the president because he is against oppression, he is criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention.”
This shameless hillbilly does not get irony. Sanders criticized Sen. Flake for his trip to Cuba one day after President Trump welcomed to the White House the authoritarian strongman of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
President Trump proclaimed Tuesday “Religious Freedom Day,” but he spent the afternoon meeting with an authoritarian leader who has been accused of conducting a brutal campaign of repression against religious minorities and political opponents in his country.
Trump’s visit with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Tuesday included a working lunch and a sit-down in the Oval Office. According to the White House, Trump and Nazarbayev pledged to “strengthen cooperation on political and security issues, trade and investment” during their meetings. However, the White House would not say whether Trump urged him to adopt reforms or address human rights issues during the meeting.
After Nazarbayev arrived at the White House, the pair headed to the Oval Office where they praised each other. Trump called Nazarbayev “highly respected” and said he has “done a great, great job.” Through a translator, Nazarbayev said Trump’s first year in office has been “very productive” and that Trump “achieved a lot.”
Nazarbayev’s regime has been accused of abuses by a number of international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, which has said the country “heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech and religion.” Kazakhstan has detained journalists, human rights activists, opposition politicians and one Teymur Akhmedov, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was accused of “incitement of religious hatred” and arrested last January. A 2016 U.S. State Department report said Nazarbayev’s government has “continued to arrest, detain and imprison members of religious groups.” The country is majority Muslim.
The White House also did not respond to questions about whether Trump would bring up Akhmedov’s case or allegations that detainees in Kazakhstan are tortured.
Trump’s meeting with Nazarbayev and his promise of increased ties between the U.S. and Kazakhstan also provoked questions about the president’s personal finances and alleged links to Kazakhstan.
When they finished speaking in the Oval Office, reporters in the room shouted questions, and one asked about allegations that illicit money from Kazakhstan made its way to a Trump property in New York City.
Last month, Bloomberg published a report noting family members of a former executive accused of laundering billions from a Kazakh bank bought condos in the former Trump SoHo, a hotel and residential high-rise in downtown Manhattan from which Trump’s name was removed in December. The piece also noted an ongoing civil lawsuit that alleged a Kazakh oligarch sent millions of dollars to a company that helped Trump develop the hotel.
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Trump maintains ownership of the real estate company he ran before taking office, although after his election he handed off control to his two eldest sons. The Trump Organization has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the Kazakh money-laundering case.
Trump SoHo isn’t the only potential financial link between Trump and Kazakhstan. Last August, the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson wrote about a 2011 plan for a real estate development in the country of Georgia bearing Trump’s name. The project was partially funded by a Kazakh oligarch and Trump was reportedly paid $1 million for his involvement.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News about whether Trump has financial ties to anyone in Kazakhstan and whether his personal business dealings influenced his desire to strengthen relations with that country.