Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor Wednesday morning to formally rebuke President Donald Trump on his continuous attacks about the truthfulness of the news media.
Flake has been known to denounce and criticize Trump’s actions, but his speech was a very straight forward rejection of the “fake news”/”alternative facts” era that the Trump administration has created.
“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,” said Flake. “A major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.”
The media has undoubtedly been guilty of errors, but according to CNN Politics, Trump has said more than 2,000 things “that are misleading or false and hasn’t once apologized for doing so or stopped saying the thing that isn’t true.”
Flake took a look back at the tragedies against journalists in 2017 and called for 2018 to be the year that truth is more powerful than the government. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 deaths of journalists were recorded in 2017 and 262 journalists were imprisoned internationally, including 21 reports being held on “false news” charges.
During his speech, Flake also compared Trump’s rhetoric to that of late Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin after calling the news media the “enemy of the people,” a phrase famously known to be spoken by Stalin.
“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,” he said. “It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade 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.”
He continued on to declare that calling the Russian matter a “hoax” is a “falsehood,” and that everything Trump has denied is actually very real and posed a threat to American sovereignty and national security.
“We are a mature democracy — it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring — or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost,” Flake said in closing.
The White House was quick and deliberate to respond that same day to Flake’s speech. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders during the daily White House briefing told reporters that the speech was just a ploy for attention after Flake was disappointed with his poll numbers.
“[Flake] is not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression,” said Sanders, according to TIME. “He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers. He is, I think, looking for some attention. I think it’s unfortunate, and certainly I think our position here at the White House is that we welcome access to the media every day. To act as if we’re anything but open to that back and forth exchange is utterly ridiculous.”
Flake previously announced that he will not be looking for re-election for Senate in 2018 but he will use his remaining time on Capitol Hill as a platform to speak out against Trump when he feels it is acceptable.