Sen. John McCain hates the press. Yet despite his disdain, McCain issued an impassioned defense of America's free press in an interview aired Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press. In a harsh rebuke of President Donald Trump's latest attack on the press, the Arizona Republican senator cautioned attempts to suppress the media were "how dictators get started."
"I hate the press. I hate you especially," McCain joked with Meet The Press host Chuck Todd. "But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital."
The senator went on to explain the essential role a free press plays in democratic societies. "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," McCain said. "And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time."
The senator then cautioned that attacking journalists and attempting to suppress the news media were tactics employed by totalitarian regimes. "That's how dictators get started," McCain said. "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."
In a worrisome escalation of his anti-news media rhetoric, President Trump tweeted on Friday that the New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN were not his enemy but "the enemy of the American people." The president's tweet came a day after he devoted much of a press conference to reprimanding journalists, calling them "dishonest people." Since taking office in January, Trump has repeatedly attempted to delegitimize the country's national media by labelling articles he sees as critical of him or his administration as "fake news."
While Sen. McCain sought to underscore the importance of a free press in a democratic society, he was also quick to stress he was not calling President Trump a dictator. "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."
Although they hail from the same political party, Sen. McCain has become a fierce and outspoken critic of President Trump. In the first few weeks of Trump's presidency, McCain has criticized his executive order on immigration, questioned his diplomacy with foreign leaders, and spoken out on a failed first mission in Yemen.