WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, who has long taken issue with media coverage of his presidential campaign and first year in office, announced his “fake news” media awards Wednesday night, his latest effort to cast the press as “unfair” and “dishonest.”
The list — featuring outlets routinely blasted by the president on Twitter including CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post — was released hours after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), in a fiery Senate floor speech, compared Trump’s treatment of the media to the actions of oppressive dictators.
Trump, who postponed announcing the results earlier this month, tweeted the list shortly after 8 p.m., but the GOP website containing the honorees crashed for a period of time. Instead of the awards, an error message greeted visitors to the site.
The 11 instances of alleged “fake news” highlighted by the president included a Time magazine reporter’s initial report claiming Trump removed a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office last January. The reporter, Zeke Miller, corrected his report minutes after a White House staffer pointed out the error. Miller, in a dispatch circulated to White House reporters, said that his view of the bust had been obscured by a door.
The president took issue with coverage of his foreign trips, saying CNN edited a video to make it appear as if he “defiantly overfed fish during a visit with the Japanese prime minister” and criticizing Newsweek for reporting that Poland’s first lady did not shake his hand during an overseas trip. The president posted a picture of the duo shaking hands, though video of an earlier encounter shows she walked past his outstretched hand, to go shake the hand of his wife Melania Trump instead.
He also took aim at reports about his campaign’s purported ties to Russia amid ongoing federal probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying “THERE IS NO COLLUSION!”
Although Trump sharply criticized several news outlets, he struck a more sanguine tone for other journalists.
“Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage,” Trump wrote in a follow-up tweet. “There are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of!”
Flake pre-emptively railed against the president’s list of “fake news,” telling lawmakers in his Senate speech: “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.”
Flake, who announced last year he is not running for re-election, criticized his GOP colleagues for not challenging what he described as Trump’s “pernicious fantasies,” citing as examples Trump’s questioning of ex-President Barack Obama’s birthplace and the president’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and rigging in last year’s presidential election.
“An American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path,” Flake said. “And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”
Flake compared Trump’s use of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” to describe the media to “words infamously spoken” by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. He accused Trump of inspiring modern-day “authoritarians and dictators with his own language.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking at Wednesday’s daily press briefing, called Flake’s remarks “utterly ridiculous” and took aim at his recent visit to the communist island of Cuba.
“He’s not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression,” Sanders said. “He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also criticized Flake’s remarks on Twitter, saying the current media landscape is “wall-to-wall with biased coverage against” Trump.
“He has every right to push back,” McDaniel said of Trump. “Comparing the leader of the free world to murderous dictators is absurd. You’ve gone too far.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also took aim at the president’s press attacks in an Op-Ed published Tuesday night in The Washington Post, saying “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,” McCain said.