Bush breaks with Trump, calls media ‘indispensable to democracy’ – Politico
Former President George W. Bush said Monday that the media is “indispensable to democracy,” a break from the position of his fellow Republican, President Donald Trump, who has called the press “the enemy of the American people.”
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. That we need the media to hold people like me to account,” Bush told Matt Lauer, anchor of NBC’s “Today” show. “I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
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Just over a month into his presidency, Trump has shown no sign of letting up in the pitched battle he waged against the press during his campaign, when he banned certain outlets from covering his events for months. Since assuming office, the president has derided multiple media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN, as “fake news” after those outlets and others published reports that were critical of his fledgling administration.
Perhaps inspired by chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has referred to the press as the administration’s “opposition party,” Trump launched into an extended anti-media riff during his remarks last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Noting that he is “only against the fake news media or press,” Trump lashed out at an industry that he believes has treated him unfairly from the moment he entered the presidential race.
“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake,” Trump said at CPAC, remarks that would be followed hours later by the White House’s decision to exclude multiple media organizations from a Friday press gaggle. “A few days ago, I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people,’ and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.”
The White House has also struggled to plug leaks that have proven damaging or embarrassing to the administration, in one case forcing the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn just weeks into Trump’s first term. On Sunday, POLITICO reported that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer forced members of his communications staff to hand over personal and government-issued cell phones for inspection, to prove that they were not the source of leaks.
Recalling his own presidency, when he was often the target of withering media critique, Bush said he devoted significant time to extolling the virtues of a free and independent press around the world, including to Russia’s strongman president, Vladimir Putin. Trump has publicly lavished praise on the Russian president, but Bush said it’s important for the U.S. to support set a strong example for leaders like Putin.
“One of the things I spent a lot time doing was trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press,” Bush said. “And it’s kind of hard to, you know, tell others to have an independent, free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.”
A spokesman for Bush confirmed on Election Day 2016 that both the former president and his wife had voted for “None Of The Above for President” instead of casting a ballot for the Republican nominee. Trump spent months pillorying Bush’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as “low energy,” prompting nearly the entire Bush clan to, for the most part, conspicuously avoid the president.
Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, indicated to a friend last September that he intended to break with his party and vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. The only member of the Bush family to publicly support the president was Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, who backed Trump only after he had secured the GOP nomination.
Despite his unwillingness to support Trump at the ballot box, Bush said Trump should be given a chance to act on his stated desire to bring the country together. The former president said his Republican successor faces a tougher media environment than he ever did.
“I think you have to take the man for his word that he wants to unify the country, and we’ll see whether he’s able to do so,” Bush said. “It’s hard to unify the country with the news media being so split up. When I was president, you know, you mattered a lot more because there was like three of you and now there’s all kinds of information being bombarded out and people can say things anonymously. It’s just a different world.”