You don’t need to be a professional NewsHound to have guessed that Fox News would attack Sen. Jeff Flake over his blistering criticism of Donald Trump’s assault on the media. It was a bit of a surprise to hear supposedly objective Howard Kurtz regurgitate Republican attack lines, however.
In case you missed it, Flake made an epic speech condemning Trump’s attacks on the media, along with attacks on the truth, as despotic, dangerous and un-American. Predictably, the Republicans seem to have ignored the substance of Flake’s remarks in order to criticize the politics. In an article called, “Flake rankles fellow Republicans with Trump takedowns,” Politico quoted Republican colleagues saying Flake was “not productive,” not “helpful” and “disturbing.” Without any evident irony, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said, “A senator’s words matter,” without, apparently, considering that maybe a president’s words matter even more.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was nastier. She dismissed Flake’s comments by saying, ““He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention. I think it’s unfortunate.”
Kurtz managed to work those same talking points into his own criticism of Flake. First, Kurtz echoed Huckabee Sanders’ sneer with a gratuitous swipe at Flake’s poll numbers:
KURTZ: [Flake is] not running for re-election in part because the polls showed he couldn’t win but in part because of his battles with Donald Trump.
Then Kurtz suggested Flake was looking for attention:
KURTZ: The thing that got the headline was exactly what Flake knew would get the headline because he put it out days in advance: “It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies."
Kurtz ignored the substance of Flake’s remarks in order to bash him for bringing up Stalin.
KURTZ: I think that Flake just completely undermined the rest of his argument by comparing Trump to Stalin who was, of course, a mass murderer in the Soviet Union.
Clearly, Flake was not painting Trump as a reincarnation of Stalin. Flake was saying that calling the press the “enemy of the people” is dangerously authoritarian. Flake followed up his reference to Stalin’s use of the phrase with this:
“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.'”
But like the Senate Republicans, Kurtz conveniently ignored the substance of Flake’s remarks in order to attack him over the politics - as if pointing out the echoes of Stalin in Trump’s behavior was far more incendiary and significant than the inflammatory attacks on our free press by a U.S. president.
KURTZ: Flake was on Morning Joe and he said, “Oh, no, no, no. I wasn’t really comparing him.” Of course you were! This was the headline you wanted. It’s the headline that everybody uses. It’s the old political trick of putting somebody’s name in the same paragraph as an odious figure, a political figure, a historical figure and then saying, “Well, what I really meant to say was –“
And I think that whatever points Flake may have made – and he did kind of veer off into just a generalized attack on Trump as a liar and suggesting the media have a monopoly on the truth – I think it was really undercut by the Stalin reference but he knew that would get him plenty of headlines.
Kurtz claimed he said “many times” Trump “went too far” in calling the press “the enemy of the American people.” And that he thought it “beneath the president.” But I’m willing to bet Kurtz never did an entire editorial condemning Trump the way he now condemned Flake.
Yet Kurtz went on to suggest that Flake was trying to squelch Trump’s free speech – while shrugging off Trump’s attempts to squelch a free press.
KURTZ: But here’s the key point: Because of the First Amendment, senators, journalists, anybody on Twitter, anybody in America can attack the president, can criticize the president, can take on the president for his relentless slamming of the media because they enjoy First Amendment rights. But the president also enjoys First Amendment rights and for him to beat up on press over unfair coverage, stories that are wrong, stories that are biased, stories that seems to have a hostile tone – that is his right. When he goes too far, let’s call him on it. But the notion that he’s somehow Stalin seems to me to just sort of give ammunition to critics who feel like the president’s detractors are not giving him a fair shake.
It’s hard for me to believe that Kurtz – a guy with a long career in journalism and as a media reporter - can’t see anything wildly disturbing in a president attacking the press in his own country. Trump's public utterances are not those of a private citizen but as a man wielding a lot of power.
Let's not forget that Trump has made other threatening remarks about the press. He tweeted a doctored video of himself body slamming and pounding on the head an opponent with a CNN logo superimposed on his head; He also shared, then deleted a tweet of a train hitting a cartoon person covered by a CNN logo. More recently, Trump tried to block the publication of “Fire and Fury,” a book that is highly critical of him. One week ago, as the New York Times reported, he “repeated a pledge to make it easier for people to sue news organizations and publishers for defamation … a day after his personal lawyer filed a lawsuit against a major media outlet, BuzzFeed News.”
Conveniently, Kurtz ignored all that in order to suggest that pointing out how Trump’s rhetoric is reminiscent of Stalin’s is the real problem we should all focus on.
Watch Kurtz’s curious lack of concern for Trump’s assault on the press above, from a 1/17/18 commentary on Fox Digital.
Crossposted at News Hounds.
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