Republican senator says Trump 'uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin' to attack press

Two senators from Arizona have sharply criticised the US president as he unveiled his 'fake news awards'

Republican senator says Trump 'uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin' to attack press

Jeff Flake. Image: Senate TV via AP

Two prominent Republican senators have hit out at Donald Trump's criticism of the press, as the US president unveiled his 'fake news awards'.

President Trump had spent more than a week teasing the 'awards', which were ultimately published on the Republican party's website on Wednesday evening.

The list predominantly focuses on stories that were retracted or corrected by the likes of CNN and The New York Times.

It also features two inaccurate tweets that were quickly corrected by the reporters in question before the stories made it to full publication.

To coincide with President Trump's announcement, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake - a high-profile critic of the US president - took to the Senate floor to condemn Trump's attacks on the press.

Highlighting Trump's past reference to the press as an 'enemy of the people', Senator Flake said that was a phrase "infamously spoken" by Russian dictator Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.

The Arizona politician, who has previously announced he will not seek re-election later this year, said: "2017 was a year which saw the truth - objective, empirical, evidence-based truth - more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.

"It was a year which saw the White House enshrine 'alternative facts' into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted."

Senator Flake also argued: "The president has it precisely backward - despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy." 

Pointing to reported references by leaders in Syria and the Philippines to 'fake news' - a favourite phrase of President Trump - Senator Flake added: "Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible."

Responding to the speech, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested: "[Senator Flake is] not criticising the President because he’s against oppression; he’s criticising the President because he has terrible poll numbers, and he is, I think, looking for some attention."

"Unrelenting attacks"

The damning Senate speech came a day after Flake's Arizona colleague John McCain penned an op-ed for The Washington Post urging President Trump to stop attacking the press.

He wrote: "Whether Trump knows it or not, [his] efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.

"While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit."  

While the 'fake news awards' marked one of Trump's highest profile attacks on the press to date, the US leader also took the opportunity to suggest there were also "great reporters I respect":