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Trump and “Fake News”

January 18, 2018 | Expert Insights

As US President Donald Trump continues his verbal attacks on the nation’s news media, Jeff Flake, a lawmaker from his own political party, has criticized the President. Flake has likened Trump’s rhetoric to former dictators like Joseph Stalin.  He also rallied on behalf of the nation’s free press.


The Presidency of Donald Trump has been deeply polarizing. He has been accused of sexism and bigotry in the past. Trump has also employed extreme rhetoric and has insulted many of his critics in the past. A group of psychiatrists and mental illness experts have written a book titled the Dangerous Case of Donald Trump arguing that President Donald Trump may be dealing with a dangerous mental illness.

Not only has he been criticized by prominent members of international community but he has also incurred criticism from members of his own party domestically. Trump has fought with Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (Republican), Senators John McCain and Bob Corker. There have been reports of him disagreeing with Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House (Republican). He has also been criticized by Republican lawmakers such as Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake.

He has had an equally enigmatic relationship with members of the media. Before becoming the President of United States, he spent close to a decade hosting a reality TV show on NBC network called The Apprentice. He has a love-hate relationship with the media. When he was campaigning for President, he would often directly make calls to news networks like CNN to offer interviews. However, he would also criticize media outlets repeatedly for what he deemed bias and “fake news.” In 2017, he took credit for coining the term “Fake news” and in the past has called CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and other news outlets by this moniker. He has often taken to Twitter to condemn news reports or journalists. He has particularly targeted a number of female journalists including Katy Tur and Mika Brzezinski. Despite criticism, reports have emerged that he spends hours a day sifting through network news on the television. Multiple times he has taken to Twitter to either comment on a news story that appeared on Fox News or criticize a news story that appeared on CNN.


The free press in America is one of the most lauded sectors in the country. Outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and CNN have been often commended for some of the stories they have broken in the past and the scandals they have uncovered.

In December 2017, Donald Trump announced that he will be creating a new award for media outlets called the “Fake News awards.” The “winners” were announced on January 2018. The New York Times was singled out in the list.  He also mentioned New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for claiming Trump’s presidency would inflict severe damage to the US economy. A number of CNN reports have also been highlighted.

In a scorching speech, Jeff Flake, a Republican Senator criticized the President over his use of the terms “fake news” and “enemy of the people”. Flake said that not only were such attacks shameful but were also reminiscent of words used by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.

Flake specifically referenced Trump’s characterization last February of the news media as “the enemy of the people,” explaining the dark origins of that phrase. “So fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”

He said that such attacks on the press would inspire dictators around the world to use such rhetoric to suppress their own media and press. Flake cited the example of Myanmar adding, “The state official in Myanmar, as one example, used the term to explain away genocide of the Rohingya, while Venezuelan President Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet [RT] that the world media has spread lots of lies about Venezuela, adding, “This is what we call fake news today, isn’t it?”

Flake rallied on behalf of the press, noting, “It is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government, and it is our job to take it.”


Our assessment is that Trump’s frequent attacks on the media undermines a vital check that upholds the tenets of any democratic nation. His words will also empower other political leaders who are looking to suppress their own new media outlets and dismiss reports.