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.”
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.
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.