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John McCain tells Trump to stop attacking press

Last Updated Jan 17, 2018 3:56 PM EST

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, is calling on President Trump to cease his persistent attacks on the press, writing in an op-ed for the Washington Post that Mr. Trump's charges of "fake news" when he disagrees with media coverage about him is creating a negative ripple effect across the world. 

"Whether Trump knows it or not, these 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," wrote the senior senator. 

His rebuke of Mr. Trump's attacks on the news media comes as fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is delivering a similar reproach on the Senate floor on Wednesday, calling for the president to end his war on the press. Both are pegged to the president's plans to give "fake news" awards to the news media for the most "corrupt" and "biased" coverage of him and his administration.

McCain, in his op-ed, referred to countries like Russia, Turkey, China and Egypt as examples of countries in which the "assault on journalism and free speech" persists, adding that the attack on press freedom in "traditionally free and open societies where censorship in the name of national security is becoming more common."

"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. The phrase "fake news" — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens," wrote McCain.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, listens to testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing concerning the roles and responsibilities for defending the nation against cyberattacks on Capitol Hill in Washington Oct. 19, 2017

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, listens to testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing concerning the roles and responsibilities for defending the nation against cyberattacks on Capitol Hill in Washington Oct. 19, 2017 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

He noted that the president's ongiong spats with the media also makes it harder to hold such governments accountable. 

"For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of "fake news" undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent."

Further, McCain says that without "strong leadership" in the White House, it falls on Congress to "commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression."

"Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely," he wrote. "Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom."

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital