Posted on Oct 11 2018
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor in defense of the free press. With the disappearance and apparent brutal murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Flake again cautioned against the use of language that empowers authoritarian governments and oppressive regimes:
“We in this body had best be very clear about who the enemies of the people are and who they are not. The free press is the guardian of democracy and enemy of tyrants, and the man or woman who speaks from behind the presidential seal needs to remind the country and the world of this truism again and again, so long as the world will listen.”
Video of Flake’s full remarks can be viewed here.
A transcript of Flake’s prepared remarks can be found below.
Mr. President, there are no more consequential words spoken than those spoken by the president of the United States.
The words of a president reverberate around the world like no other world leader’s, and as attentive as Americans are to what our president says, the rest of the world is probably paying even closer attention, as often it is their fate that hangs in the balance when a president speaks.
Americans can ignore certain utterances of the president. The rest of the world often has no such luxury.
Another audience for presidential utterances is the despot, the strongman, the dictator. And from this president, that horrible focus group has received a great deal of sustenance.
In fact, the oppressors of the world have taken to parroting some of their favorite lines from this White House – anything critical of their regimes has become “fake news,” the press is the “enemy of the people,” just to name two of this president’s greatest hits.
As I mentioned in this chamber in January of this year, a state official in Myanmar recently said, "There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news," referring to the persecuted ethnic group.
In February of last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, "You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era."
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being "demonized" by "fake news." Last year, according to a news report, with our President quote "laughing by his side," Duterte called reporters "spies.”
In July 2017, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had "spread lots of false versions, lots of lies" about his country, adding, "This is what we call 'fake news' today, isn't it?"
And on and on. This feedback loop is appalling, Mr. President.
We are in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere. We cannot give language to authoritarians, language that is used against their own people.
And now, with the apparent brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some of those real enemies of freedom seem to have taken license to eliminate a man that their regime viewed as a threat.
Mr. President, we need to know exactly what happened in that Saudi Consulate in Turkey earlier this month.
Put bluntly, we cannot do business as usual with the Saudi Government if they directed or were complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr. President, we in this body had best be very clear about who the enemies of the people are and who they are not.
The free press is the guardian of democracy and enemy of tyrants, and the man or woman who speaks from behind the presidential seal needs to remind the country and the world of this truism again and again, so long as the world will listen.
I yield the floor.