(CNSNews.com) - The White House dismissed comments Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who took to the Senate floor earlier that day to compare President Donald Trump to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin for his treatment of the media, saying Flake recently went to Cuba to serve as “a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government.”
“In response to Senator Flake specifically, I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this president considering he’s one that was recently defending an actually oppressive regime. He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
“He’s not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression. He’s criticizing the president, because he has terrible poll numbers, and he is I think looking for some attention,” Sanders said.
“I think it’s unfortunate, and certainly, I think our position here at the White House is that we welcome access to the media everyday. I’m standing right here taking questions. The president does so regularly, and to act as if we’re anything but open to that back and forth exchange is utterly ridiculous,” she said.
A reporter also asked Sanders about the president’s planned “Fake Media Awards,” and Sanders said, “We’ll keep you guys posted. It’ll be something later today.”
“I know you’re all waiting to see if you are big winners, I’m sure,” she added.
In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Flake compared the president to Stalin for his use of the term “fake news.” Here is an excerpt of the speech:
“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.
This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, 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. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of ‘fake news’ are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of US based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.”
According to the State Department’s Cuba 2016 Human Rights report, Cuban law bans “criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda” with penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.
Furthermore, the Cuban government “had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive.”
In the section titled “Press and Media Freedoms,” the State Department’s report stated that the Cuban government “directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information.”
“News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances,” the report stated.