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Sen. John McCain Reassures ‘Meet The Press’ Host “We Need You”; Beltway Programs Swoon

Deadline logo Deadline 2/19/2017 Greg Evans
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Senator John McCain’s belated Valentine’s Day chocolate for the press – “We need you,” he told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press – was devoured by the Sunday Beltway programs today.

The Todd-McCain interview (watch it below), released in tweeted snippets over the last couple of days but aired in full this morning, included the warning that the suppression of a “free and many times adversarial press” is “how dictators get started.”

Starting with a joke – seemingly – McCain told Todd, “I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.

“If you want to preserve, I’m very serious now, if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

The candid comments – which the Senator has said was not specifically aimed at President Donald Trump, though it arose in discussion of Trump’s tweet accusing the “fake news media” of being “the enemy of the American people” – was unavoidable even on NBC’s rival Sunday talkers.

On CBS’s Face the Nation, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham managed a side-straddling defense of both a free press and the president’s tweet, telling host John Dickerson that a free press is “worth fighting and dying for.”

But, he quickly added, “The bottom line is America is not becoming a dictatorship. Senator McCain was right to say that we need, as politicians, to understand the role of the press and jealously guard it, but I would say this to the American press corps: When it comes to Trump you’re over the top. You’re acting more like an opposition party.”

“From a Republican point of view,” Graham continued, “I think the coverage against President Trump has been almost to the point of hysterical and y’all need to do some self-evaluation, in my view.” Though, insisting that the true enemies of democracy are “Russia, Iran and radical Islam,” the American press, he said, “need to up their game, because it really is hard to watch from a Republican point of view.”

Over on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Republican Senator Rand Paul took Graham’s it’s-hard-to-watch stance. “I would say that there is bias,” Paul told subbing This Week host Jonathan Karl. “And I think it’s fair to point out that there is bias in the media on both sides, both right and left. And that it’s very hard to find objective news because we have gotten, particularly as you watch cable news, it’s so dominated by opinion.”

But Paul brushed aside McCain’s warning of creeping dictatorships. “I think Senator McCain’s perspective is colored by his disagreements with President Trump on foreign policy,” Paul said. “If I were to look at foreign policy, I would say John McCain has been wrong on just about everything over the last four decades.”

And finally, back on Meet the Press, Todd asked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus whether the president’s enemy of the people slam “undercut” American encouragement of a free press in places like Turkey and Russia.

“The President believes in the First Amendment,” Priebus said, insisting that Trump characterizes leaks and anonymous sources as “fake news.” Asked about reports of turmoil in the West Wing, Priebus dismissed the charges as “drama and spin mostly in Washington’s daily gossip rags.”

Here is the McCain interview that started all the debate. The Senator tweeted it out this morning.

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