Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Sunday that he disagreed with President Donald Trump’s recent declaration that the press is “the enemy.”
Speaking with reporters while traveling in the United Arab Emirates, Mattis said that although he, too, has at times had a contentious relationship with reporters, “the press, as far as I’m concerned, are a constituency that we deal with, and I don’t have any issues with the press myself.”
The secretary’s comments came two days after Trump revived his perennial attack on the media with a tweet calling several outlets, including The New York Times, NBC and CNN, “fake news” and “the enemy of the American People.”
On Saturday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told CBS’s John Dickerson that the press should take the president’s criticisms seriously. He directed particular anger at the anonymous leaks that have become a nearly daily source of frustration for the new administration.
“I think that the media needs to stop with this unnamed source stuff,” Priebus said. “Put names on a piece of paper and print it. If people aren’t willing to put their name next to a quote, then the quote shouldn’t be listed.”
Trump has repeatedly threatened to “find the leakers” in his administration, and, as the New York Times notes, by focusing so much attention on leakers and on the reporters to whom they leak, Trump has made the issue of unauthorized disclosures from his administration almost as big of a story line as the substance of the leaks themselves.
The defense secretary’s break with Trump over the issue on Sunday was an indication of the tensions between the president, who has often called the media’s coverage of him “unfair” and “dishonest,” and some of the career military and civil servants who work for him and have long accepted that an adversarial press is just part of their territory.
Trump’s stance toward the press has also put him at odds with prominent lawmakers within his own party. On Sunday, Arizona Senator John McCain said in an interview with NBC that suppressing the press “is how dictators get started.”
Trump recently said during his news conference on Thursday that he preferred the business media he dealt with as a pre-politics business mogul to the political press corps he now spars with almost daily.