ABU DHABI (WASHINGTON POST) - Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday that he does not see the press as the enemy of the American people, disagreeing with a claim made by President Donald Trump on Friday (Feb 17, 2017).
Mattis, asked directly about Trump's criticism of the media, said he has had "some rather contentious times with the press" but considers the institution "a constituency that we deal with".
The defence secretary added: "I don't have any issues with the press myself."
His comments came during a trip to Europe and the Middle East intended to reassure allies and gather information about ongoing operations. Mattis, a retired Marine general, also acknowledged concerns about the administration raised by Army Gen Raymond "Tony" Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command.
Thomas said at a conference on Tuesday that "our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil" and that he hopes "they sort it out soon because we're a nation at war." Mattis said Sunday that he has been talking to a "fair number of military commanders around the world" and believes Thomas was "probably taken a bit out of context because we all want to see everything moving smoothly".
But Mattis also acknowledged the chaotic nature of Trump's administration so far.
"Welcome to democracy," Mattis said. "It's at times wildly contentious. It's at times quite sporting. But the bottom line is this is the best form of government that we can come up with. So, the military's job is to hold the line, and to hold the line, and to hold the line while our government sorts out the way ahead and our people speak. We don't have any disarray inside the military, and that's where my responsibility resides."
The comments came after a week in which retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn resigned as White House national security adviser over revelations that he spoke about sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama administration with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, before Trump took office. Flynn resigned under pressure just 24 days into the new administration after it became clear that he had not disclosed all details about his conversation to Vice President Mike Pence.
On Friday, Trump tweeted that "FAKE NEWS media" is not his enemy, it is the "enemy of the American People!" He specifically cited the "failing" New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and CNN, though he has at other times accused other news outlets of also reporting "fake" stories.
Trump attacked the media again Saturday at an unusual campaign-style rally, saying the media is dishonest and "has published one false story after another, with no sources, even though they pretend they have them.
"They make them up in many cases," he added. "They just don't want to report the truth. And they've been calling us wrong now for two years. They don't get it. But they're starting to get it. I can tell you that. They've become a big part of the problem. They are part of a corrupt system."
Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview recorded for broadcast on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that the American people should take Trump's allegations against the media "seriously".
In particular, he questioned the use of anonymous sources, as the White House continues to deal with leaks.
"If the theory is that the press is supposed to be a free forum of information to speak to the American people, I think it ought to be accurate," Priebus said. "And I think we've gotten to a place ... where the media is willing to run with unnamed sources, apparently false leaked documents, to create stories."