During an interview on Today, former President George W. Bush responded to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and recent criticisms of the media by speaking in support of religious freedom and the free press.
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Bush told host Matt Lauer, weighing in on a question about whether the media should be considered “enemies of America,” as Trump said during his speech at CPAC last Friday.
“We need an independent media to hold people like me into account,” Bush said. “Power can be addictive and it can be corrosive. It’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
Bush explained that he spent “a lot of time” trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin “to accept the notion of an independent press. And, it’s kind of hard to, you know, tell others to have an independent free press when we are not willing to have one ourselves.”
When asked about Trump’s “Muslim ban,” an executive order that prohibits travel by immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, Bush alluded to the constitutional “bedrock of our freedom — a bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.” Bush added that he supports an immigration policy that’s “welcoming and upholds the law.”
Bush also expressed openness to the possibility that a special prosecutor is needed to look into connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Over the weekend, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) became the first Republican to come out in favor of a special prosecutor.
“I think we all need answers,” Bush noted. “I’m not sure the right avenue to take. I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered.”
If Bush’s criticisms of Trump sound like they merely restate fundamental American principles, that’s because freedoms of worship and of the press are already part of this country’s constitutional guarantees.
Yet Bush’s statements are also oddly significant given Trump’s harsh criticisms of the press and Islamophobia. Trump rarely restrains himself from condemning Muslims in the aftermath of real or imagined terrorist attacks, but has yet to publicly condemn two deadly attacks perpetrated by Islamophobes since he took office.
Trump has also escalated tensions with the media by calling them the “enemy of the people,” sometimes claiming that major newspapers like the New York Times aren’t reputable simply because they criticize him. As a result, major news organizations like CNN, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, were denied access from the White House’s daily press briefing last week.