Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Sunday broke with President Donald Trump's view of the media as "the enemy of the American people."
"I've had some rather contentious times with the press," Mattis told reporters during a trip to Abu Dhabi, according to a video published by Reuters. "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 comments capped a tumultuous week for the fledgling administration, one that included (among other things) the resignation of national security Adviser Michael Flynn, the withdrawal of Andrew Pudzer, Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee, and a 77-minute news conference in which Trump praised his administration’s achievements and lambasted the media.
On Friday afternoon, Trump called NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN and The New York Times “fake news” and “the enemy of the American People” on Twitter — a comment that drew near immediate scorn from Republican Sen. John McCain.
“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press," McCain told "Meet the Press." "Without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."
Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, softened his boss’s criticism on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, saying that Trump believes in a free press and the First Amendment.
“We don't believe everyone is lousy in the media,” he said. “But there are some things that are really bad. And we've tried to — [Trump] categorizes that as ‘fake news.’ What we've been through over the last 10 days has been unbelievable, the leaks, the fake stories, the anonymous accusations. That stuff is bad.”
Priebus pointed to a New York Times story that quoted anonymous current and former American officials who said that Trump's presidential campaign had "repeated" contacts with senior Russian spies.
“I've talked to the top levels of the intelligence community,” Priebus said. “And they've assured me that that New York Times story was grossly overstated, and inaccurate and totally wrong.”