Merkel Backs Free Press As ‘Pillar Of Democracy’

The German Chancellor's push-back against Trump's criticism of the press comes amid European wariness about their American ally

Angela Merkel and Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference — Getty Images
Feb 19, 2017 at 4:25 AM ET

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the free press at an international security conference that included U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, expressing a sharp contrast to U.S. President Donald’s Trump recent hostility to mainstream news, which he dubbed “the enemy of the American people.”

“I stand by a free and independent press and have great respect for journalists,” Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. “We’ve always done well in Germany when we mutually respect each other.”

Trump spent a significant part of his 77-minute Friday press conference condemning the U.S. media as dishonest and unfair. In a Friday night tweet, the president singled out the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN as not “my enemy” but “the enemy of the American people.”

At the conference, Merkel’s comments were a response to a question posed by a German journalist regarding her opinion on attacks on the press in the United States. She said that she was committed to maintaining a free press in Germany, which has been a pillar of the nation’s American-backed democratic revival following World War II.

“If there are differences of opinion, then we discuss it, but we accept press freedom as a great pillar of democracy,” she said.

Following Merkel’s comments, Vice President Mike Pence seemed uncomfortable.

After a month of tumult at the White House, American allies in Europe are wary about Donald Trump’s apparent lack of a coherent foreign policy as well as his history of disapproval of the European Union and the NATO alliance.

Mike Pence, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were in Europe over the past week on a PR mission to attempt to persuade European allies that, despite Trump’s statements, the United States is still committed to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Over the weekend in Munich, Pence reiterated the American commitment to Europe and to relegating the Islamic State to the “ash-heap of history,” but did not convey support for the European Union, as he had been asked to do by Munich organizer Wolfgang Ischinger prior to the conference.

But while Pence and the other top cabinet members pushed conservatism on the issues, many attendees of the conference were worried that they may not have the jurisdiction to do so. In light of the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his ties to Russia, those top cabinet members may not, in fact, constitute Trump’s inner circle, some European officials said, pointing to Trump’s many late-night tweets which portray a distinctly different tone than that pushed by his cabinet members.

“Pence and Mattis and Tillerson can come here and talk about the importance of the transatlantic relationship and NATO – and that is all good,” said Elmar Brok, head of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and a party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Reuters interview.  “But we don’t know what’s coming on Twitter tomorrow morning.”