Trump's defense chief says has no problems with media

ABU DHABI, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday distanced himself from President Donald Trump's assessment of the media as "the enemy of the American people," saying during his first trip to the Middle East that he had no problems with the press.

Mattis, a retired Marine general seen as one of the most influential voices in Trump's cabinet, did not mention his boss by name. But asked about Trump's Tweet on Friday that branded the media as America's enemy, Mattis took a different position entirely.

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Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

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U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

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Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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"I've had some rather contentious times with the press. But no, the press, as far as I'm concerned, are a constituency that we deal with," he told reporters traveling with him in the United Arab Emirates.

"And I don't have any issues with the press, myself," Mattis added.

Since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has fiercely criticized various news outlets that have reported unflattering revelations of dysfunction or other problems in the White House.

He has described them as "lying," "corrupt" and "failing," and late on Friday he said the news media was "the enemy of the American people."

Asked about the latest salvo, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told CBS's "Face the Nation" program, "I think you should take (Trump's Twitter statement) seriously."

"Certainly we would never condone violence. But I do think that we condone critical thought," Priebus said, adding the media, in some cases, needed to "get its act together."

"HOW DICTATORS GET STARTED"

Mattis spoke after talks with European leaders at a security conference in Munich, Germany, where U.S. Senator John McCain warned that suppressing the free press was "how dictators get started."

"If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time," McCain told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday.

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UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: TV RATINGS--Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., during hearing on the TV ratings system. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
20th August 1992: The Republican Senator from Arizona, John McCain, speaking at the Republican National Convention. A fomer prisoner of war for several years in Vietnam, he contested his party's nomination for the 2000 election. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIET NAM: U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former POW, looks 31 May 1993 at a display of personal belongings of American POWs at the joint POW/MIA archives center in the Hanoi Army Museum. McCain is with U.S. Sen. John Kerry and a delegation on a two-day visit aimed at obtaining more access to archives dealing with the fate of missing U.S. servicemen. (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 18: MCCAIN'S DAY--Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., relaxes in his office at about 2:15 p.m. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 02: McCAIN BILL--John McCain,R-Ariz.,during a press conference on the McCain Bill and tobacco legislation. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : US Senator John McCain, R-AZ, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation begins the start of a hearing on the investigation of the scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC 14 April, 1999. AFP PHOTO/Mario TAMA (Photo credit should read MARIO TAMA/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOVER, : US Senator John McCain speaks to reporters 27 October,1999 in Hanover, New Hampshire. McCain criticized sugar, oil, and corn (shown behind) subsidies and linked them to 'soft money' campaign contributions. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO Luke FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, : Republican president hopeful John McCain greets supporters as he arrives at a debate forum sponsored by a local television station 02 December, 1999, in Manchester, New Hampshire. McCain will debate the other Republican candidates seeking the party's presidential nomination. (DIGITAL IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/John MOTTERN (Photo credit should read JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: John McCain addresses a shadow convention at the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania. McCain was booed when he asked suppoters to back his former primary opponent, George W. Bush. The shadow convention was put on near the site of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to highlight issues that the organizers say the major parties are ignoring. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
CAMDEN, UNITED STATES: GOP presidential hopeful US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) waves during an 'Old Fashion BBQ and Stump Meeting' on the front yard of a supporter's house 08 January 2000 in Camden, South Carolina. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
PETERBOROUGH, NH - JANUARY 30: Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (L) and his wife Cindy are showered with confetti following McCain's final town meeting 30 January, 2000 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read C.J. GUNTHER/AFP/Getty Images)
GREENWOOD, : Republican presidential hopeful John McCain makes a point 14 February 2000 during a town hall meeting at the American Legion Post 20 in Greenwood, South Carolina. McCain is campaigning heavily in the southern state against Texas Governor Geroge W. Bush ahead of the 19 February 2000 primary. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1789 -- Pictured: (l-r) Senator John McCain during an interview with host Jay Leno on March 1, 2000 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 30: Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on climate change. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: TEMPORARY GUEST WORKERS--Witness Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the Senate Judiciary Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee hearing titled 'Evaluating a Temporary Guest Worker Proposal.' (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: SENATE POLICY LUNCHES--Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters after the Senate GOP policy luncheon. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 20: U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addresses The Northern Virginia Technology Council's Titans breakfast at the Capitol Hilton September 20, 2006 in Washington, DC. McCain spoke on a variety of subjects, including telecommunications legislation, net neutrality, research and development tax credits, immigration, and Internet taxes. He also addressed the rift that he and several other Republican senators are having with the White House over the Geneva Conventions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - JULY 04: US Senator John McCain (C) holds a press conference at ISAF HQ in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 4, 2017. US Senator John McCain visited the headquarters of NATO-led mission after his visit at Pakistan. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, July 13, 2017 -- U.S. Senator John McCain is swarmed by reporters as he leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. July 13, 2017. Senate Republicans of the U.S. Congress on Thursday unveiled a new healthcare bill that they hoped can fulfill their long-time goal to 'repeal and replace' the Affordable Care Act. (Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images)
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On Friday McCain told the Munich forum that the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over his contacts with Russia reflected "disarray" in Washington.

But Mattis played down any concerns about the reshuffling within the administration.

"Welcome to democracy. 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," he said.

Mattis added that the military was very ready to "hold the line" as the political process played out.

"We don't have any disarray inside the military and that's where my responsibility lies," he said. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal in Munich and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Mark Potter and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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