Hillary Clinton excoriated US President Donald Trump for his treatment of the media, saying in remarks on Sunday that press rights and free speech are "under open assault" in the current administration, which she compared to an authoritarian regime.
"We are living through an all-out war on truth, facts and reason," Clinton said at the PEN America World Voices Festival, in Manhattan. "When leaders deny things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of a crowd at the inauguration, when they refuse to accept settled science when it comes to urgent challenges like climate change ... it is the beginning of the end of freedom, and that is not hyperbole. It's what authoritarian regimes through history have done."
Clinton, who was delivering the festival's Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, began by discussing threats to press freedom and free speech around the globe, including in Vladimir Putin's Russia. But she soon turned her remarks to the United States under Trump, saying that such freedoms are "in the most perilous position I've seen in my lifetime."
"Today we have a president who seems to reject the role of a free press in our democracy," she said of her 2016 opponent. "Although obsessed with his own press coverage, he evaluates it based not on whether it provides knowledge or understanding, but solely on whether the daily coverage helps him and hurts his opponents."
And she added: "Now, given his track record, is it any surprise that according to the latest round of revelations, he joked about throwing reporters in jail to make them talk?" The reference to revelations from memos by former FBI director James Comey was Clinton's only reference to Comey, who was fired by Trump.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Clinton's remarks.
Clinton's remarks were followed by an onstage conversation with Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, largely about the 2016 election. Under friendly questioning, the former secretary of state was asked if she had "hit back" enough during the campaign — a reference to a childhood episode in which, Clinton has written, her mother gave her permission to hit back at a bully.
"I now think that I didn't," Clinton said. She described the much-discussed moment when Trump was "stalking me on that debate stage."
She recalled thinking, "What do I do? Do I turn around and say, 'Back up, you creep?'" But then, she said, "the coverage would have been, 'She can't take the pressure, she got angry.'" And so, she said she told herself, "You just have to be calm and in control. Because ultimately what the country wants is someone who is not blowing up in the Oval Office."
"Well, you know that did not work out so well," she said, to laughter in the audience.
Adichie expressed admiration for Clinton but confessed to some disappointment that in her Twitter profile, she describes herself first as a "wife" — followed by mum, grandma and then her professional titles, ending with 2016 presidential candidate. The author said she would have preferred Clinton begin with "should have been a damned good president."
Clinton spoke of the difficulty she had in finding a balance between one's personal roles and relationships and one's professional roles. "It shouldn't be either-or," she said, noting that she had long strived for the right mix.
"But when you put it that way, I am going to change it," she said of her Twitter profile, to laughter and applause.
As of Monday morning, she had not yet done so.