Trump’s Republican predecessor as president said the media were “indispensable to democracy” – after the president repeatedly attacked outlets he disliked as “fake news” and “enemies of the people”.
Bush also said he wanted “an immigration policy that’s welcoming and upholds the law”, a clear dig at Trump’s ban on travel to the US from seven Muslim countries that the courts struck down.
Ex-presidents rarely comment directly on a current president’s work.
But just over a month into Trump’s presidency, Bush, 70, went on NBC’s Today Show on Monday to defend the press against Trump’s monstering.
One journalist noted Bush had attacked Trump more in a single interview than he had in Obama’s entire presidency.
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Bush told NBC. “We need the media to hold people like me to account…
“I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
Trump continued the anti-press rhetoric last week, saying: “I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake.”
He told the Conservative Political Action Conference: “A few days ago, I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’, and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.”
Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon has called the media “the opposition party” and many outlets were banned from the White House press briefing.
On Trump’s Muslim ban, Bush said religious freedom was a “people should be able to worship who they want to or not at all”.
In further digs at Trump, Bush mentioned authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom Trump is accused of admiring.
“One of the things I spent a lot time doing was trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press,” Bush said. “It’s kind of hard to, you know, tell others to have an independent, free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.
“I think you have to take the man for his word that he wants to unify the country, and we’ll see whether he’s able to do so … It’s hard to unify the country with the news media being so split up.
“When I was president, you know, you mattered a lot more because there was like three of you and now there’s all kinds of information being bombarded out and people can say things anonymously. It’s just a different world.”
Bush remained vocal on politics after leaving office but avoided mentioning Obama directly.
In November, 2014, he said: “I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president; I think it’s bad for the presidency for that matter.”
But there has been huge animosity between Trump and the Bush family since Trump attacked Florida Governor Jeb Bush throughout the the Republican presidential primary last year.
George W. Bush and his wife Laura did not vote for a presidential candidate in November and Bush’s father, former president George H. W. Bush, reportedly voted for Hillary Clinton.
Bush’s rare interview was given to promote Portraits Of Courage, his book of paintings of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq War.