Charles Clarke has accused the UK media of perpetuating "myths" that his law and order agenda is an attack on human rights and civil liberties.
Mr Clarke says the truth is often thrown out of the window
The home secretary says a "pernicious and even dangerous poison" exists in the British press.
Reporting of issues like control orders is often through a "distorted prism", he told the London School of Economics.
But the Tories say it is "remarkable" that Mr Clarke has "chosen to blame the media" rather than protect the people.
Mr Clarke used his speech to the LSE to attack the press for using expressions once reserved for tyrants to describe the legitimate policies of democratic governments.
He said using terms such as "police state" or "hijacking democracy" or "destroying the rule of law" to describe modern democratic politicians is causing the truth to be thrown out the window.
"In the absence of many of the genuinely dangerous and evil totalitarian dictatorships to fight - since they've gone - the media has steadily rhetorically transferred to some of the existing democracies, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, some of the characteristics of those dictatorships," he said.
"So some commentators routinely use language like 'police state', 'fascist', 'hijacking our democracy', 'creeping authoritarianism', 'destruction of the rule of law', whilst words like 'holocaust', 'gulag' and 'apartheid' are regularly used descriptively of our society in ways which must be truly offensive to those who experienced those realities.
"As these descriptions and language are used, the truth just flies out of the window, as does any adherence to professional journalistic standards or any requirement to examine the facts and check them with rigour ...
"My appeal this evening is to urge our media to come to terms with the modern concept of rights and responsibilities in our society."
Mr Clarke, whose words were greeted by minor heckling, pointed to recent articles in the Guardian, Observer and the Independent newspapers which made "incorrect, tendentious and over-simplified" statements about Labour's record on civil liberties.
"These pieces are in my opinion symptomatic of a more general intellectual laziness which seeks to slip on to the shoulders of modern democratic states the mantle of dictatorial power."
Simon Carr, a columnist on the Independent who Mr Clarke singled out for criticism, said he spent a lot of time watching Parliament and trawling through Acts of Parliament to source his material.
He said the government felt vulnerable on the issue of state intrusion into people's lives.
"They have got the elections coming up, they feel on very strong ground on this civil liberties and they think what they are saying is more popular than what we are saying," he told BBC News 24.
"It is also very useful to get the NHS off the news schedules," he said, referring to a speech by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt in which she was heckled.
Mr Clarke conceded that his speech was "an attack on the media or on some parts of the media for being less than professional on these issues".
But shadow home secretary David Davis said the home secretary "should realise that you don't defend our way of life by sacrificing our way of life".
"The evidence shows that in many cases, things have been enacted in the name of defending our security have actually done nothing to protect the people, and have even resulted in consequences entirely contrary to the government's own intentions," he said.
"It is remarkable that he has chosen to blame the media - especially as his whole strategy seems designed to achieve good headlines for the government rather than effective policies to protect the citizens of this country."
BBC Parliament will be showing the lecture on Saturday 29 April at 2100BST and Monday 1 May at 1100BST on television and the online media player to the right of this page