WASHINGTON — The publisher of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, says that he warned President Trump that his attacks on the media were “increasingly dangerous” after Trump tweeted an account of their meeting that left out any suggestion that he had been challenged over his characterization of journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that he “had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”
But hours later, Sulzberger issued a statement about the July 20 meeting, saying that “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.
“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people.’ I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”
“I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.”
Trump first referred to the “fake news media” as the “enemy of the American people” in February 2017, which generated immediate pushback from journalists, media watchdog groups, Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. Even Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, was asked at a congressional hearing whether he agreed with the characterization.
The president has continued to use the phrase, in addition to routinely bashing the media with the “fake news” label and calling out specific news outlets like CNN at rallies. On July 19, days after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he tweeted, “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.” He also used the phrase in a tweet as he was headed to the Helsinki summit.
The Times said that Sulzberger attended the meeting with James Bennet, editorial page editor, and it was off the record at the request of Trump’s aides. Because Trump tweeted about the meeting, the Times said, Sulzberger decided to go public, based on notes that he and Bennet took.
“Throughout the conversation I emphasized that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world,” Sulzberger said. “I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
Update: Trump responded to the flurry of stories about the meeting with a new series of tweets.
“When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic! Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news…
“…accurately. 90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low! I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the…
“…dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people! As an example, the failing New York Times…
“…and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements – and they will never change!”