WASHINGTON - The publisher of The New York Times says he took U.S. President Donald Trump to task for “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric” that is “not just divisive but increasingly dangerous” when the two met privately at the White House this month.
Trump disclosed the meeting on Twitter on Sunday, saying he and A.G. Sulzberger “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!”
“Enemy of the People” is the phrase Trump uses to broadly describe most journalists. He said the July 20 meeting was “very good and interesting.”
Sulzberger, who succeeded his father in the role on Jan. 1, said his main purpose for accepting the meeting was to “raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”
“I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” he said.
Sulzberger said he told Trump that while 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.”
Sulzberger said he stressed to Trump that leaders of other countries have adopted his rhetoric to justify cracking down on journalists. He was accompanied to the meeting by James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor.
“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,” the publisher said.
Sulzberger added that he made clear to Trump that he was not asking him to soften his attacks on the Times if he thinks the newspaper is being unfair. “Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country,” he said.
Trump reads the Times and gives interviews to its reporters, but regularly derides the newspaper as the “failing New York Times.” The Times ownership company in May reported a 3.8 percent increase in first-quarter revenue compared to the same period in 2017.
The president, who lashes out over media coverage he thinks is unfair, has broadly labeled the news media the “enemy of the people” and regularly accuses reporters of spreading “fake news” — his term for stories he dislikes.
Hours after the tweet about the Sulzberger meeting, Trump lobbed fresh attacks against the media in a series of posts that included a pledge not to let the country “be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the … dying newspaper industry.”
Trump also accused reporters of disclosing “internal deliberations of government” that can endanger “the lives of many.” He cited no examples but wrote “Very unpatriotic!” and said freedom of the press “comes with a responsibility to report the news … accurately,” a sentiment journalists share.
Trump also claimed that 90 percent of the coverage of his administration is negative, leading to an “all time low” in public confidence in the media. He cited the Times and The Washington Post, two repeat targets, and claimed, “They will never change!”
Last week, Trump told hundreds of people attending the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Missouri: “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” as he gestured toward journalists at the back of the room.
He also told them to remember “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Sulzberger said he accepted the invitation to meet Trump because Times publishers have a history of meeting with presidential administrations and other public figures who have concerns with the publication’s coverage of them.
He said he decided to comment after Trump revealed that they had met. The White House had asked for the meeting to be kept off the record.