NEW YORK – In rebuking Donald Trump for his “dangerous” attacks on the media, the new 37-year-old publisher of The New York Times spotlights his newspaper as the vanguard of a free press challenging a hostile president.
Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, or A.G. as he is known, took the helm of America’s most prestigious newspaper in January, becoming its sixth publisher from the Ochs-Sulzberger family since Adolph Ochs bought the title in 1896.
In releasing a public statement after the president divulged their July 20 meeting at the White House, Sulzberger spoke up not only for a newspaper considered a nemesis of Trump, but for the U.S. press in general.
It was his most high-profile public intervention since fending off competition last year from two cousins to replace his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, as publisher, even if the elder Sulzberger remains chairman.
“He’s lived and breathed The New York Times since birth so I think he’s in a position that he’s born to be in, and I think he’s doing the right thing,” said Jeffrey Morosoff, associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University.
“I think Mr. Sulzberger was not only right but I hope other publishers and journalists will join him in pushing back,” he added.
From condemning critical coverage as “fake news” and denouncing journalists as the “enemy of the people,” Trump’s overt hostility to the media surpasses the criticism levied by any of his predecessors.
The New York Times occupies a unique platform as the pre-eminent publication in a country where journalism is considered a higher calling.
“I am an unapologetic champion for this institution and its journalistic mission,” Sulzberger was quoted as saying by the Times when his appointment was announced last December. “And I’ll continue to be that as publisher.”
After Trump’s Twitter broadside attacking “anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry” and again invoking the phrase “enemy of the people,” Sulzberger announced that his “main purpose” in meeting Trump had been “to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”
Sulzberger said Trump’s “inflammatory” language was “contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”
He said he had “implored” the president to reconsider his “dangerous and harmful” attacks on journalism.
The warning — issued in a statement from the Times — came a month after an aggrieved reader killed five employees at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
“As publisher of the leading American newspaper, Sulzberger — like his family predecessors — always speaks with an eye toward the responsibility he has for the press in general,” said Dan Kennedy, associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.
Born in Washington, Sulzberger grew up in Manhattan and graduated from Brown University in 2003 with a degree in political science.
He worked as a reporter at regional newspapers in Rhode Island and Oregon before joining the Times metro desk in 2009 and working in the Midwest, where being a vegetarian apparently posed something of a challenge.
Before becoming publisher, he was best known for writing the paper’s 2014 Innovation Report, which looked at ways to grow its online audience.
“He is very thoughtful. He is very forceful,” executive editor Dean Baquet was quoted saying of Sulzberger last year.
The Times has long been a thorn in Trump’s side. Its reporting has provoked his ire, yet its prestige makes its approval something that he reportedly craves.
This year, the Times shared, with The Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its alleged connections to the Trump campaign.
Trump has repeatedly called an ongoing special investigation into whether his campaign team colluded with Russia a “witch hunt.”
Tensions between the White House and the press are not exactly unheard of.
Bill Clinton complained about Times editorials. George W. Bush tried to stop the paper writing about the National Security Agency monitoring phone calls.
But Trump has taken it to a new level.
Morosoff says criticizing the press as “the enemy of the people” is basically “messing with our democracy.”
“Journalism and a free media are essential to any democracy. I don’t think Trump understands that,” he said.