Times publisher asks Trump to reconsider anti-press rhetoric


Associated Press

BRIDGEWATER, N.J.

The publisher of The New York Times said Sunday he “implored” President Donald Trump at a private White House meeting this month to reconsider his broad attacks on journalists, calling the president’s anti-press rhetoric “not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”

In a statement, A.G. Sulzberger said he decided to comment publicly after Trump revealed their off-the-record meeting to his more than 53 million Twitter followers Sunday. Trump’s aides had requested that the July 20 meeting not be made public, Sulzberger said.

“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!” Trump wrote.

Hours after that exchange, Trump resumed his broadside against the media in a series of tweets that included a pledge not to let the country “be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the ... dying newspaper industry.”

Sulzberger, who succeeded his father as publisher 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, who attended the meeting with James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor, said he stressed that leaders outside the U.S. are already using Trump’s rhetoric to justify cracking down 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,” the publisher said.

Sulzberger added that he made clear that he was not asking Trump to soften his attacks against the Times if he thinks the newspaper’s coverage is 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 the president – who, like all politicians, is concerned about his image – also regularly derides the newspaper as the “failing New York Times.” However, 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 of him and the administration that he deems unfair, has broadly labeled the news media the “enemy of the people” and regularly accuses reporters of spreading “fake news” – the term he often uses for stories he dislikes.

Hours after his tweet about the Sulzberger meeting, Trump renewed his criticism of the media in a series of posts in which he accused reporters of disclosing “internal deliberations of government” and said that can endanger “the lives of many.” He did not cite examples but wrote “Very unpatriotic!” and said freedom of the press “comes with a responsibility to report the news ... accurately,” a sentiment that 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 favorite targets, and claimed, “They will never change!”

Sulzberger said he accepted the meeting 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.

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