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Donald Trump

New York Times publisher warns Donald Trump anti-press attacks are 'dangerous and harmful'

A.G. Sulzberger raises concerns about the US president’s ‘deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 12:42am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 8:05am

The publisher of The New York Times said on Sunday that he recently warned President Donald Trump that his attacks on journalists as the “enemy of the people” are contributing to a rise in threats and could lead to violence.

Trump revealed on Sunday that he met at the White House with publisher A.G. Sulzberger and said they discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News.”

The president said he explained to Sulzberger why he was increasingly characterising journalists as the “enemy of the people.”

The president tweeted on Sunday from his New Jersey golf estate, “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!”

The tweet prompted Sulzberger to release details of their July 20 meeting, at which he was accompanied by James Bennet, the Times’s editorial page editor.

A New York Times spokeswoman said that Trump had invited Sulzberger and that White House aides had asked that the meeting remain “off the record,” in keeping with past practice for such meetings, but that the president put it “on the record” with his Sunday tweet.

Sulzberger said in a lengthy statement, based on his and Bennet’s notes, that he agreed to the meeting with Trump “to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”

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“I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” Sulzberger said.

“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labelling 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.”

He continued, “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.”

The publisher went on to say, “Throughout the conversation I emphasised that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world.

“ 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.”

The White House has provided no details of Trump and Sulzberger’s conversation, beyond the president’s tweet.

“The president regularly meets with members of the media and we can confirm this meeting took place,” Mercedes Schlapp, the White House’s director of strategic communications, said in an emailed statement.

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Sulzberger became The New York Times’s publisher in January, succeeding his father, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., who is the company’s chairman of the board.

Trump regularly expresses fury with the way he is covered in the news media, and he has long had a particular fascination with his coverage in the Times, dating to his many years of struggles to win the respect of Manhattan’s elite.

In a speech last week at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Missouri, Trump bashed the journalists covering the event, which drew a rebuke from VFW leadership.

“Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” Trump said, gesturing to the press area of the venue.

The president added, “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Also last week, the Trump White House barred CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins from attending an open media event in the Rose Garden over her questioning of the president earlier that day.

At various moments throughout his presidency, Trump has sought to punish journalists for the way they ask him questions, directing White House staff to bar those reporters from covering official events or to revoke their press credentials, The Washington Post reported this past week.

“These people shouting questions are the worst,” Trump has said, according to an administration official. “Why do we have them in here?”