The publisher of the New York Times has warned Donald J. Trump in a White House meeting that the president’s escalating attacks on the news media are “inflammatory” and “dangerous and harmful to our country.”
Trump’s meeting with A.G. Sulzberger, who took the reins of the prestigious newspaper on Jan. 1, took place July 20, following a request from the White House for what appeared to be a routine get-to-know-you session.
The session, which also included Times editorial page editor James Bennet, had remained secret under mutual agreement until Trump tweeted about it early Sunday.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
Sulzberger, in a statement released by the Times, said the president’s tweet effectively “put the meeting on the record,” and he described what appeared to be an unusually tough and blunt session with the president.
“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 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.”
With some foreign leaders using Trump’s language “to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists, I warned that it was putting lives at risk.”
Sulzberger concluded: “I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
But the exchange comes at a time of high tension between Trump and the U.S. news media, with Trump regularly denouncing critical news reports as “fake news.”
The 37-year-old Sulzberger is the latest in a long line of Sulzbergers to lead the Times. When he took over leadership of the “Gray Lady” after several years as a reporter or editor, Trump tweeted that the young man’s rise gave the paper a “last chance” to prove itself impartial and to report the news “without fear or FAVOR.”
But since then, as the Times and other news sources have chronicled Trump’s personal and political problems and logged his frequent misstatements, the president has repeatedly lashed back.
He has tweeted scores of times that the Times is “very dishonest,” “failing and corrupt,” and that it uses “phony and nonexistent sources.”
The Times has defended its reporters’ work and pointed out that, far from “failing,” it has enjoyed healthy growth. Last year’s revenue hit $1.7 billion, 8 percent above the previous year.
Observers say the president has a love/hate relationship with what was his hometown newspaper as he grew up in New York and became one of the city’s best-known figures, craving space in its columns but furious when it appeared critical of him.
Whether the Trump-Sulzberger meeting will lead to any easing of White House tensions with the press remained unclear, though Trump’s tweet did not seem to suggest so.
As one former Times editor said Sunday on social media about the chances of any reconciliation, “Don’t hold your breath.”
If anything, Trump’s relations with the press seem recently to have hit a new low.
The White House on Wednesday barred CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from a press event after her persistent questioning at an earlier event was deemed “inappropriate.”
Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents Association, deplored the action as a “wrong-headed and weak” response to a reporter who, he said, was simply doing her job.