On Sunday, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger responded to a tweet from President Trump about a meeting he and James Bennet, the Times editorial page editor, attended at the White House at Trump’s request. The White House had asked the meeting be off the record and that request was honored.
However, when Trump tweeted about the July 20 meeting from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, placing the meeting on the record and mischaracterizing the conversation, Sulzberger responded with a lengthy statement.
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’s statement begins by stating his purpose for taking the meeting and details how he expressed concern about President Trump using the phrase “enemy of the people” to label journalists.
My 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.
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.
Sulzberger went on to say, “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.”
Sulzberger stated that he emphasized repeatedly that he was not asking President Trump to soften his attacks on The New York Times if he was dissatisfied with the news coverage his administration was receiving, instead asking the president to “reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications, confirmed the meeting took place but offered no further details.
⊕ A.G. Sulzberger took over as The New York Times publisher in January from his father Arthur Ochs Sulzberger.
⊕ Donald Trump has given his home town paper numerous interviews, including immediately after his election in which he praised the paper as a “great, great American jewel”.
⊕ The Times has experienced a surge in subscribers and profits in spite of Trump dubbing the paper the “failing New York Times”.
⊕ Donald Trump has cultivated an adversarial relationship with the press since the primary, dubbing any unfavorable coverage as “Fake News”.
⊕ Last week, President Trump bashed the media in a speech to attendees of the Veteran of Foreign Wars Convention in Kansas. He gestured to the press in the arena and said, “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
⊕ In addition, a CNN reporter was banned from a Rose Garden event after she asked questions deemed inappropriate by the White House press shop. She asked:
- “Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?”
- “Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen is about to say to the prosecutors?”
- “Are you worried about what is on the other tapes, Mr. President?”
- “Why is Vladimir Putin not accepting your invitation, Mr. President?”
⊕ The phrase “enemy of the people” has a long and ugly history of being used in Russian propaganda.
- In the Soviet Union, an “enemy of the people” could have their property confiscated and be expelled, imprisoned or executed.
- Relatives of “enemies of the people” could be imprisoned and stripped of their rights.
- Friends of an “enemy of the people” were automatically under suspicion.
- The term fell out of use in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s but has seen a resurgence in usage in recent years.