Donald Trump meet with the New York Times publisher AG Sulzberger. (AP: Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The publisher of The New York Times has said he “implored” US 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, AG Sulzberger said he decided to comment publicly after Mr Trump revealed their off-the-record meeting to his more than 53 million Twitter followers on Monday morning (AEST). Mr Trump’s aides had requested that the July 20 meeting not be made public, Mr Sulzberger said.
Donald Trump tweet: 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!
Hours after that exchange, Mr 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”.
Mr Sulzberger, who succeeded his father as publisher on January 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.
Mr Sulzberger said he told Mr Trump that while 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”.
Mr Sulzberger, who attended the meeting with James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor, said he stressed that leaders outside the US were already using Mr 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.
The US President has made his feelings towards the “failing New York Times” well known. (Reuters: Shannon Stapleton)
Mr Sulzberger added that he made clear that he was not asking Mr 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.”
Trump quickly back to slamming ‘very unpatriotic’ press
Hours after his tweet about the Sulzberger meeting, Mr 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.
Mr Trump also claimed that 90 per cent 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 favourite targets, and claimed, “They will never change!”
Donald Trump tweet: When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic! Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news…
Donald Trump tweet: …accurately. 90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low! I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the…
Donald Trump tweet: …dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people! As an example, the failing New York Times…
Donald Trump tweet: …and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements – and they will never change!
Last week, Mr Trump told hundreds of people attending the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Missouri: “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news”, as he gestured toward journalists at the back of the room.
He also told them to remember “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”.
Mr 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.
After Mr Sulzberger took charge, Mr Trump tweeted that his ascension gave the paper a “last chance” to fulfil its founder’s vision of impartiality.
In the January tweet, Mr Trump urged the new publisher to “Get impartial journalists of a much higher standard, lose all of your phony and non-existent ‘sources’, and treat the President of the United States FAIRLY, so that the next time I (and the people) win, you won’t have to write an apology to your readers for a job poorly done!”
Tension between the administration and the news media was put on display last week after the White House told a CNN correspondent that she could not attend a Rose Garden event that was open to all credentialed media.
The correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, said she was barred because she asked Mr Trump questions he did not like at a press event in the Oval Office earlier that day. The White House said Ms Collins was barred because she refused to leave the Oval Office after being repeatedly asked to do so.