U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he recently told the publisher of The New York Times how he came to describe the mainstream news media as the “Enemy of the People,” but the news executive said he in turn told Trump his language was “inflammatory” and “increasingly dangerous” for journalists around the world.
In a Twitter comment, Trump described his July 20 meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger as “very good and interesting.” The U.S. leader said he “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!”
Sulzberger, perhaps the most prominent publisher in the U.S., said that in keeping with the “long tradition” of Times publishers meeting with past U.S. presidents, the conversation was “off the record,” at Trump aides’ request, meaning it was not intended for publication.
But the publisher said that with Trump’s tweet putting the meeting on the record, he decided to respond to give his account of the conversation from notes he took, along with those of the newspaper’s editorial page editor, James Bennet, who also attended the meeting.
“My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric, Sulzberger said. “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
The publisher 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.”
Sulzberger added, “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.”
He said that “throughout the conversation I emphasized 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.”
Trump often disparages news accounts he does not like as “fake news,” while calling Sulzberger’s paper the “failing New York Times.”
As he spoke to a veterans group last week, Trump pointed to reporters and told his crowd, “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”
To accompanying boos of reporters, Trump said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Sulzberger did not say how Trump reacted to his comments at their White House meeting.