The publisher of the New York Times says he told President Trump during a meeting at the White House that his language toward the media is “not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
A.G. Sulzberger said he gave the president a stern warning that his rhetoric could lead to journalists being physically harmed, according to a statement provided to ABC News.
“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 said.
“Enemy of the people” is a phrase — which has Soviet Union roots — Trump often uses toward the media.
The statement by the Times came in response to a tweet by the president Sunday morning. He tweeted that he had a “very good” meeting with A.G. Sulzberger, and said the two spent time talking about what Trump repeatedly calls “fake news.”
“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times,” Trump tweeted from Bedminster, New Jersey.
“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!”
In the statement sent to ABC News, a spokesperson for the New York Times said Trump requested a meeting with Sulzberger at the White House on July 20 to discuss “concerns about coverage.” Trump often criticizes the Times’ coverage of the White House –- for which it won a Pulitzer Prize — and gave it the nickname the “failing New York Times.”
The meeting, which is commonplace for media executives to have with the White House, was supposed to be off the record, at the request of the president’s aides, but Trump’s tweet allowed Sulzberger to speak on the record about their conversation.
Sulzberger says he also told Trump during their meeting that his hostile words against the press were common in undemocratic regimes where journalists are killed.
“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 said.
“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,” he added. “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’s seemingly unprompted tweet about the New York Times meeting comes in the wake of the White House’s decision last week to bar a CNN reporter from covering an event because they took issue with her questioning.
Bill Shine, the White House’s deputy chief of staff for communications, argued that they never used the word “ban” against Collins, although in a statement the White House says they made it clear to the reporter she would “not be welcome to participate” in event coverage.
The White House Correspondents Association, made up of members of the press who regularly cover the White House, called the incident “inappropriate.”
“This type of retaliation is wholly inappropriate, wrong-headed, and weak. It cannot stand,” WHCA President Olivier Knox said.
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