New York Times publisher rebuts Trump's account of private meeting

A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, in the newsroom in New York, on April 16, 2018.
A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, in the newsroom in New York, on April 16, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BRIDGEWATER (NEW YORK TIMES) - President Donald Trump on Sunday (July 29) disclosed details of a private meeting he had with the publisher of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, and Sulzberger flatly disputed the president's characterisation of an exchange they had about threats to journalism.

Trump said on Twitter that he and Sulzberger had discussed "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 a five-paragraph statement issued two hours after the tweet, Sulzberger said he had accepted Trump's invitation for the July 20 meeting mainly to raise his concerns about his "deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric."

"I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous," said Sulzberger, who became publisher of The Times on Jan 1.

"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,'" Sulzberger continued. "I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence."

This is particularly true overseas, Sulzberger said, where governments are using Trump's words as a pretext to crack down on journalists. He said he warned the president that his attacks were "putting lives at risk" and "undermining the democratic ideals of our nation."

Trump, in his tweet, described the meeting with Sulzberger as "very good and interesting." But in referring to the phrase "enemy of the people," he did not make clear that he himself began using that label about the press during his first year in office.

The president invited Sulzberger to the Oval Office earlier this month, according to The Times, continuing a tradition of meetings between presidents and the paper's publishers. James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The Times, accompanied Sulzberger to the meeting.

In a statement, Mercedes Schlapp, a White House communications adviser, said, "The president regularly meets with members of the media, and we can confirm this meeting took place."

She did not explain why the president chose to publicise it.