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Publisher urges Trump to reconsider anti-press rhetoric

AG Sulzberger, of The New York Times, met the president at the White House earlier this month.

The publisher of The New York Times has said he “implored” Donald Trump at a private meeting to reconsider his 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 White House meeting to his 53 million Twitter followers on Sunday. The president’s aides had requested that the July 20 meeting not be made public, Mr Sulzberger said.

Mr Trump tweeted: “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 said his main purpose for accepting the meeting was to “raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric”.

He added: “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”

He 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 are 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.

He added that he made clear 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,” he said.

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AG Sulzberger met Donald Trump at the White House for private talks (Damon Winter/The New York Times via AP)

Mr Trump reads the Times and gives interviews to its reporters. But the president – who, like all politicians, is concerned about his image – also regularly derides the newspaper as the “failing New York Times”.

However, the Times’ ownership company in May reported a 3.8% increase in first-quarter revenue compared to the same period in 2017.

The president, who lashes out over media coverage of himself and the administration that he deems unfair, has broadly labelled the news media the “enemy of the people” and regularly accuses reporters of spreading “fake news” – the term he often uses for stories he dislikes.

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% 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!”

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