To the surprise of no one, Donald Trump proved once again his word is meaningless.
On July 20, Trump privately met at the White House with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and Editorial Page Editor James Bennet, in what the Times described as a traditional meeting between a president and a newspaper publisher.
The president’s aides requested the meeting to be off the record. But the impulsive president couldn’t keep his manic Twitter fingers at bay and broke the agreement on Sunday while at his private New Jersey golf club.
“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
Having broken his end of the privacy agreement, Trump opened the door for Sulzberger to clarify details of the conversation, which covered Trump’s repeated threats against journalists and news media organizations he doesn’t like. Sulzberger implied that Trump is a liar and a danger to democracy.
In a statement following Trump’s tweet, Sulzberger said:
My 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.
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.
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.
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.
In a follow-up story about the exchanges, the Times criticized Trump for not owning up to the fact that he is responsible for calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” a term widely used by leaders of the former Soviet Union to criticize critics and by Nazi Germany to attack Jewish people.
“Mr. Trump, in his tweet, described the meeting with Mr. 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 Times’ Mark Landler wrote.
“He has continued to assail the news media at rallies and even at more formal presidential events, encouraging his audiences to chant ‘CNN sucks!’ and to vent their anger at the reporters assembled in the back,” Landler added.
The Times also highlighted Trump’s Orwellian call this week to his base to ignore reality and blindly follow their cultish leader’s every whim. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said Tuesday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Kansas City. The same day, CNN broadcast a recording by Michael Cohen, the president’s former fixer, of Cohen and Trump discussing the purchase of rights to a former Playboy model’s story about her alleged affair with Trump.
White House communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp would not say why Trump had decided to violate the off-the-record agreement with the Times, the newspaper said.
Update, Sunday, 3:20 p.m.: Well, that didn’t take long. Donald Trump, seemingly upset by the reporting on a media quarrel that he created, went on another Twitter tirade on Sunday, attacking the “failing” New York Times, the “Amazon Washington Post,” and the “dying newspaper industry” in general.
In a series of four tweets, Trump said members of the news media are “driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome.” He also called journalists “very unpatriotic.”
Given that Trump’s private meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger—which was supposed to be off the record—took place over a week ago, one has to wonder why Trump would wait so long to violate the privacy agreement. And why today? It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assert that this is another of Trump’s manufactured controversies to distract everyone from his snowballing legal woes.
But hey, MAGA.