A few hours after President Donald Trump described The New York Times in a tweet as “a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” A.G. Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher, accused him of a “reckless” and “dangerous” attack that could put the lives of journalists at risk.
Sulzberger’s response, published on The Times’ corporate website, noted that many presidents, including Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, have criticized the press, but they also understood its value.
“All these presidents had complaints about their coverage and at times took advantage of the freedom every American has to criticize journalists,” Sulzberger wrote. “But in demonizing the free press as the enemy, simply for performing its role of asking difficult questions and bringing uncomfortable information to light, President Trump is retreating from a distinctly American principle.”
Trump’s tweet on Wednesday followed the publication on Tuesday of an in-depth investigation by The Times that reported Trump tried to blunt multiple investigations into his campaign and administration.
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Sulzberger compared Trump’s statements to those of autocrats around the world who had limited the press.
“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous,” Sulzberger wrote. “It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information. And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation’s enemies.”
Sulzberger wrote that he had previously spoken with Trump in an attempt to get the president to soften his rhetoric.
“As I have repeatedly told President Trump face to face, there are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad,” Sulzberger wrote.
The two men met in the Oval Office in July for an off-the-record meeting, and then again in February for a recorded session in which the publisher questioned whether the president truly understood the consequences of his anti-press campaign. Trump said he didn’t like it when other countries used the term “fake news” to crack down on the practice of journalism.
Trump has criticized the press routinely during his presidency, often referring to the “fake” media at rallies and using the “enemy of the people” phrase to refer collectively to an industry that has often reported his foibles and examined his finances and false statements. But his tweet on Wednesday represented an escalation, since he has rarely singled out specific news outlets for enemy status.
Earlier this month, a BBC cameraman was attacked while covering a Trump event in El Paso where the president alleged “collusion between the Democrats and the fake news.”
White House Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement in response to the attack that the president “condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people – including members of the press.”