Accuracy in Media

The New York Times’ story on the meeting between its publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, and President Trump mentioned the publisher was setting the record straight, but it did not say how.

“President Trump and the publisher of the New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, engaged in a fierce public crash on Sunday over Mr. Trump’s threats against journalism, after Mr. Sulzberger said the president misrepresented a private meeting and Mr. Trump accused The Times and other papers of putting lives at risk with irresponsible reporting.”

It never makes clear what Trump said that the paper did not think was true. It said Sulzberger told him newspapers had taken to posting guards at their offices because of the threat of violence; Trump responded he was surprised they weren’t doing this already.

At another point, Sulzberger said, Trump took pride in popularizing the phrase ‘fake news’ and said other countries had begun to ban it. Sulzberger said he replied “that those countries were dictatorships and that they were not banning ‘fake news’ but, rather, independent scrutiny of their actions.”

Both agree the July 20 meeting, at Trump’s invitation, was held to discuss the rash of fake news and irresponsible reporting coming out of the paper.

Trump said he discussed with Sulzberger “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into the phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”

Sulzberger released a five-paragraph statement about the meeting, saying he had gone there “to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”

Sulzberger said he told the president his criticisms were “not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” and that although he thinks the phrase ‘fake news’ is “untrue and harmful,” he is “far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people.’”

The publisher said this “inflammatory language” could lead to threats against the journalists or even violence. This is “especially true abroad,” where the president’s rhetoric is being used, according to Sulzberger, to “justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists.”

The president is free to criticize the coverage and the Times was not asking him to “soften his attacks” if he “felt our coverage was unfair,” Sulzberger said. He just wants the president to “reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country”

The Times think its young publisher made a difference. “Mr. Sulzberger’s lengthy, bluntly worded rebuttal was a striking rejoinder to the president by the 37-year-old publisher of a paper with which Mr. Trump has had a long, complicated relationship,” it wrote. “And it apparently touched a nerve: The president fired off a series of angry tweets in the afternoon, accusing newspapers of being unpatriotic.”

It then quoted this Trump tweet:

“I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry. The failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing bu write bad stories even on very positive achievements – and they will never change!”

The meeting was supposed to be off the record, “But with Mr. Trump’s tweet this morning, he has put the meeting on the record, so A.G. has decided to respond to the president’s characterization of their conversation, based on detailed notes A.G. and [editorial page editor] James [Bennett].”

Sulzberger said he encouraged the president to complain about unfair coverage but “appealed to him not to systematically attack journalists and journalism around the world.

At the end, Sulzberg told his newspaper he “felt that Mr. Trump had listened to his arguments” and “told him he was glad that he had raised those issues and would think about them.”

It also noted Sulzberger “bore no illusions that his comments would prompt Mr. Trump to curb his attacks on the news media.”

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