New York Times Publisher Rebuts Trump’s Account of Private Meeting

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President Trump said on Twitter that he and A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, 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!”CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump on Sunday disclosed details of a private meeting he had with the publisher of The New York Times, A. G. Sulzberger, and Mr. Sulzberger flatly disputed the president’s characterization of an exchange they had about threats to journalism.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he and Mr. 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, Mr. Sulzberger said he had accepted Mr. 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 Mr. Sulzberger, who became publisher of The Times on Jan. 1.

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“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,’” Mr. 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, Mr. Sulzberger said, where governments are using Mr. 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.”

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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.

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.

Speaking to veterans in Kansas City, Mo., last week, Mr. Trump said: “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.” As members of the crowd booed and hissed at the press corps, he added, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

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The president invited Mr. 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 Mr. Sulzberger to the meeting.

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Mr. Sulzberger had a different account of his meeting with Mr. Trump, which the president revealed after having asked that it be off the record. “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” Mr. Sulzberger said in a statement.CreditBenjamin Norman for The New York Times

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 provide any further details of the meeting or explain why the president chose to publicize it.

The White House had requested that the meeting be kept off the record, according to the statement from The Times.

“But with Mr. Trump’s tweet this morning,” the statement said, “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 James took.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Sulzberger described the meeting with Mr. Trump, whom he had met only once before, as cordial. But he said he went into the Oval Office determined to make a point about what he views as the dangers of the president’s inflammatory language.

Mr. Sulzberger recalled telling Mr. Trump at one point that newspapers had begun posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. The president, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.

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At another point, Mr. Trump expressed pride in popularizing the phrase “fake news,” and said other countries had begun banning it. Mr. Sulzberger responded that those countries were dictatorships and that they were not banning “fake news” but rather independent scrutiny of their actions.

Still, Mr. Sulzberger said, by the end of the session, he felt that Mr. Trump had listened to his arguments. The president, Mr. Sulzberger recalled, told him he was glad that he had raised those issues and would think about them.

Mr. Sulzberger said he bore no illusions that his comments would prompt Mr. Trump to curb his attacks on the news media. He said he encouraged the president to complain about news coverage in The Times that he viewed as unfair. But he appealed to him not to systematically attack journalists and journalism around the world.

The Times published an article this weekend about Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, which noted that they had invited Mr. Sulzberger to a dinner at their home in Manhattan in honor of Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations.

Until Sunday morning, Mr. Trump had spent an uncharacteristically quiet weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

In other tweets, he celebrated the recent positive economic news and revived a threat to shut down the government when its funding runs out in September if congressional Democrats do not vote to pay for the border wall with Mexico.

“Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT!” the president said. “We need great people coming into our Country!”

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