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New York Times publisher offers different take on Trump meeting

Image: Arthur Gregg (A.G.) Sulzberger and his father Arthur Ochs Sulzberger
Publisher of the New York Times Arthur Gregg (A.G.) Sulzberger in 2017. Copyright Damon Winter The New York Times via Reuters
Copyright Damon Winter The New York Times via Reuters
By Phil McCausland with NBC News U.S. News
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"I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence," Sulzberger said.


President Donald Trump and New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger recalled a July 20 meeting the two had, and their impressions as recounted Sunday seemed to differ.

"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!" the president tweeted Sunday morning, letting his followers know of a previously unreported meeting.

Afterward, The New York Times said in a statement that the White House requested that Sulzberger meet with Trump earlier this month. The publisher went to the White House on July 20 with James Bennett, the editor of the Times' editorial page.

The two agreed with Trump that the meeting would be off the record, but The New York Times said Sunday that Trump's Sunday tweet dissolved that earlier agreement. Sulzberger and Bennett drew from "detailed notes" that they took, the Times said, so that Sulzberger could accurately respond to Trump's characterization of the conversation.

Sulzberger said in his statement that his principal reason for taking the meeting with Trump was to "raise concerns about the president's deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric" and explain that the president's "language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous."

The New York Times publisher then elaborated further.

"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,'" Sulzberger said. "I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence."

The publisher went on to say that he "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," Sulzberger concluded. "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."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sulzberger's statement.

Trump has repeatedly called the media "the enemy of the people" and often derides major media outlets as "fake news." Trump battered the press last week when speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news," Trump said, gesturing toward the members of the press at the event.

"Just remember: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening," he added.

The VFW said they were disappointed to hear their members boo the journalists in attendance after Trump's words.

One day after the VFW speech, the Trump administration barred a CNN White House reporter from attending an open press event at the Rose Garden after she asked the president questions about his relationship with his former lawyer Michael Cohen and an invitation he extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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