NYT Publisher Cautioned Trump in Meeting That 'Enemy of the People' Label 'Will Lead to Violence'

Kellyanne Conway, President-elect Donald Trump, New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and vice chairman of The New York Times Company Michael Golden appear during a meeting with editors and reporters at The New York Times building Nov. 22, 2016, in New York. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times via AP)

WASHINGTON — New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger said he warned President Trump at a face-to-face meeting July 20 that Trump consistently referring to the media as “the enemy of the people” will lead to violence.

Sulzberger said the meeting was off-the-record as agreed, and he decided to issue a statement about it only after Trump tweeted about it this morning.

“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. 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!” Trump tweeted.

Ten days ago, the president tweeted, “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.”

The next day was the meeting with the NYT. “The president regularly meets with members of the media and we can confirm this meeting took place,” said Mercedes Schlapp, White House strategic communications director.

Sulzberger said he attended, at the request of the White House, along with NYT editorial page editor James Bennet.

“My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” Sulzberger said. “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,” he added. “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.”

The publisher added, “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,” Sulzberger said. “Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”

Sulzberger did not say what Trump’s reaction was to his statements. The White House has not elaborated on the meeting beyond Trump’s tweet.