For someone who relentlessly bashes the media for its honesty and ethics, Donald Trump seems to have little concern for either, particularly with regard to the media. And this goes much farther than his reckless attacks that media experts have warned are likely to result in violence against journalists who are just trying to do their job.
On Sunday morning Trump posted a peculiar tweet that, on the surface, suggested a bit of thawing in his persistent hostility toward the press. He revealed that he met with A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, one of Trump’s most reviled foes. In the past, Trump has maligned the Times as liars who deliberately publish false stories with sources that Trump says don’t exist (they do). In this tweet Trump pretended that the meeting was cordial and productive:
As it turns out, Trump was not only lying, he actually violated an agreement that he insisted on that the meeting be off the record. We learned this when the Times posted a response to Trump’s tweet to set the record straight. The statement by the Times is a wholly unprecedented occurrence that could not have even been thought of in the administration of any other president. But this is where we are now. Here is the Times’ statement in full:
Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times, in Response to President Trump’s Tweet About Their Meeting
July 29, 2018
Earlier this month, A.G. received a request from the White House to meet with President Trump. This was not unusual; there has been a long tradition of New York Times publishers holding such meetings with presidents and other public figures who have concerns about coverage.
On July 20th, A.G. went to the White House, accompanied by James Bennet, who oversees the editorial page of The Times. Mr. Trump’s aides requested that the meeting be off the record, which has also been the practice for such meetings in the past.
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 James took.
Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times:
My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.
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.
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.
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. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.
So Sulzberger accepted the meeting with the hopes that he could moderate Trump’s animus toward the press and his hostility toward the Constitution’s First Amendment. That was a wildly optimistic expectation. But what we still don’t know is why Trump asked for the meeting in the first place. Presumably to bitch about “fake news” and threaten to punish the Times if they didn’t bend to his will. He has recently been throwing around threats at journalists who have dare to exercise independence and free speech.
Sulzberger’s warnings to Trump about the use of phrases like “fake news” and “enemy of the people” were appropriate and long over due. Trump needed to hear directly that his callousness was “putting lives at risk” and “undermining the democratic ideals.” Not that he would listen or understand. And, unfortunately, there was no indication in Sulzberger’s statement as to whether Trump grasped the significance of these points or if he was even paying attention. However, Trump himself gave us a pretty good idea of what he thought of the meeting in a series of angry tweets a few hours later:
Trump incredibly blamed Sulzberger for “reveal[ing] the internal deliberations of our government” that Trump himself revealed on Twitter first. And if there is substantial negative coverage of his administration it’s only because he’s an incompetent boor who has failed in everything he’s ever attempted in his life. What he regards as “positive results” are the hallucinations of a maniacal narcissist.
Sulzberger diplomatically avoided any disclosure of the substance of their discussions. That’s how adults behave when trying to resolve contentious relationships with the aim of finding some common ground. But Trump is behaving like a china shop bullshitter by disparaging the Times, and the media at large, with insulting allusions to it being a dying institution that is never going to change – by which Trump means suck up to him.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
In the end, Trump demonstrated that his original assertion that the meeting was “very good and interesting” was just another Trump lie. His subsequent tweets prove that he never meant that. He was just posturing with the expectation that his disingenuous blather wouldn’t be revealed. And when it was he just made matters worse by unleashing the rancorous bile that is always just below the surface of his unnaturally orange and lace-thin skin. Same as it ever was.