“When the president decries ‘fake news,’ he’s not interested in actual mistakes. He’s trying to delegitimize real news, dismissing factual and fair reporting as politically motivated fabrications,” Sulzberger said during a talk at Brown University on Monday.
Sulzberger’s comments were turned into an essay and published by the Times headlined, “The growing threat to journalism around the world.” He noted that “journalism has long carried risks” but it’s different today because “these brutal crackdowns are being passively accepted and perhaps even tacitly encouraged” by Trump.
“So when The Times reveals his family’s fraudulent financial practices, when The Wall Street Journal reveals hush money paid to a porn star, when The Washington Post reveals his personal foundation’s self-dealing, he can sidestep accountability by simply dismissing the reports as ‘fake news,’” Sulzberger continued.
Sulzberger said the "relentless campaign is targeting journalists” and it is not only an assault on the industry but also an attack “on the public’s right to know, on core democratic values, on the concept of truth itself.” He said that the Trump administration has “retreated from our country’s historical role as a defender of the free press” and other countries are following in America’s footsteps.
Sulzberger told the Brown University crowd a story he said was never shared publicly.
“Two years ago, we got a call from a United States government official warning us of the imminent arrest of a New York Times reporter based in Egypt named Declan Walsh,” Sulzberger said.
Sulzberger explained that similar calls are fairly standard but this time it took a “surprising and distressing” turn.
“We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Sulzberger said. “The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”
The New York Times honcho said he was “unable” to count on the government for help and turned to Walsh’s native Ireland instead.
“Within an hour, Irish diplomats traveled to his house and safely escorted him to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him,” Sulzberger said. “Eighteen months later, another of our reporters, David Kirkpatrick, arrived in Egypt and was detained and deported in apparent retaliation for exposing information that was embarrassing to the Egyptian government.”
Sulzberger said the paper protested the move but a senior official at the United States Embassy in Cairo “openly voiced the cynical worldview behind the Trump administration’s tolerance for such crackdowns.”
The Times’ publisher said that Trump has “effectively given foreign leaders permission” to undermine news organizations and the concerns have been raised directly to the president.
“I’ve told him that these efforts to attack and suppress independent journalism is what the United States is now inspiring abroad. Though he listened politely and expressed concern, he has continued to escalate his anti-press rhetoric, which has reached new heights as he campaigns for re-election,” Sulzberger said.
Sulzberger added that Trump’s reference to some news organizations as the “enemy of the people” takes things even further in the wrong direction because the term was used during the French Revolution and the Third Reich. He wrote that he feels the rhetoric could result in foreign leaders prosecuting journalists for treason.
“In the United States, the Constitution, the rule of law and a still-robust news media act as a constraint. But abroad, foreign leaders can silence journalists with alarming effectiveness,” Sulzberger wrote. “I do not believe President Trump has any intention of changing course or muting his attacks on journalists.”
Sulzberger then proclaimed that he wasn’t speaking out against Trump’s rhetoric as a result of recent attacks on the Times specifically. However, Sulzberger’s comments came on the heels of a series of tweets that Trump sent condemning the paper for a recent, now-revised piece on Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh that omitted key details.
“I’m not challenging the president’s recklessness because of his party, his ideology or his criticism of The Times,” Sulzberger said. “The true power of a free press is an informed, engaged citizenry. I believe in independent journalism and want it to thrive.”