President Trump dusted off one of his favorite and most vile talking points this morning by taking to Twitter to rant about The New York Times, referring to them as a “true enemy of the people.”
The outburst was presumably in response to an extensive report yesterday in the Times in which it was revealed, amongst other things, that Trump’s attorney reached out to the lawyers of Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn to discuss possible pardons. On top of that, it was also revealed that Trump asked former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to place a U.S. Attorney allied to Trump in charge of the Southern District of New York’s Michael Cohen investigation.
The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019
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The deeply unAmerican disrespect for the First Amendment and the free press on display in this tweet is hardly surprising from him at this point but is no less inexcusable for being rote. Tweets like these implicitly call on delusional Trump supporters to attack the media, perhaps even physically, as the president warps their minds to make them believe it’s their patriotic duty to go after those who publish unflattering things about him.
Now, A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, has hit back at Trump with a blistering statement in which he defends the free praise and correctly calls out the president’s rhetoric for being “false” and “dangerous.”
The piece begins with Sulzberger explaining the crucial role that the free press plays in maintaining the strength of our democracy. He invokes past statements from former presidents to enforce his point.
‘America’s founders believed that a free press was essential to democracy because it is the foundation of an informed, engaged citizenry. That conviction, enshrined in the First Amendment, has been embraced by nearly every American president. Thomas Jefferson declared, ‘The only security of all is in a free press.’ John F. Kennedy warned about the risks to ‘free society without a very, very active press.’ Ronald Reagan said, ‘There is no more essential ingredient than a free, strong and independent press to our continued success.'”
Sulzberger then criticizes President Trump for abandoning what he calls a “distinctly American principle,” that is to say his attacking the press for performing their role of asking hard questions and revealing hidden truths to the American people.
“All these presidents had complaints about their coverage and at times took advantage of the freedom every American has to criticize journalists. But in demonizing the free press as the enemy, simply for performing its role of asking difficult questions and bringing uncomfortable information to light, President Trump is retreating from a distinctly American principle. It’s a principle that previous occupants of the Oval Office fiercely defended regardless of their politics, party affiliation, or complaints about how they were covered.”
From there, Sulzberger gets to his main point, attacking Trump for his “enemy of the people” slander, and points out how similar rhetoric has been used by dictators in the past.
“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous. It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information. And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation’s enemies. As I have repeatedly told President Trump face to face, there are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad.”
Sulzberger ends the piece by explaining the historic role of The New York Times specifically in serving the public by helping them understand politics and the country they live in. He ends with an adamant statement that his newspaper will not stand down.
“Through 33 presidential administrations, across 167 years, The New York Times has worked to serve the public by fulfilling the fundamental role of the free press. To help people, regardless of their backgrounds or politics, understand their country and the world. To report independently, fairly and accurately. To ask hard questions. To pursue the truth wherever it leads. That will not change.”
Trump would do well to heed Sulzberger’s piece, but past behavior leads one to assume that he will not. He will continue in his vain efforts to erode one of the crucial pillars of our democracy and it falls to every patriotic American to resist him.