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New York Times publisher Sulzberger rips Trump for 'dangerous' rhetoric after the president called the newspaper an 'enemy of the people'

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump is using rhetoric that encourages "threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad," the publisher of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, says in a statement Wednesday.
  • The statement is released by the newspaper shortly after the president published a post on Twitter referring to the Times as the "enemy of the people."
  • The phrase "enemy of the people," Sulzberger writes, "has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information."

President Donald Trump is encouraging "threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad," the publisher of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement was released by the newspaper shortly after the president published a post on Twitter referring to the Times as the "enemy of the people."

"The phrase 'enemy of the people' is not just false, it's dangerous," wrote Sulzberger, who was tapped to lead the paper last year and whose family has controlled the paper since the 19th century. "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."

Sulzberger's comments and Trump's tweet come days after Egyptian officials detained and then expelled a noted New York Times reporter in the country.

The president has long referred to the media as the enemy of the people but has largely refrained from designating particular outlets as such. He has often declared the Times, as well as CNN, NBC News, and other companies "fake news." He said last year that he would take a "strong look at our country's libel laws."

On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is a stalwart member of the court's conservative wing, called on his fellow justices to reconsider the landmark First Amendment ruling New York Times v. Sullivan, which establishes a high bar for public figures to win libel suits.

Sulzberger on Wednesday wrote that the president's criticism of the press marked a departure "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," he wrote.

Aftermath of a bombshell report

The back-and-forth between Trump and Sulzberger comes a day after The New York Times published an account of the president's attempts to beat back federal investigations into his actions as president and during his 2016 campaign, which the Times said had exposed the president to accusations of obstruction of justice.

The Times, citing dozens of current and former officials as well as confidential White House documents, wrote that its report "reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement" than was previously known.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump attacked the media, while repeating a claim that he is responsible for the economic success of outlets that cover him.

"The Press has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact," Trump wrote. "The writers don't even call asking for verification. They are totally out of control. Sadly, I kept many of them in business. In six years, they all go BUST!"

The Times' communications department said that it stands by the paper's reporting, which it said was "rigorously reported."

The Trump business

While many digital media and local news outlets have suffered since the 2007 financial crisis, legacy media outlets, and particularly The New York Times, have performed well financially.

The Times, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has seen its share price rise more than 180 percent since Trump was elected in November 2016. The company announced earlier this month that its digital revenue surpassed $700 million in 2018 and the company was well on its way to reaching its goal of 10 million digital subscribers by 2025.

Throughout the Trump presidency, the paper has promoted itself through a "The Truth Is Hard " campaign that features ads touting the paper's critical reporting of the Trump administration as well as regarding Trump's personal and family financial dealings.

Press freedom advocates worry that Trump's comments have encouraged autocrats and others who seek to limit free speech.

Those concerns were fueled last year by bomb threats. In December, shortly after the president tweeted that "fake news" was the enemy of the people, CNN's New York studio was forced to evacuate because of a phoned-in bomb threat. In October, a Florida man, Cesar Sayoc, was arrested on charges he mailed pipe bombs to CNN as well as other prominent critics of the president. Sayoc has pleaded not guilty.

Trump condemned the bomb threats as "terrorizing acts" and said "we must never allow political violence to take root in America."

"I'm committed to doing everything in my power as President to stop it," he said at the time.