Media not your enemy, Mr. Prez
August 1, 2018
On July 20, President Donald Trump sat down with New York Times Publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger.
At Trump’s request, this meeting was “off the record.”
Sulzberger is 37 years old. The president, at 72, is almost twice Sulzberger’s age.
On Sunday, the one who is old enough to know better fired up the Twitter account — by which we get real-time impulses, not deliberations, from the world’s most powerful human — to break the “off-the-record” agreement.
Trump tweeted he had met with Sulzberger to discuss “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!”
Two hours later, Sulzberger released his response.
“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.”
Further, he said, “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.”
No name-calling. No insults. It was just plain and direct.
Trump reacted with his usual misinformed schoolboy tweet-storm.
“When the media reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk!” he blurted out.
Media reports on the internal deliberations of government because most of them should be public. We the taxpayers should know what our government is doing with our money.
Further, Trump’s fingers hammered, “Freedom of the press comes with a responsibility to report the news accurately.”
Mr. President, please read the First Amendment’s single sentence. It clearly implies you can freely criticize the government.
Accuracy is a responsibility the press imposes on itself.
The mainstream media, he whined, “do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements — and they will never change!”
Full coverage, Mr. President, includes notice that your “positive” achievements are not universally viewed that way.
Ask immigrant families torn apart as they try to flee gang violence (fueled largely by the U.S. drug problem), while you achieve your “no tolerance” border policies.
Ask businesses damaged by your tariffs.
It is true, however, that full reporting is something the media will not change.
Further, Mr. President, saying the New York Times and newspapers are “failing” is both untrue and immaterial.
News will continue whether it’s on paper, radio, or television, phone and computer screens.
Making presidents happy has never been the media’s job, and media have been hard on all 44 previous presidents. It comes with the territory.
When you were born, Mr. President, a small-town heartland clothier named Harry Truman had your job and said, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
And that, Mr. President, is good advice, not “fake news.”
Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: