NEW YORK — The publisher of The New York Times excoriated President Donald Trump Wednesday after the commander in chief declared the newspaper the “true enemy of the people” in light of a damning report about his alleged attempts to interfere in ongoing criminal investigations.
In a rare statement, A.G. Sulzberger quoted Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy as committing to the idea that a “free press was essential to democracy” before questioning whether Trump agrees.
“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,” Sulzberger said.
“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.”
Even though the press-bashing phrase has been tied to murderous dictators like Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler, Trump continues to interchangeably use “enemy of the people” as a cudgel to deride news coverage he doesn’t like.
“The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Trump tweeted as part of anti-media tired Wednesday morning that also lauded a high school student for filing a long-shot lawsuit against The Washington Post.
Trump’s harsh missive was likely referring to a Tuesday report by The Times citing several U.S. officials as saying that the president asked his handpicked acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, to put a political ally in charge of the criminal investigation into Michael Cohen.
It’s unclear how Whitaker responded to Trump’s alleged request, but he does not appear to have acted on it since the Cohen probe has continued unabated.
The Cohen investigation, which has implicated Trump in campaign finance crimes, is run by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which is also looking into possible corruption and money laundering by the president’s inaugural committee.
Sulzberger, who has enjoyed an at-times cordial relationship with Trump and has been invited to several off-the-record lunches at the White House, reiterated that the president’s words appear to have materialized in more violence against journalists.
“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 said.
Nonetheless, he added: “To report independently, fairly and accurately. To ask hard questions. To pursue the truth wherever it leads. That will not change.”