He’s picking on the wrong old gray lady.
The ongoing war of words between President Trump and The New York Times reached a fever pitch Wednesday, with both sides slinging insults as they argued over one of the fundamental principles of American democracy: the rights of the free press.
The commander-in-chief set off the fiery exchange with one of his most inflammatory anti-media insults — this one prompted by yet another damning news story about his administration in the Times.
“The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Trump tweeted as part of a chain of media-hating morning posts.
Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger quickly hit back — branding Trump as a “reckless” despot for continuing to use the ugly phrase to demean and diminish news coverage he doesn’t like, and at a time when violence against journalism is on the rise globally.
“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous,” Sulzberger said. “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.”
The assertive public pushback came after the President attacked the Times for reporting Tuesday that he had asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put a political ally in charge of the federal investigation into Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen last year.
The Times cited interviews with dozens of current and former U.S. officials to back up the allegation that raises serious questions of whether the President tried to obstruct a criminal investigation he has a direct stake in.
And when Trump falsely claimed in another tweet that the “dishonest” newspaper didn’t reach out to the White House for comment on the bombshell piece, the Times communications team didn’t hesitate to slap him down.
“The White House was given 5 days to respond to the details of our investigation,” the team’s Twitter handle responded directly to Trump’s post. “The Times followed up multiple times but no response was given on the record until the President addressed the story after its publication.”
Trump’s love-hate relationship with the press has been on full display since the very earliest days of his 2016 presidential campaign — and it’s only grown more heated since he took up residence in the Oval Office.
At times, he’s openly derided reporters at press conferences, grown combative when urged to answer questions, threatened to revoke credentials, and told journalists to sit down and shut up — and heckled the mainstream press in general as being the mouthpiece of “fake news.” Only Fox News host Sean Hannity, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and other media that show support for his policies earn presidential praise.
At rallies, Trump frequently elicits cheers from the audience by mocking the press. He’s referred to journalists as “sick people,” questioned their patriotism and said they are trying “to take away our history and our heritage.”
“I really think they don’t like our country,” he said at one rally in 2017 — remarks that were highlighted by The Times.
Sulzberger on Wednesday blasted Trump’s constant raging at the press for doing its job, saying the President’s inflammatory insults and “enemy of the people” attitude was a dangerous throwback to dark times.
“It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information,” Sulzberger said. “And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation’s enemies.”
Former Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were all committed to the idea that “a free press was essential to democracy,” Sulzberger added, before asking if Trump would be the one to break that constitutional ideal.
“All these Presidents had complaints about their coverage and at times took advantage of the freedom every American has to criticize journalists,” Sulzberger said. “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.”
The appalling imbroglio comes at a time when violence against journalists is at an “unprecedented” high, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit advocating for press freedoms worldwide.
Eighty journalists were killed in 2018, another 348 were detained and 60 were held hostage in the course of doing their jobs, according to a report released by the group in December.
There’s been palpable effects in the U.S. as well.
Just two weeks ago, a BBC cameraman was attacked by a Trump supporter wearing a “Make American Great Again” hat at a Texas rally where the President was speaking.
Trump gave the man a thumbs-up sign from the podium after the attack and went on speaking when the man returned it, the BBC reported.
In late October, a Trump-loving madman named Cesar Sayoc unleashed a wave of terror in the nation by mailing pipe bombs to CNN’s newsroom and to the homes of some of the President’s most high-profile political opponents, according to authorities. Sayoc’s social media profiles were littered with pro-Trump screeds trashing journalists.