The bubble under which President Trump has situated himself came to light during a Thursday discussion with A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times. Following up on a conversation with Trump from last year, Sulzberger pressed the president on worldwide threats to journalists and freedom of the press. "The concern I raised then was about your anti-press rhetoric — ‘fake news,’ ‘enemy of the people.’ At the time, I said I was concerned that it wasn’t just divisive, it was potentially dangerous and warned that I thought it could have consequences. I feel like in the time since, we’ve started to see some of those consequences play out. We’ve seen, around the world, an unprecedented rise in attacks on journalists, threats to journalists.”
During an appearance on the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” Sulzberger told host Michael Barbaro that the president showed visible interest as the topic moved to the implications of the president’s rhetoric. “As I’m saying this, he is leaning in and asking questions,” recalled Sulzberger.
“Where, in particular?” Trump asked Sulzberger.
“Globally, on every continent," the publisher responded, offering to supply materials to back up the point. There are plenty of them.
There was more. Sulzberger emphasized the “effects" of Trump’s destructive rhetoric and asked him to reconsider using it. “If you choose not to, I want you to be aware of some of the consequences that I’m starting to see out there,” said Sulzberger.
To listen to the audio is to come away thinking that, quite possibly, this message came as news to the president.
“Would you say more so now than over the last five years?” asked Trump.
“Right now, I mean —” said Trump.
“More so now than even a year ago?” asked Trump.
Previous occupants of the Oval Office, said Sulzberger, had been steadfast defenders of press freedom, prompting Trump to reply, “I think I am, too. I want to be.” Sulzberger then asked a killer question: Were you aware of the “broad consequences that we’re seeing?” The president responded with a long version of “no." “The person, honestly, that’s been most suggestive of that is you, more so than others,” said Trump, who noted that he had seen more use of the term “fake news.” To stroke his own ego, Trump credited himself for coining the term: “I think I was the one who started using it, I would say,” he said.
False: He jumped on a bandwagon. Even for an infamous phrase, Trump cannot claim originality. Nor can he claim a clue. When it comes to news, Trump watches cable television — with an emphasis on “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight" — plus various stories and shows that may otherwise come to his attention. That the president appears to know nothing about the international climate for journalism since his rise to power attests to the skill of those programs in feeding him the news that he likes.
Speaking of which, Trump told Sulzberger and his news-side colleagues from the New York Times — reporters Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman — that he doesn’t mind a “bad story if it’s true." That, of course, is not true, to judge from Trump’s repeated broadsides on Twitter against clearly accurate articles. Asked by Haberman about the role of the free press, Trump said that the media should describe things “accurately and fairly.”
Now for a fascinating dynamic: Both of Sulzberger’s meetings with Trump — the session last summer and Thursday’s remarkable exchange — were requested by the White House. And in Thursday’s session, Trump waved off an assistant who told him there was important business awaiting him. “What’s more important than the New York Times?” asked the president, who also blew through other yellow lights raised by aides in the Oval Office.
No particular news there. We’ve known for a long time how much Trump — who grew up in the Queens borough of New York — craves the approbation of the New York Times. Or did we? “I came from Jamaica, Queens — Jamaica Estates. I became president of the United States. I’m sort of entitled to a great story from my — just one, from my newspaper. I mean, you know,” he said, repeating that sentiment a couple of times. “I just sort of think I’m entitled to a great story from the New York Times.”
Sulzberger pointed to a certain headline on Nov. 9, 2016: “Trump Triumphs.”