SULZBERGER: As I’ve talked to my colleagues around the globe … particularly working in countries where a free press is an already tenuous thing, they say that they are increasingly of the belief that your rhetoric is creating a climate in which dictators and tyrants are able to employ your words in suppressing the free press …TRUMP: Would you say more so now than over the last five years?SULZBERGER: Yes.TRUMP: Right now? I mean, more so now than even a year ago?SULZBERGER: Yes. And I think —TRUMP: I’m not happy to hear that.
To give you a sense of what this retreat looks like on the ground, let me tell you a story I’ve never shared publicly before. Two years ago, we got a call from a United States government official warning us of the imminent arrest of a New York Times reporter based in Egypt named Declan Walsh. Though the news was alarming, the call was actually fairly standard. Over the years, we’ve received countless such warnings from American diplomats, military leaders and national security officials.But this particular call took a surprising and distressing turn. We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.
Eighteen months later, another of our reporters, David Kirkpatrick, arrived in Egypt and was detained and deported in apparent retaliation for exposing information that was embarrassing to the Egyptian government. When we protested the move, a senior official at the United States Embassy in Cairo openly voiced the cynical worldview behind the Trump administration’s tolerance for such crackdowns. “What did you expect would happen to him?” he said. “His reporting made the government look bad.”
Journalists couch not only their claims for access, but also much of their entire mission, in First Amendment terms. Academics even at private universities frame their pleas for academic freedom in the language of the First Amendment, just as students at those universities who feel their speech has been restricted make explicit recourse to the First Amendment in articulating their complaints. Librarians see the First Amendment as informing pretty much their complete raison d’etre, and artists and writers commonly use the First Amendment to frame their complaints against publishers, galleries, and even private museums. In these and countless other domains, a wide range of demands and platforms take on a First Amendment coloring, and not in any way very much connected at all with existing constitutional doctrine.