ON THE NEW YORK TIMES, WITH ITS PUBLISHER WALKING INTO TRUMP'S TRAP
“SHAME on the New York Times!”
Hearing that, Cat, came one the run, or the wobbly, stomach-swinging lurch that is the equivalent of running for the old cat. Cat, without knowing the particulars, knew that Donald Trump had wrecked another glorious summer afternoon.
“Where are you?” Cat said.
“Under the dining room table,” I said. “I just feel really low about what the Times just did to humiliate the media, including us bloggers, Cat.”
“What on earth do you mean?” Cat said.
I told him that I’d just heard that the publisher of the New York Times had met secretly with Trump on July 20, and he'd told Trump that his attacks on newspapers and other media were “dangerous,” not only in the United States, but elsewhere in the world, encouraging other governments to attack the press.
“What’s wrong with that?” Cat said. “Sounds like A.G. Sulzberger was sticking up not just for the New York Times, but the entire news media.”
“Really, Cat?” I said. “I’m not sure you or I have enough paws to count the ways that what he did was wrong, WRONG.”
“Phoebe, you are yelling in capital letters and sounding like a Trump tweet,” Cat said. “Calm down. You’re safe here under the dining room table. Give me the complete picture. And use your indoor voice.”
Trump had invited the Times’ publisher to the White House, saying that the meeting would be “private” in keeping with the nature of such meetings in the past.
But Trump, being Trump, cheated and tweeted a distorted account. Sulzberger then responded with his own statement.
It went like this:
Trump's tweet, in part:
“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about 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!
Sulzberger’s statement, in part:
“My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric. I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous. 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.”
The result: Trump had Sulzberger right where he wanted him, in Tweetland, and the president launched yet another tirade, full of media-hate:
“I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the...dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people…..”
Here, in summary, direct from under the dining room table, are my reasons:
#1. You don’t politely suggest to a monster like Donald Trump: ‘Please, Mr. Monster, please stop being a monster.’ The absurdity. Proposing that Trump stop his war on the media is preposterous. It’s one of Trump’s major activities, destroying the credibility of the news, so Americans won’t believe what they read or hear when news outlets report about all that Trump does, his lying, cheating and betrayal of the United States.
#2. As a newspaper person, you certainly don’t meet with somebody like Trump in private. You do your business – the public’s business – in public. It’s not a publisher’s role to solve the world’s problems man-to-man. It’s a publisher's job to make sure his reporters and editors have the tools to put out the best news stories possible, then let the readers, the voters and the citizens decide what to do with the information.
#3. What did Sulzberger expect to achieve? That Trump would suddenly come to “come to his senses,” because CEO to CEO, New Yorker to New Yorker, that he, A.G., could get D.J. to see the error of his ways? Or maybe emerge with a secret, backroom truce, in which the Times agreed not to use the word “liar” if Trump dropped the word “fake?” Doesn’t Sulzberger believe what he reads in his own newspaper, that Donald Trump is a liar, a sadist, a traitor, a cheat an abuser who is tearing down his country and making the world unsafe? What did he expect?
#4. Sulzberger walked right into the spider’s web, a humiliating trip in which he allowed Trump to break the “off-the-record” promise, so that Trump essentially scooped the New York Times about the story of the meeting. Plus, Sulzberger gave Trump the satisfaction that he now could count the Times' publisher among those in high positions that thought maybe they could talk sense to Trump, but who have been publicly made to eat crow.
#5. Sulzberger also ignored the common sense example set by one of his columnists, Charles Blow. That was when Trump, before he was sworn in as president, met with the Times editorial board. But Blow refused to go to that meeting, saying it would be impossible to have a polite, civil conversation with a provocateur of hate and racism. (Along those lines, why would anyone want to be within touching, smelling distance of such a repulsive creature as Donald Trump?)
"From the git-go," I said, “Sulzberger should have turned down the White House invitation, or better still, not even have replied to it."
“Then he should have gotten back to his actual job: putting out one of history’s greatest newspapers. And if, as a publisher, he felt the need to criticize the president, he could do it with editorials, on the front pages, if necessary."
"It's comes down to humility," Cat said.
"What do you mean?" I said.
"Sulzberger,” Cat said, "forgot his purpose in life, just like you said. He's got an important job, but convincing a monster not to be a monster isn’t one of them. And he did shame his reporters and editors by ignoring the depth and import of what they’ve been telling the Times' readers, A.G. Sulzberger and the rest of us about the most vile president in history.”
"Nicely put, Cat," I said.
"So now you can come out from under that table," he said. "It's not your fault a publisher made a mistake. Nothing you should take personally."
"I think I'll stay a while longer, if that's okay," I said.
"Understood," Cat said.