Trump had tweeted that he had “a very good and interesting” meeting with Sulzberger, the sixth member of his family to serve as publisher since it purchased the Times in 1896.
“Spent much time talking about the vast amount of Fake News being put out by the media,” tweeted Trump, who has frequently ― and falsely ― accused the legacy paper of publishing what he calls “fake news.”
Soon after, the Times weighed in with additional context about the exchange.
The White House asked Sulzberger to meet with Trump earlier this month, Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, told HuffPost in an email Sunday.
“This was not unusual; there has been a long tradition of New York Times publishers holding such meetings with presidents and other public figures who have concerns about coverage,” Murphy wrote.
On July 20, Sulzberger and James Bennet, the editor of the Times’ editorial page, met with Trump at the White House, according to Murphy. Though Trump’s aides requested the meeting be off the record, Trump’s tweet Sunday put the meeting “on the record,” allowing for Sulzberger to respond, she said.
“My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” Sulzberger said in a statement to HuffPost. “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
“I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he he felt our coverage was unfair,” he added. “Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
Read the full statement below:
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.
I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.
Throughout the conversation I emphasized that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world. I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.
Trump often accuses the Times and other media outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN and NBC, of publishing false stories in response to articles that portray him in an unflattering manner.
Trump has frequently gone after stories that use anonymous sources to report on his White House. In March, for example, he tweeted that the Times “purposely wrote a false story” suggesting he was “unhappy” with his legal team and that he planned to hire another lawyer.
Trump has repeatedly referred to the press as “the enemy of the people,” despite his Sunday tweet’s false suggestion that the phrase entered the zeitgeist on its own.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Times’ statement.
Hours later, Trump slammed the press again in a series of tweets, in which he claimed the media is driven by “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” a right-wing phrase meant to suggest liberals will irrationally dislike the president’s actions no matter what he does.
CORRECTION: A photo of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the Times’ previous publisher and the father of A.G. Sulzberger, previously accompanied this story. It has been replaced with a photo of A.G. Sulzberger.
This story has been updated with Trump’s Sunday afternoon tweets.