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Trump, The Times, and the T Word
The publisher of the New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, penned an op-ed last week that ran under the headline, “With Talk of ‘Treason,’ Trump Crosses a Line.”
Sulzberger wrote about the escalating war the president is waging against the press. “First it was the ‘failing New York Times.’ Then ‘fake news.’ Then ‘enemy of the people.’ President Trump’s escalating attacks on the New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He’s gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues.”
Sulzberger goes on to explain that the president has now taken the battle into even more dangerous territory. Now, the Times publisher says, he’s “accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.”
The crime? Treason!
The president accused the Times of “a virtual act of treason” in response to a story the paper ran about U.S. cyber incursions into the Russian electrical grid.
The problem, as Sulzberger points out, is that the president's "own aides had assured our reporters [that the story] raised no national security concerns.”
It wasn’t the first time the president spoke without knowing what he was talking about.
But what makes Sulzberger’s op-ed even more noteworthy beyond its content was where it was published: not in the New York Times, but in the Wall Street Journal.
Sulzberger told Vanity Fair that he chose the Journal because, “I thought there was value to reaching a different audience with this message. Folks who are maybe more conservative, folks who are influential in the business community.”
And he said he wanted to be clear that this wasn’t a problem just for journalists. “One of the concerns I have right now is, if you look at who’s responding to the attacks on journalists, it tends to be journalists. … And I worry that it’s easy for the public to regard that as institutions looking after their own self-interest. I don’t view it that way. I really hope that other leaders will raise their voices as well. It shouldn’t just be journalists defending journalism. I think any successful business leader will tell you how valuable the free and trustworthy flow of information is for their ability to be successful.”
Before we move on, let me weigh in on the substance of Sulzberger’s argument. He’s right. It’s one thing for the president to refer “the failing New York Times.” It’s dumb but it’s basically harmless. But by the time we get to “treason” it’s no longer just one more example of the president casually tossing around insults.
President Trump needs to be called out on his recklessness and Sulzberger clearly had had enough.
But it would be nice if the message had come from someone with cleaner hands. You would be excused after reading Sulzberger’s grave concerns about the use of that word, treason, if you concluded that he doesn’t read his own newspaper.
With thanks to James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal, we have some examples of Sulzberger’s employees not living up to their publisher’s lofty standards.
Here’s a headline on a Times column by Charles Blow, whose non-stop tirades against the president have grown tiresome: “Trump, Treasonous, Traitor.”
Timothy Egan, another progressive Times columnist wrote, “Already, Trump has flirted with treason.” And that was in January of 2017 – before Mr. Trump even took office.
And there’s Paul Krugman who wrote a column entitled, “The New Climate of Treason” in which he said, “essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics.”
And in another screed that ran under the headline, “Judas, Tax Cuts and the Great Betrayal,” Krugman used the T word yet again, writing that “almost an entire party appears to have decided that potential treason in the cause of tax cuts for the wealthy is no vice.”
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but it would be nice if the president called a truce in his war on the media in general and on the so-called newspaper of record in particular, at least as far as the word “treason” is concerned.
And it would be nice if the publisher of the New York Times had some introspection, if he was also troubled by the cavalier use of the word "treason" by his sanctimonious journalists. It would be nice if he got off of his high horse long enough to hold his own people to the same standard he demands of the president.
But I suspect that also is wishful thinking.