The New York Times’ got rather overdefensive in Thursday’s “In Attack, Trump Aims ‘Enemy of the People’ Directly at The Times.” The online headline lumped irrelevant strands of press-related incidents together, just like the story by Michael Grynbaum and Eileen Sullivan did: “Trump Attacks The Times, in a Week of Unease for the American Press.” (Trump’s outburst was presumably keyed to Wednesday’s long lead story in the paper detailing how Trump has fought investigations into his campaign.)
Grynbaum and Sullivan stretched the paper’s complaint against Trump’s concerning slogan to cast blame on the president for every potentially worrisome development experienced by a Times (or Washington Post) journalist anywhere.
Even by his standards, President Trump’s biting attacks on the press this week stand out.
He has praised a libel lawsuit against The Washington Post, called for “retribution” against NBC for satirizing him on “Saturday Night Live” and, on Wednesday, issued his sharpest words yet against The New York Times, calling the newspaper “a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
The Times overreached in defense of their “sacrosanct” calling, conflating non-binding and tenously related remarks from a conservative Supreme Court Justice with the deportation of a Times journalist as equal threats to the press.
Earlier, First Amendment scholars were taken aback by remarks from Justice Clarence Thomas, who on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to peel back longstanding libel protections for American news outlets. And a global crackdown against journalists continues apace, as the Egyptian authorities on Monday detained and deported a Times journalist trying to enter their country.
They have added up to a rough few days for freedom of the press, a once-sacrosanct American notion that has been under sustained assault since Mr. Trump made fiery denunciations of journalists -- and the rallying cry “Fake news!” - into hallmarks of his campaign and presidency.
Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” -- which he has frequently deployed against a group of mainstream news outlets, but rarely against The Times individually -- also carried unusual weight because of a series of recent conversations between himself and A. G. Sulzberger, The Times’s publisher.
The reporters cast their boss as a civil lecturer of the president, then cast themselves as victims.
Mr. Sulzberger, in a statement on Wednesday, again called on Mr. Trump to heed the words of past presidents who, spanning historical eras and parties, embraced the importance of a free press.
While foreign journalists have faced the worst consequences of recent crackdowns -- including arrest, imprisonment and in some cases violence and death -- The Times felt some of the effects this week.
A longtime correspondent for the paper, David D. Kirkpatrick, was held without food or water for hours by Egyptian officials after he arrived in Cairo on Monday. He was eventually denied entry and forced to board a return flight to London.
On the domestic front, American press advocates were alarmed by Justice Thomas’s argument that public figures ought to enjoy more leeway to sue publications whose coverage they deem unflattering or unfair. In comments published on Tuesday, Justice Thomas wrote that the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, a benchmark of modern American press rights, should be reconsidered.
The Times even went to bat for its rivals the Washington Post, which has been targeted both by a lawsuit and by Trump on Twitter for its irresponsible reporting on the Covington Catholic High School incident in D.C.
As for Mr. Trump, his anti-newspaper animus this week has not been limited to The Times. In another tweet on Wednesday, he weighed in on a new libel lawsuit against The Washington Post, siding with the plaintiffs -- the family of Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic High School student from Kentucky who was involved in an encounter in Washington last month with a Native American man that went viral on social media.