NY Times publisher criticizes Trump’s freedom of speech while extolling free speech

July 30, 2018 • 2:00 pm

I’m quite puzzled, but not all that surprised, by this unusual published statement by New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger. The publisher was invited to the White House for an “off the record” meeting with President Trump. Because Trump tweeted about it, though, Sulzberger rightly considered it now “on the record”, and issued the statement below (click on screenshot to see the piece, though I’ve put his statement below in its entirety):

Here’s the statement:

Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times:

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.

Now it’s unseemly for Trump to impugn the press as a whole, but Sulzberger goes further, saying that the President’s words are equivalent to violence, putting journalists at risk and in face undermining the nation’s commitment to free speech and a free press.

It is no such thing. Trump’s unhinged tweets are not the “immediate incitements to violence” that have been deemed illegal by the courts. Nor are they any incitement to violence. They are an opinion: a misguided one, to be sure, but not a violation of the First Amendment. And, in fact, the Times’s response to the statement above is an affirmation of free speech and a free press. After all, the Times can legally say what it wants about Trump so long as they don’t engage in illegal libel and defamation.

This just buttresses my view that the NYT, much to my dismay, is moving more and more toward the Control Left. Now they’re engaging in the CL posture that words are equivalent to violence, and so should be suppressed. What a thing for a newspaper to say! The fact that Trump is both an idiot and the President doesn’t deprive him of his First Amendment rights.

h/t: Gary

123 thoughts on “NY Times publisher criticizes Trump’s freedom of speech while extolling free speech

    1. Unfortunately I don’t think a responsible press can just ignore presidential tweets.

      But it would help if they didn’t make headlines or even ledes out of them. They could report on the administration’s actions and bury the tweets. That would remove some of the amplification that the press inadvertently provides.

      1. Yep.
        CNN spent a whole day doing nothing but saying they were not fake news in response to one of his blurts. But that in itself pretty much proves they are; they treat a diss about them by a politician as THE big news story, requiring huffy round the clock denials.

        1. Wow. That’s a convenient little argument you’ve constructed there: Trump gets to smear his enemies day and night(mostly night if you look at his cretinous twitter feed), and if they respond by standing up for themselves…it means he was right all along! Ipso facto, QVC.

          I believe the last time I used that kind of logic I had a Thundercats lunchbox*.

          *no, not last week, before any smart arses chip in.

        2. I agree with your complaint but it certainly doesn’t make them fake news, not even on this one story.

          The MSM can’t help but respond to the truth or falsity of Trump’s public statements. Normal people would be justified in dismissing Trump’s statements about the press as the ravings of a lunatic. Instead, the press feels that they have to show rational proof that, no, they aren’t the enemy of the people. This plays directly into Trump’s hands by making it sound like two sides merely disagreeing. Considering the polarization of the electorate, this gets them exactly where they want to be.

      2. Well, Mr. Jung, Trump’s tweets provide a daily peek into the id (and occasionally, when written with the help of his minions, the super-ego) of the leader of the free world. So not so easy to ignore. Plus, his spoxes have told us that Trump’s tweets constitute official pronouncements of the President of the United States.

        It’s incredible that we’re asked to overlook his outbursts, like those of a petulant toddler.

        1. It may not be easy to overlook tantrums, but I think it is best in many cases, both for toddlers and for the current POTUS. Often by giving attention, you are doing exactly what the trouble-maker wants and let an 18-month-old or his functional equivalent manipulate you.
          I wish Trump’s loved ones could stop him from using Twitter.

    2. In a federal court filing, in answer to how the government considered Trump’s tweets, the DOJ responded, “In answer to the Court’s question, the government is treating the President’s statements to which plaintiffs point — whether by tweet, speech or interview — as official statements of the President of the United States.” It is difficult to ignore “official statements of the President of the United States.”

      1. No, the part you quote and ascribe to the DOJ is a statement made by the other side, not the DOJ. It is a characterization of the DOJ position, not a profession of it. It might be fair, but it is not what you claim.

        1. The federal court filing that I quoted from is a submission by the Department of Justice, in which in two different places they plainly state that, (p.2)”The government is treating the statements upon which plaintiffs rely as official statements of the President of the United States” and (p.4) “In answer to the Court’s question, the government is treating the President’s statements to which plaintiffs point – whether by tweet, speech or interview – as official statements of the President of the United States.”

          The question they refer to, of course, is the Court asking, “the parties to “provide insight on . . . the President’s tweets and what they are, how official they are, are they statements of the White House and the President.”

          How you get from this that it is a statement made by the other side is not clear to me.

          1. If Trump and his lawyers were to contest this treatment of his tweets, they wouldn’t get very far. No only did his administration state that his tweets are official POTUS statements, they have been used to announce all kinds of things such as firings and hirings, successes and failures, etc.

            1. One interesting side effect of Trump’s Twitter obsession is how it relates to the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978. Created after Nixon, the PRA requires the archiving of official records and changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public. The PRA considers electronic messages, including posted tweets, to be presidential records, but a problem arises with deleted and altered tweets. (A number were deleted dealing with Mexico paying for the wall, not to mention all the altered ones because of misspellings and such.) No one imagined there would someday be tens of thousands of vague electronic blatherings to track and archive. At any rate, one more undreamed of hassle created by Trump.

              1. Twitter doesn’t allow editing so both the original tweet and its corrected version become part of the public record. I vaguely remember hearing that the Library of Congress is already recording all his tweets.

  1. I can’t see your problem with what Sulzberger said. He’s not trying to make it illegal for Trump to say these things; he’s saying it dangerous when he does.

    That’s clearly an opinion (one you disagree with; you don’t think the president calling a group “enemies of the people” could ever encourage some gullible, violent idiot to take violent action. I think you’re wrong.) He did not say it was “equivalent to violence”. I can’t work out how you can think that. Her is not trying to “suppress” Trump; he “warned”, and ” implored him to reconsider”.

    I think you are blurting out an opinion without reading articles properly.

    1. Interesting Catch-22. If you defend free speech across the board, then you also defend the right of people to use speech to equate speech with violence.

        1. Apologies, I meant ‘defend’ in the casual, not the legal sense, so I see how that was unclear. Meaning, as soon as one verbally condemns another’s verbal act (instead of defending them all equally as subjective opinions), one has indeed acknowledged that beliefs, opinions, words, and so on are consequential and not removed from real world outcomes. On second thought, though, I guess that is an almost cliche observation at this point – “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences”, and all that.

          Honestly, maybe I am drifting over to the PC Left’s side just a *little more on this one, following month after month of increasingly toxic discourse and online culture (ironically, because for all their worry about the power of words, the ‘speech is violence’ crowd often doesn’t mind bashing people over the head with words themselves.) Some of it political but not all of it – some of the troll comments under the story about the Iowa student who went missing recently were enough to almost, kinda-sorta-a-little-bit make me consider the idea of “words as violence”, at least when picturing the student’s family members reading them.

          I get the deeper philosophical / legal implications of equating words to physical violence and why that should be avoided, but I think the degree of psychologically detrimental toxicity one encounters online these days means people really have to acknowledge that a steady diet of awful words genuinely is bad for people, in a very real way. I think we have walled off harm that comes from speech – vs harm that comes from other acts – for very good reasons, and we need to remind ourselves of those reasons periodically. That said, I think the current environment does bring the harms of speech to the forefront a good bit, and I find myself viewing it as a real public problem (ironically, one that the ‘words are violence’ crowd often significantly *contributes to, from what I can tell.)

            1. Maybe so, but every single computer I have ever seen has an off switch. If one finds a television or radio show offensive, one can just switch it off. If one finds themselves offended -wounded even- by a website, they can go elsewhere (it’s a very big internet) or log off.

              I agree that words can seem like violence but no one is forcing anyone to read anything on line. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it.

              1. You could, although that’s not central to the point I was trying to make. If one encounters a problematic behavior in any environment, unless being held against your will, one always has the option of leaving – that is also true of physical violence. But wherever harmful speech occurs, it still is harmful. The neurology of socially inflicted pain and physical pain turn out to be remarkably similar, from what I understand, and there is a reason that employers, parents, teachers, and so on cannot verbally abuse underlings. Speech can have very detrimental, real world consequences. It can misinform, ‘otherize’, humiliate, alienate, anger, and so on.

                I think it’s important not to fall into a sort of false dichotomy (maybe other people don’t struggle with this, in which case, I’m unintentionally making a statement that only applies to me,) where it’s sort of ‘free speech vs. words are meaningless’. In other words, there are important philosophical and legal reasons not to equate speech with violence – but I think it’s false to say we shouldn’t equate speech with violence because it doesn’t do actual damage. It does, and I think it creates a false picture that doesn’t resonate with people to say that it doesn’t. It’s just that there are other reasons, such as the importance of exchanging ideas for societal growth, and staving off the possibility of tyranny, that cause us to make an exception and say the good outweighs the harm in the case of free speech.

              2. The thing is were talking about things the US president is saying. I cringe to say this, but he’s one of the most powerful people in the world. Calling any group of people an enemy of the people is a very different type of speech coming from this man then from a typical Twitter poster.

        2. Doh! You know what, looking at my OP, I did say “defend the right” of people, which would mean the legal right… apparently I am just tired today. Sometimes what’s in my brain doesn’t make it to the keyboard!

    2. I am sorry to say this but I agree. “Lead to violence” is not “equivalent to violence.” Just the opposite since it is about cause and effect. The statement has great potential to cause violence.

      When Trump calls the press the enemy of the people, he must understand that this will incite the more radical of his followers to violence as he’s essentially calling the members of the press traitors. Sure, it is not calling for immediate violence and, therefore, it is legal speech. However, it is extremely unwise and immoral speech by a US President which is pretty much all Sulzberger is saying.

        1. I think Hitler’s propaganda department was considerably more rational (in the sense of carefully considering the effect of their statements) than the Trump.

          After all, the usual aim of propaganda is to have people believe you, one of the necessary attributes being consistency and credibility of your story; not to test the limits of credulity of the recipients by patently absurd and self-contradictory statements.


          1. Yes, but the effect on a certain part of the population of this type of talk is the same, whether spoken by a nitwit or an intelligent monster. For example, the separation of small children from their parents should have been stopped by civil disobedience. This probably happened, but at a very small scale.

      1. I’m with you and Barney on this (excepting Barney’s last sentence). Trump is creating a narrative in which journalists are not to be trusted and are “the enemy” of the state, by which Trump means himself as the president. While this is not directly inciting violence, it is undermining journalism in such a way that a) people will stop believing traditional media, b) they might choose to do physical harm to journalists who write things they don’t like.

        Even if just a) happens, it allows Trump to build a narrative to his likely, which might be total fiction but his supporters will believe. This may not be physically dangerous but it is dangerous for democracy.

    3. I think you are blurting out an opinion without reading articles properly.

      I’m seeing this here a lot too, and it really cones me. Jerry, I think you’ve been exhibiting a severel negative kneejerk reaction to this “control left” you keep seeing in perfectly ordinary news stories.

      You’re starting to sound like someone screaming for the kids to get off his lawn.

      1. Wow, so many typos here!
        …it really concerns me.
        …a severe negative knee-jerk reaction…

        Typing on this tablet really stinks sometimes!

      2. For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, I agree with you. I’d be sad if I had to go elsewhere because I think this is my favourite place on the web and I’ve been coming here daily for five years.

  2. Most interesting is Sulzberger’s statement, “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.'” What Trump actually said is that “the fake news media” not “journalists” are the enemy of the people. So S. is on effect using fake news to make the point that the phrase “fake news” is untrue.

    He then has the gall to appeal to a commitment to free speech while suggesting that Trump’s statements, because they incite to violence, are not protected by the First Amendment.

    I thought Trump was the height of hypocrisy, but Sulzberger has him beat hands-down on this one.

    1. “He then has the gall to appeal to a commitment to free speech while suggesting that Trump’s statements, because they incite to violence, are not protected by the First Amendment.”

      I’ve read, and re-read, the publisher’s statement, and for the life of me I can’t find this message in it.

      1. “Where does he say Trump’s messages are ‘not protected by the First Amendment’?”

        Right here: “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. . . .”

        The clear implication here is that Trump’s rhetoric, because it incites violence and puts lives at risk, is not protected under the First Amendment. So Sulzberger is in effect trying to shut Trump up (good luck with that!) in the name of defending free speech.

        He’s savvy enough to weasel around this in the final paragraph, but he’s squarely placed himself in the company of those on the left who would squelch “hate speech” under the guise of avoiding violence and protecting lives.

        1. This is unfair. He doesn’t say anything about hate speech. Nor does he say what Trump is doing is illegal. He’s talking about leaders of countries attempting to shut down the press by claiming that the press is an enemy. Clearly Trump would like to be able to shut down the press and has stated it on several occasions.

        2. No, there’s no “clear implication” there at all about the First Amendment. What you quote is specifically about other regimes using this message to justify their own authoritarianism. It’s saying it’s a bad idea for Trump to help that, but it’s not saying he should be stopped. It’s asking Trump to stop himself.

          I recommend the Jennifer Rubin column in the Washington Post linked by JonLynnHarvey in reply #12. She is center-right, but has been clear from when Trump first stood for president about his failings and the dangers he represents.

          1. I agree. I think it’s possible for statements to be ‘dangerous’ in a vernacular sense while not triggering the incitement exception to the first amendment…and I think some of what Trump says falls into that area. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s right in saying authoritarian dictators are using Trump’s words as an excuse to jail journalists. Additionally, certainly other countries have often detained and/or jailed US citizens on pretexts when our leaders say something they don’t like, so yes, absolutely, the President can say ‘dangerous’ things that are nevertheless perfectly protected by the 1st amendment.

            So…I’d personally be hesitant to say Sulzberger is attacking Trump’s first amendment rights or being a hypocrite. I personally don’t see ‘dangerous speech’ and ‘illegal speech’ to be synonymous. IMO Trump’s statements can be the former and not the latter, and similarly Sulzberger can legitimately accuse Trump of doing the former without any implication that he’s accusing him of the latter.

          2. It’s asking Trump to stop himself.

            This is the precise point. Sulzberger is very politely asking this ridiculous, childish orange man to start behaving himself.
            Remember that the meeting was meant to be off the record, Trump put it out there and now Sulzberger is trying to clarify what went on.

          1. “He’s made no such implication Mirandaga. you’ve just inserted it in there.”

            If speech incites to violence and endangers lives, it’s not protected by the First Amendment.

            Trump’s speech incites to violence and endangers lives.

            Ergo: [Insert conclusion.]

            1. Again, you’ve just inserted the word ‘incites’ into your post, even though Sulzberger never mentions it.

              Moreover, your main claim was that Sulzberger “would squelch(Trump’s) free speech”. This doesn’t appear anywhere in anything Sulzberger said either.

              “Ergo [insert conclusion]”

              My conclusion is that you’re not acting in good faith and your arguments are dishonest and fatuous.

              1. “Again, you’ve just inserted the word ‘incites’ into your post, even though Sulzberger never mentions it.”

                “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous. . . .I warned that this inflammatory language. . .will lead to violence. . . . I warned that it was putting lives at risk.”

                If you honestly and in good faith don’t think that this is tantamount to saying that “Trump’s speech incites to violence and endangers lives,” I’m not sure what I can say further. But I seem to be a majority of one on this, so I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I might be wrong. Like Ken K., I was wrong once before.

              2. Well, Trump does with his quatsch put lives at risk. What encourages/justifies the snipers at the Mexican border to shoot immigrants?

    2. Trump has already established that by “the fake news media” he means most every outlet save Fox.

      1. I think “fake” is an inaccurate term. “Biased” would be more accurate.
        It does not take a lot of talent to criticize Trump for the language and tone of his tweets. Just publishing them without comment puts him in a bad light.
        But it does seem at times that much of the media puts each story through a “how can this be edited to show Trump in a negative light” filter before publication.
        Obviously there are big lapses in ethics, like feeding HRC debate questions. But little stories as well. Remember the stories about how awkward it was when Melania presented Ms. Obama with a gift on their visit to the White House? Many major outlets reported it as an awkward and unexpected breach of protocol. Ms. Obama was widely quoted as saying “Never before do you get this gift, so I’m sort of like, OK.”
        But that was a manufactured controversy. The Obamas brought a similar gift for Ms. Bush when they visited the White House for the first time. There are pictures. And video.
        This crap happens all the time. There was a time when you could fact check a story just by looking at the coverage on CNN or NYT. Those days are past.

        1. If that’s all you have, then I remain unconvinced. Sounds like a classic false equivalence. Next you will be asking for an investigation into GiftGate. This is nothing compared to the constant blather coming from Fox News.

        2. “But it does seem at times that much of the media puts each story through a ‘how can this be edited to show Trump in a negative light’ filter before publication.”

          No kidding. When Trump consoled the widows and families of the journalists killed in the Maryland shooting in June, the headlines couldn’t just leave it at “Trump expresses support for fallen journalists,” but had to point out that this support was “uncharacteristic” and in contrast to his “usual hostility” toward the press. If Trump walked across the Potomac the headline would read “Trump can’t swim.”

          Sooner or later, I predict, this too will backfire.

    3. I was trying to sort things out about that. There are many links, but he was referring to fake news while one could also read into the meaning as being news sources he did not agree with. It certainly does nothing to separate the growing tensions between his core supporters and the legitimate news.

    4. Where does Sulzberger say that Trump’s statements are not protected by the First Amendment?

      Trump labels all the mainstream media, save Fox News and a few of his other favorite reactionary outlets, as “fake news.” He uses that label to attack news items that are quite obviously true. In so doing, he’s endeavoring to instill in his followers a gaslight contagion.

    5. What an incredibly dishonest reading of a perfectly reasonable statement. There is nothing hypocritical in what Sulzberger said and it takes a certain kind of venom to imply there is.

    6. I’m sorry but journalists are the visible part of the news media. Arguing that saying mainstream media are the enemy of the people does not include the journalists that work for them is untenable IMO.

      Furthermore, he, at no point claimed Trump’s statements are not protected by the first amendment. He never claimed that Trump’s statements are illegal.

  3. Trump may not be stating it explicitly. But by labeling certain news organizations as the “enemy”, he is providing justification and incentive to his base to attack journalists. And he has promoted violence against his opponents at his rallies, where he regularly singles out the journalists present for verbal abuse.

    And there are those among his base who would be happy to proceed: They’re the ones wearing t-shirts promoting lynching journalists.

    This is very close to the line where free speech becomes incitement. Sulzberger is right to point out the danger. I don’t see that he’s trying to censor anyone.

    1. I don’t see it either. The statement sounded reasonable and precisely measured.

      And let’s just remember that Sulzberger was talking about Donald Trump, the man who said this about journalists to a crowd of tens of thousands of his baying fans:

      “”I would never kill them, but I do hate them,” he joked to the audience. “And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.”

      …I don’t believe that the man who said those words(which I plucked at random from a list of threat-insults he’s made towards the press) is having his freedom of speech endangered by Sulzberger’s relatively mild rebuke.

      1. The rebuke was too mild. When I first heard that Sulzberger had met with Trump to make this statement, my first thought is that it must have given Trump and his cronies a belly laugh. They have to know they are telling lies and doing evil but they simply don’t care. Pursuing their agenda is more important to them.

        1. Absolutely. I thought it was the kind of quavering statement that wouldn’t have registered with anybody on either side. I mean, I agree with him in everything he said, but it was timid and too polite given the way he’s treated them.

          Trump has only one aim in his reptile mind when it comes to the press, and that is to break them. He wants to defang them completely, and everything he says about them is said with the aim of achieving that long-term.
          He walks right up to the line of incitement, right up to the very edge, and then backs off, and his supporters know perfectly well how to read between the lines.

          And if a few journalists get shot or beaten up, well that’s really got nothing to do with him. It’s a tragedy, a real tragedy. But they should probably try and be a bit nicer to him shouldn’t they, after all they don’t want something like that to happen again, right? Lot of bad people out there…

  4. Madolf Twittler is just being very transparent. He is making it very clear with every tweetstorm. One need not read very many of them to know tRUMP’s ENT specialist sees plenty of transparency with his otoscope.😝

  5. I don’t see the conflict in Sulzberger’s comment that you do. I agree with Sulzberger on all points and I think it was appropriate that he made those points to Trump. I don’t think he was infringing on Trump’s free speech rights in a legal or philosophical sense.

    Both POTUS and a Free Press are special cases. When POTUS says certain people or groups are bad and they should be punished in some way that is not the same kind of thing as me or Jane Doe saying it. It’s not just the person it’s the office and the power that goes with it. Trump is being irresponsible, at best, with his war against the press. I think Sulzberger, or anybody, is on good grounds ethically telling Trump that.

    1. I agree with you and Barney (comment #2). Any public official, particularly a president who has called the press “the enemy of the people,” is subject to the strongest criticism. Sulzberger is quite correct in advising Trump that he is undermining free speech (as if he would care). It is not inconceivable that a member of the Trump cult could take his words as an endorsement to physically attack journalists. In my estimation, Sulzberger’s statement is a ringing endorsement of free speech as manifested in a free press. Remember, also, that Sulzberger or the The New York Times has absolutely no power to coerce the speech of the petty authoritarian in the White House.

    2. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t see any conflict in pointing out to someone with extraordinary cult-figure status that what he says carries tremendous weight, and can very well lead to violence; anyone whose paid any attention to the tone of his rallies would know this. Of course, any past POTUS would already know the responsibility the office demands and wouldn’t need this type of ethics lesson.

      Just google “rise in journalist death threats”. That says it all to me. If being a journalist is becoming increasingly dangerous under Trump (and there is no doubt that it is), then he needs to be told. No one else will, FOX sure as hell won’t. Pointing out these facts does not equate censorship.

    3. It’s a toughie, but me 3. Surely there should be circumstances where the POTUS and other heads of government are to show some restraint on their free speech. Otherwise, they are attempting to undermine the very structure of our democracy, let alone public safety. To illustrate with another example that is admittedly hyperbolic: It is one thing if I say ‘we oughta bomb the crap out of Russia’. But it is another thing entirely if the POTUS says the same thing, even in a tweet. If you can agree that the POTUS should NOT say that, then you are agreeing that he or she should tend to what they say for the good of our society.

    4. I don’t understand the nub of this article – if Sulzberger is to be interpreted as ‘criticising Trump’s freedom of speech’ then anyone who comments on the wiseness or otherwise of someone else’s words must also be automatically criticising their freedom of speech. This seems empty of content as an accusation.
      It means I could go up to some skinhead who’s shouting epithets at Jewish passers-by and tell him that what he’s doing is obnoxious and is offensive to others, and that it encourages a climate of violence…and I’d be ‘criticising his freedom of speech’.

      In a certain sense I suppose you could argue I would but it seems like a very strange way to describe my actions.

  6. I do not believe the guy is claiming an impediment to free speech. I do not want to argue the language used by the newspaper because you can be an encouragement to violence and other bad acts without getting into any free speech violation. This clown is suppose to be the president and he talks as if a 5 year old without his first year of school. What he says matters and has great influence on many people. So the newspaper wanted to get in their 2 cents worth even thought it is useless to try. Trump is not specifically guilty of a free speech violation legally be he sure as hell is close to it, simply by who he is.

  7. Like other commenters, I don’t see Sulzberger’s equating of Trump’s speech to violence. He is not saying that the “violence” of Trump’s speech entitles him to retaliate with actual physical violence, which is what the point of equating speech and violence generally is. Saying that speech, even Constitutionally protected speech, may eventually lead to violence, is not the same as saying that the speech itself is violence [and thus justifies an actual violent response.]

  8. To begin with, Sulzberger is responding to Trump’s thoroughly bogus tweet about what the meeting was really about.

    “Contributing” to violence doesn’t quite rise to the level of “immanent incitement” though it may be 2 to 4 degrees of separation removed from such incitement.
    What is legal and what is ethical do not always coincide. So if the NYT statement is merely advisory, then marginally OK.

    Wikipedia has a good article on “Immanent Lawless Action”.
    Brandenburg vs. Ohio states “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

    However, if the NYT deems that Trump is “encouraging” or “legitimating” (rather than “inciting”) violent actions against journalists, they then can surely say his speech is foolish and unwise (and unbecoming of a president), without stating he should be prohibited from doing it.
    Any journalist after the death of 5 reporters in Annapolis (albeit unmotivated by any speech of Trump) is bound to be concerned.

    And to repeat my first point, Trump lied through his teeth, snout and sphincter about what the meeting was about, so it is only proper for the NYT to set the record straight.
    (And Trump had the gall to imply the NYT was endangering security by posting this. Is there no bottom to his cesspool of a mind?)

    Here’s a pretty good Washington Post editorial on the subject.

    1. Another good one. If Trump were just another crooked and corrupt billionaire his pathetic statements would not make the back page. But he unfortunately holds another title that should prevent him from denigrating our sacred establishments in total. From the Justice department to the FBI, all media except his favorites, he runs his mouth like a high school dropout looking for a kick in the butt. And again recently, he attacks Mueller and claims that lame conflict of interest excuse. So here we have a president who could not carry the special prosecutor’s dirty underwear.

    2. “What is legal and what is ethical do not always coincide. So if the NYT statement is merely advisory, then marginally OK”.

      Why only marginally ok? Sulzberger is not banning the President from making his disgusting utterances (he has no powers to do so even if he wished to); nor is he seeking for the courts to muzzle the President. He is just asserting his own free speech rights to point out that the President’s outbursts have potential consequences and to request the President to tone down his language. Trump has the right to ignore Sulzberger’s comments if he chooses.

  9. Never mind the tweets. When Trump at his rallies points to jounalists and says fake news and singles them out, we know he is talking about journalist individually, and it ain’t Fox News reporters Don’t beleive me, ask a diehard Trump supporter.

  10. To me, the heart of the free speech question, is not who has it, but who would curb it if they could?

  11. Sulzberger goes further, saying that the President’s words are equivalent to violence …

    I don’t see him saying that, Jerry. I read him to say that Trump’s constant invocation of the inflammatory phrase “enemy of the people” is leading to increased threats against journalists and could put them in harm’s way, especially overseas — all of which may be true. (Hell, have you seen the reaction of his rabid followers when he goes into his red-meat routine of pointing to the “dishonest press” at his Nuremberg rallies?)

    One thing for sure, as bad as Trump is at home — and, lordy, is he ever bad — he’s the first president in my lifetime to completely abandon the United States’s traditional role of giving aid and encouragement and comfort to oppressed, freedom-loving peoples elsewhere around the globe. At every turn, he gives aid and comfort to their oppressors.

  12. The “fake news” that preceded the election was mostly against Hillary Clinton – not necessarily for or against Donald Trump. The Russians hated her long before the 2016 campaign, and they had little more than contempt for Trump. They wanted to turn American public opinion against her, and the Republicans were more than happy to cooperate. They did not engage in fake news (propaganda) for or against any other republicans. They wanted to defeat Hillary.

    1. The term “fake news” was originally used to refer to the phony stories — like the Comet Ping-Pong “Pizzagate” conspiracy — promoted by Russian internet trolls and bots in the run-up to the 2016 election. Trump then appropriated it as a matter of labeling (and, in typical Trumpian fashion, had the shameless effrontery to claim he coined the collocation himself).

      1. I’m both embarrassed and depressed to admit that I thought he coined it. He’s quite monstrously effective at claiming other people’s work for himself.

        You’d think from listening to his fat flapping sinkhole that he’d personally gone out to Syria and defeated ISIS on his lonesome, like a less articulate version of Rambo.

          1. You have just posited the only scenario I can imagine where I might be rooting for ISIS.

            And I never thought I’d say that. 8-(


              1. I have this theory, which is mine, that reading any tweet by Trump decreases ones IQ by one point. And I can’t afford the loss 😎


        1. That’s exactly why we can’t stop confronting Drumpf’s statements. We can’t let the lies he makes become normalized.

  13. Seems like Sulzberger should be able to criticize the most powerful American for unwarranted and defamatory statements made against the free press. Somebody has to hold @realDonaldTrump accountable for his hyperbolic rhetoric.

  14. Trump’s attacks on JOURNALISM, a primary source for free speech, IS dangerous. Comparable to yelling fire in a crowded theater. Therefore speaking out against those attacks is justifiable, seems to me. Sulzburger’s last paragraph explains his take on it – I can’t condemn his statement

      1. I’m no lawyer but if I understand it correctly, for speech to be deemed an incitement to violence in law it needs to be immediate and pretty much direct – “go out and beat the crap out of [name your enemy]” for example. Trumps utterances may well fall short of that legal threshold but I don’t think it is far fetched to believe that intemperate people fired up by his talk might feel encouraged to inflict violence on some perceived ‘enemy’ picked out by Trump. If I were a journalist working for one of the news outlets Trump has labelled as the enemy I would certainly not wish to get isolated amongst the crowd at a Trump rally (still less in the parking lot after the rally).
        Given this it seems quite reasonable and not unduly controlling for commentators such as Sulzberger to decry the tone and content of the President’s tweets and speeches or to point out the dangers and ask him to moderate them.

        1. “If I were a journalist working for one of the news outlets Trump has labelled as the enemy I would certainly not wish to get isolated amongst the crowd at a Trump rally (still less in the parking lot after the rally).”

          I seem to remember journalists leaving during a Trump rally after he pointed his finger at them.

      2. “dangerous” doesn’t necessarily imply imminent violence. For example, “dangerous for democracy” says to me that the people will no longer have access to or trust legitimate news sources which means they will not have the necessary information to cast an informed vote.

  15. “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”

    I’m struggling to see how Sulzberger is supposed to be seeking to suppress anyone’s words. According to his account he advised the President – surely correctly – that words have consequences and asked him to choose his words more carefully to avoid some of the worst of these potential consequences. Anyone is free to ask anyone else, including the President, to tone down their language and the person they are addressing is equally free to ignore them. It seems very unlikely that Trump felt in the slightest bit compelled to change his behaviour by Sulzberger’s appeal so where exactly does ‘censorship’ come into it?

    1. This was my thought too. He’s just imploring him not to be grossly reckless with the influence he wields. Most leaders in my lifetime have understood this and behaved accordingly.

      I don’t know why he bothered though. One might as well lecture a goldfish on algebra as try to stir feelings of responsibility in Donald Trump.

  16. I don’t see anything wrong with what Sulzberger says. It’s a reasonable, restrained statement about Trump’s utterly cynical attempts to weaponise his supporters’ dislike of the press. If anything it’s too polite.

    I read Sulzberger’s statement a while before I read this article and found nothing remotely exceptionable in it, and I don’t know of anyone else who did either. I’m completely baffled by this.

  17. One correction to the above; Sulzberger says Trump’s speech incites violence not that it is violence. My bad.

    Rethinking this, I’m not sure I would have written the post had I to do it over again; the readers do make some good points.

    1. I’m glad to see this. I wondered if your recent disappointment with the NYT resulted in a less-than-charitable reading of this particular statement.

  18. One of our public broadcasters here in Australia recently aired and 3-part documentary on the NYT and Trump. On one occasion, at a Trump rally, he pointed to ALL of the press/journalists/photographers at the back of the room and said “those people back there, they are enemies of the people, enemies of the people”. Most of the people, especially those at the back, all turned around and a lot of them glared malignantly at the press/journalists/photographers. It was a nasty moment. Some of the press immediately packed up their gear and left. I would not have been surprised to see the more looney supporters jump the barrier and attack, it would not have taken much more from Trump to do it. Remember the guy who attacked the pizzeria with an assault rifle during the campaign believing that it really was holding children as sex slaves? There are people teetering on the edge and as we have seen, many times, it takes only one more thing to send them over the edge. If it does happen, I hope that Trump can be charged with inciting violence.

    1. At the Nuremberg-style rallies Trump is so fond of, when he goes into his two-minute hate routine against the “dishonest media,” some of his most rabid neo-Fascist followers have been known to turn toward the platform where Trump essentially keeps the media caged, to scream ““Lügenpresse!”, the old Nazi term for the “lying press.”

  19. In the UK we have had a member of Parliament murdered as a result of constant right-wing propaganda. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37978582

    Also when the Main Stream Press in the UK describes Judges as “Enemies of the People” we are moving towards a Right Wing State where people Journalists, Lawyers & anyone who disagrees with the state can be described as a Traitor. Something that the Right Wing UKIP Party is promoting in MSM in the UK https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/967496/Brexit-news-latest-UK-MEP-slams-remainers-stalling-Brexit-eu-Guy-Verhofstadt


    As Karl Popper has made clear We must not tolerate intolerance it is a slippery slope.

  20. Hi Jerry.

    I’m usually with you 100%, but I read it differently. Sulzberger didn’t say that Trump was (directly) inciting violence against the press – or even indirectly. He said that such Stalin-esque terminology as “the enemy of the people” has corresponded with a rise in threats to the press.

    He’s not wrong: Trump does use inflammatory language (and has previously directly incited violence during his campaign).


  21. Anyone that believes Trump’s tweets aren’t an incitement to violence should check out Jim Acosta’s Twitter post from last night (@Acosta)

    The press are in their designated area, surrounded by a baying mob in MAGA hats, hurling abuse and giving various unsavoury gesticulations

    Does creating an environment of fear, in which you are unable to do your job, constitute free speech too? Or does someone actually have to be attacked, before any action is actually taken?

  22. Sulzberger goes further, saying that the President’s words are equivalent to violence, putting journalists at risk and in face [sic] [i]undermining[/i] the nation’s commitment to free speech and a free press.

    It is no such thing.

    It is that. If journalists are threatened, they cannot work as well and may refrain from writing; this is as far as I know the international stance of them (PEN club policy).

    It is arguable if it has to do with “immediate incitements to violence”, but it nevertheless quite obvious that it has to do with other consequences of free speech. It was also not an infringement on the US law but advisory.

    Then again, other nations do understand that e.g. free speech may infringe on free press and aim to balance human rights. E,g, hate speech laws et cetera vs free speech extremism.

    1. It’s just a matter of time before someone in the press is indeed a victim of violence at one of these rallies.

  23. Dr. Coyne, I think you’ve partaken in a bit of “pecksniffery” yourself here. He is saying that Trumps’s words are irresponsible and warns him that they are ill advised. At no point does he mention the 1st Amendment nor does he say that Trump isn’t allowed or shouldn’t be allowed to say the things he does. I think you are reading into this an argument that isn’t made due to your current dissatisfaction with the NYT.

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