New York Times Publisher Irked at Trump Allies’ Effort to Fight Back Against Media

A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times, speaks onstage during the 2018 New York Times Dealbook on November 1, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)
Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger issued a lengthy statement on Sunday afternoon to newsroom staff, a statement published in a release by the Times and quoted in a longer article by the newspaper on efforts by allies of President Donald Trump to combat the media through exposing racism and antisemitism inside the establishment media, including the Times.

Sulzberger’s quote in an article by reporters Jeremy Peters and Ken Vogel stated specifically that the Times will not be “intimidated or silenced” by allies of Trump who expose embarrassing past comments that staffers at the newspaper have made.

“They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light,” Sulzberger said. “The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”

Sulzberger’s quote comes in the wake of a Breitbart News investigation into New York Times editor Tom Wright-Piersanti’s racist and antisemitic tweets made years ago, which the Times admitted on Thursday in the wake of the Breitbart News report were a “violation” of its standards, some of which Wright-Piersanti deleted and apologized for before hiding his Twitter account’s content from the public.

Sulzberger’s quote in the Times article, and a longer statement issued by the newspaper publisher, does not say the tweets from Wright-Piersanti were racist and antisemitic, though the Times article and from Peters and Vogel does admit they were racist and antisemitic. Times spokeswomen Eileen Murphy and Danielle Rhoades-Ha have not responded when asked by Breitbart News why Sulzberger has not called Wright-Piersanti’s tweets racist or antisemitic despite the newspaper itself doing so in its first mention of the crisis in Sunday’s report, which is expected to be published on the front page of Monday morning’s newspaper.

The longer statement from Sulzberger frames the New York Times as somehow a victim of a right-wing smear campaign, rather than being responsible for harboring antisemitism and racism inside its organization. Headlined “A note to staff by New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger calling attention to a Times story about a campaign led by President Trump’s allies intended to harass and embarrass individuals affiliated with several leading news organizations,” the Times publisher opens with the revelation of the Times publishing the article on an effort by allies of President Trump, including most prominently GOP strategist Arthur Schwartz, to expose racism and antisemitism in the media. Sulzberger described the “campaign” as “unprecedented” and “designed to harass and embarrass” people at the various news organizations attacking President Trump.

“We published an article today revealing a coordinated campaign by President Trump’s allies to attack hundreds of journalists in retaliation for coverage of the administration,” Sulzberger wrote, and continued, saying:

This unprecedented campaign appears designed to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with independent news organizations that have asked tough questions and brought uncomfortable truths to light. The New York Times, which has distinguished itself with fearless and fair coverage of the president, is one of the main targets of this assault. Unable to challenge the accuracy of our reporting, political operatives have been scouring social media and other sources to find any possibly embarrassing information on anyone associated with The Times, no matter their rank, role or actual influence on our journalism. Their goal is to silence critics and undermine the public’s faith in independent journalism.

Sulzberger’s note said the effort by Trump allies represents an “escalation” in the war between Trump supporters and the media, and reflects a deeper commitment by the president and his supporters to expose the media.

“This represents an escalation of an ongoing campaign against the free press,” Sulzberger wrote, and continued, saying:

For years the president has used terms like ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ to demonize journalists and journalism. Now, the political operatives behind this campaign will argue that they are ‘reporting’ on news organizations in the same way that news organizations report on elected officials and other public figures. They are not. They are using insinuation and exaggeration to manipulate the facts for political gain. I want to thank the journalists at The Times and elsewhere who brave this type of pressure daily to bring essential information to the public. Under intense scrutiny and routine harassment, they remain undeterred. When our reporters learned of this campaign to attack journalists, they did what our colleagues around the globe always do. They went to work and started reporting.

After that, Sulzberger writes that the Times will take these issues that are brought forth even by people it considers “bad actors” seriously and respond accordingly. In the case of Wright-Piersanti, for instance, the Times has said it considers his racist and antisemitic comments a violation of its standards and is considering next steps. It remains to be seen what will happen with him because the Times has not announced his fate as of the publication of this story. Murphy and Rhoades-Ha have not responded to multiple requests for comment, but top conservatives and GOP lawmakers and senior administration officials have called for the Times to terminate Wright-Piersanti.

“But I also want to be clear: No organization is above scrutiny, including The Times,” Sulzberger wrote, and continued, saying:

We have high standards, own our mistakes and always strive to do better. If anyone — even those acting in bad faith — brings legitimate problems to our attention, we’ll look into them and respond appropriately. It is imperative that all of us remain thoughtful about how our words and actions reflect on The Times, particularly during this period of sustained pressure and scrutiny. We all play a part in upholding our commitment to “give the news impartially, without fear or favor.”

Sulzberger concludes his statement by saying the Times will continue to operate as it always has, since the mid-1800s when it was founded, and will not change its ways.

“What’s the proper response to a campaign like this?” Sulzberger wrote. “Even in periods of pressure and change, The New York Times has the benefit of the long view. We have served the public for 168 years now. We’ve covered 33 presidents. We know that a free press is a vital guardian of all other freedoms in our society. We have been attacked and threatened before, and we know how to do our jobs under fire. So our response is the same as always. We will continue to cover this administration like any other: fairly, aggressively and fearlessly, wherever the facts lead.”

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