The publisher of The New York Times says he warned Donald Trump his attacks on the media were “putting lives at risk”.
Arthur Gregg Sulzberger had a private meeting with the president at the Oval Office earlier this month, following a request from the White House for what appeared to be a routine session.
The 20 July talks had remained secret at the White House’s request, according to Mr Sulzberger, until Mr Trump tweeted about the meeting on Sunday.
The president wrote that he and Mr Sulzberger discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into (the) phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”
But Mr Sulzberger released a statement two hours later claiming he used the meeting to warn the president about his attacks on the media, telling him they are “dangerous and harmful to our country” and “will lead to violence” against journalists.
Mr Sulzberger said the president’s tweet effectively “put the meeting on the record”, and the paper said the publisher flatly disputed the US leader’s characterisation of an exchange they had about threats to journalism.
Mr Sulzberger said: “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 labelling 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.”
He added that some foreign leaders were using Mr Trump’s language to “justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists, I warned that it was putting lives at risk”.
Mr Sulzberger concluded: “I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country.”
Mr Trump issued a string of four tweets a few hours after Mr Sulzberger’s statement was released.
He wrote: “When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!”
Mr Trump added that “the failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements”.
The Post, which like the NYT is a regular target of Mr Trump’s complaints, is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
When 37-year-old Mr Sulzberger took over leadership of The New York Times from his father after several years as a reporter and editor, Mr Trump tweeted that the young man’s rise gave the paper a “last chance” to prove itself as impartial.
As The New York Times and other news sources have published stories about Mr Trump that he has disagreed with, the president has hit back and accused them of publishing lies.
He has tweeted scores of times that The New York Times is “very dishonest,” “failing and corrupt,” and that it uses “phoney and non-existent sources”.
The New York Times has defended its reporters’ work and noted that, far from “failing,” it has enjoyed healthy growth, with 2017 revenue of $1.7bn (£1.3bn), up 8% from the previous year.