NY Times publisher writes op-ed in Wall Street Journal to defend the free press

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are arch-rivals. The two papers compete for scoops, subscribers and advertisers on a minute-by-minute basis. So Journal readers may do a double-take when they see an op-ed from the publisher of The Times in Thursday’s Journal.

The subject: President Trump’s increasingly extreme rhetorical attacks against the news media.

It is a remarkable show of solidarity — especially since The Journal’s opinion pages are relatively supportive of Trump. And it is part of a broader effort across the news industry to stand up for First Amendment values.

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger was moved to write the op-ed after Trump accused the paper of committing a “virtual act of treason” last weekend.

Trump objected to an exclusive story in The Times about the United States ramping up cyber attacks against Russia’s power grid. He said the story was “not true” but also, somehow, “treasonous.”

“Few paid much attention” to Trump’s tweeted charge, Sulzberger wrote. “Many news organizations, including the Times, determined the accusation wasn’t even worth reporting, a sign of how inured we’ve grown to such rhetorical recklessness. But this new attack crosses a dangerous line in the president’s campaign against a free and independent press.”

The treason charge is a step beyond Trump’s frequent “enemy of the people” claims. “There is no more serious charge a commander in chief can make against an independent news organization,” Sulzberger wrote. “Which presents a troubling question: What would it look like for Mr. Trump to escalate his attacks on the press further? Having already reached for the most incendiary language available, what is left but putting his threats into action?”

As CNN noted on Sunday, Trump’s casual use of the word “treason” started recently. He tweeted it for the first time last September, in response to the anonymous “senior official” op-ed, also in the Times. He has used it more than half a dozen times this year.

The Times responded to Trump’s tweet right away and said his rhetoric was dangerous. The paper also pointed out that its reporters “described the article to the government before publication” — given the sensitive security issues involved — and “Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns.”

Sulzberger wanted to say more. So he reached out to The Journal about penning an op-ed.

“This is a profoundly important issue, one that has an impact on journalists – and citizens – everywhere. Attacks on press freedom are global and broader than any one news organization,” a Times spokeswoman said. And the Journal op-ed was submitted “to emphasize that point.”