On Wednesday, New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote a blistering editorial in the Wall Street Journal, saying that President Donald Trump's latest attack on his paper "crosses a line."
First it was the "the failing New York Times." Then "fake news." Then "enemy of the people," wrote Sulzberger. "President Trump's escalating attacks on The New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He's gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues. Now the president has escalated his attacks even further, accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.
Trump made the comment that the Times committed "a virtual act of treason" at his re-election kick-off rally in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday evening, in response to a recent article that revealed the intelligence community has been concealing their attacks on the Russian power grid from the president for fear he would countermand or expose the operation.
"Treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the U.S. Constitution," wrote Sulzberger. "The Founding Fathers knew the word's history as a weapon wielded by tyrants to justify the persecution and execution of enemies. They made its definition immutable — Article III reads: 'Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort' — to ensure that it couldn't be abused by politicians for self-serving attacks on rivals or critics. The crime is almost never prosecuted, but Mr. Trump has used the word dozens of times."
Taken together with the president's obsessive war on White House leaks and his efforts to block mergers of media companies he dislikes, Sulzberger wrote, tremendous damage is being done to freedom of the press — especially since Trump's own refrain of "fake news" is now being repeated by dictators all around the world to crush dissent in their own countries.
"Over 167 years, through 33 presidential administrations, the Times has sought to serve America and its citizens by seeking the truth and helping people understand the world," concluded Sulzberger. "There is nothing we take more seriously than doing this work fairly and accurately, even when we are under attack. Mr. Trump's campaign against journalists should concern every patriotic American. A free, fair and independent press is essential to our country's strength and vitality and to every freedom that makes it great."