New York Times publisher says they were warned Trump administration wouldn't protect journalist on the verge of arrest in Egypt

New York Times publisher says they were warned Trump administration wouldn't protect journalist on the verge of arrest in Egypt
President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 Japan Summit Saturday, June 29, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

In the past, U.S. presidents — both Democrats and Republicans — generally understood that U.S.-based journalists, even the ones they had been critical of, needed to be protected when they were on assignment in foreign countries. But according to New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger, President Donald Trump’s disdain for the mainstream media is so bitter that his administration wouldn’t even protect a Times reporter who was on the verge of being arrested while working in Egypt in 2017.

Sulzberger, in a troubling op-ed published on Monday, noted that when Times journalists were arrested in foreign countries in the past while on assignment, the U.S. State Department would aggressively intervene and “played a critical role in securing their release.” The Times publisher explained, “Interventions like this were often accompanied by a stern reminder to the offending government that the United States defends its journalists.”

But when a U.S. government official called the Times to warn that journalist Declan Walsh was on the verge of being arrested in Egypt, the Trump Administration did nothing.

Sulzberger recalled, “Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump Administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”

Ultimately, Walsh was saved from arrest in Egypt not by the U.S. government, but by the Irish government. Walsh grew up in the Republic of Ireland and was educated in Dublin.

“Unable to count on our own government to prevent the arrest or help free Declan if he were imprisoned, we turned to his native country, Ireland, for help,” Sulzberger recalled. “Within an hour, Irish diplomats traveled to his house and safely escorted him to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him.”

Attacks on journalists, Sulzberger warned in his op-ed, are becoming more common around the world — for example, the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018 — and Trump is part of the problem.

“The hard work of journalism has long carried risks, especially in countries without democratic safeguards,” Sulzberger wrote. “But what’s different today is that these brutal crackdowns are being passively accepted and perhaps even tacitly encouraged by the president of the United States.”

Sulzberger observed that one of Trump’s favorite terms, “fake news,” is being embraced by despots around the world.

“In attacking American media,” Sulzberger asserted, “President Trump has done more than undermine his own citizens’ faith in the news organizations attempting to hold him accountable. He has effectively given foreign leaders permission to do the same with their countries’ journalists — and even given them the vocabulary with which to do it.”

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