As a candidate, Donald Trump never showed much love for the New York Times. But as president, Trump seems to be openly wishing for its demise.
In a tweet Sunday morning, Trump launched a high-explosive missile at the newspaper: "Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity."
No matter that the tweet contained at least one error and unlikely scenario. As the Times itself pointed out Saturday, the paper isn't "failing": Its circulation and overall readership are at record levels (helped, no doubt, by its aggressive coverage of Trump). It's also unlikely that anyone could simply buy the paper: The New York Times Co.'s stock is divided into two classes, with the controlling shares held by members of the dynastic Sulzberger family, which has shown little interest in selling in 120 years of ownership.
Such a sentiment, however, is unprecedented. Many presidents have criticized the "Gray Lady's" coverage of their administrations, but none has publicly hoped for it to die.
The proximate cause of Trump's latest attack was unclear. The Times' Sunday front page carried several tough stories about Trump, including one about the "torrent of bogus claims" he made during his first week in office.
Trump himself didn't offer any clues, and Timespeople said they were generally stumped. Asked for comment Sunday, Times editor Dean Baquet declined to respond at length. He noted, however, "The White House may see this as us versus them, but I see it as covering the news."
Trump, of course, has a long and complicated relationship with the paper. The Times has covered him since his days as a young real estate developer and "man about town" in the 1970s.
The first Times story that featured Trump on its front page was about the federal government's lawsuit in 1973 accusing him and his father, Fred, of racial discrimination in apartment rentals (the headline read, "Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City"). The Trumps settled the case without admitting guilt but were required to take remedial action to address complaints.
Trump has been a Times reader for decades, plainly viewing its coverage of him as a measure of his success and prestige. As he wrote in his book "The Art of the Deal," in 1987, "If I take a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize a project, it might cost $40,000, and in any case, people tend to be skeptical about advertising. But if the New York Times writes even a moderately positive one-column story about one of my deals, it doesn't cost me anything, and it's worth a lot more than $40,000. The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business."
So Trump obviously cares what the Times has to say about him, perhaps even a lot. In a bit of inside analysis Sunday, Times columnist Maureen Dowd quoted Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio with this diagnosis: "The only thing that torments him is the disapproval of The New York Times. Every story that is critical of him hurts."
In fact, even as he has publicly trashed the Times, Trump has cooperated with it.
He has granted several interviews to its reporters, including one last week in which he described his first few days in the White House. Trump also visited the paper's headquarters in November, holding a lengthy on-the-record session with reporters and editors. His aides have played along, too; on Wednesday, in a rare interview, chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon called a Times reporter to blast journalists as "the opposition party" and to suggest that the media "keep its mouth shut and listen."
On the other hand, the Times published some of the most consequential - and damaging - stories about Trump during the presidential campaign. Among others were its profiles of women who said he had sexually assaulted them, and its revelation of his 1995 tax filings, which strongly suggested he had likely avoided paying federal income taxes for nearly two decades.
Trump also took aim at The Washington Post over the weekend, tweeting two typo-strewn messages Saturday reading, "Thr [sic] coverage about me in the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost gas [sic] been so false that the times [sic] actually apologized to its . . . dwindling subscribers and readers. They got me wrong right from the beginning and still have not changed course, and never will. DISHONEST"
The Times actually didn't apologize; Trump is apparently referring to a post-election "Note to Readers" from Baquet and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in which they thanked readers for their loyalty to the paper and vowed "to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor."
The closest Baquet and Sulzberger came to anything like contrition was in writing, "After such an erratic and unpredictable election there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump's sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?"
Within the Times newsroom in Manhattan, Trump's periodic potshots against the paper seem largely to have been shrugged off. "We don't talk about his threats that much," said John Schwartz, a Times reporter. "We've got work to do."
Schwartz suggests there's even been a silver lining to Trump's tweet-rants against the paper: a surge in subscriptions. In the first month after the election, the paper said it gained about 200,000 new digital and print subscribers, more than 10 times the number in the same period a year earlier.