Long ago, Trump got his start: Within our failing American culture, is there any mistaken or ridiculous narrative which didn't get its start at the New York Times?
We'll guess the answer is yes! That said, in yesterday's Washington Post, we learned how Donald J. Trump conned his way onto the original Forbes 400 list way back in 1982.
At the time, Trump was actually worth $5 million, according to yesterday's report. Forbes listed him at $100 million. It was a 95 percent deception, and the start of a long, continuing con.
How did Trump con his way onto the inaugural Forbes 400 list? On page one of yesterday's Outlook section, the story is told by Jonathan Greenberg, the journalist who got conned by Trump when he and Trump were young.
How did Greenberg, and his editors at Forbes, get themselves conned by Trump? Therein lie some important tales.
Greenberg's report is long and intriguing. It runs some 3500 words. We can't vouch for its accuracy in all respects, but it is a first-person account.
That said, we'll single out two basic ways Forbes managed to get itself conned.
For starters, we'll note that Greenberg was very young when he was put in charge of this inaugural project. He was 25 years old, and perhaps a bit easy to con.
In fairness, his editors were surely older. They got tooken by Donald Trump too—and, as noted above, they got tooken good:
GREENBERG (4/22/18): [I]t took decades to unwind the elaborate farce Trump had enacted to project an image as one of the richest people in America. Nearly every assertion supporting that claim was untrue. Trump wasn't just poorer than he said he was. Over time, I have learned that he should not have been on the first three Forbes 400 lists at all. In our first-ever list, in 1982, we included him at $100 million, but Trump was actually worth roughly $5 million—a paltry sum by the standards of his super-monied peers—as a spate of government reports and books showed only much later.If Greenberg is right today, he and his editors were off by a factor of 95 percent! How did they manage to bungle so badly?
According to Greenberg, it all began with a typical gong show at the New York Times. In a "fawning profile" of Trump back in 1976, the Times had grossly misstated the number of apartment units he owned.
Dimwittedly, Forbes assumed, six years later, that the Times report had been accurate. Why would anyone ever think that about anything the New York Times does?
GREENBERG: My Forbes editors and I spent many hours deliberating about where to place Trump [on the 1982 list]. Based on what little we knew—his claims; a 1976 New York Times profile that said the Trump Organization owned 22,000 apartments; and Fred's reputation for housing a generation of working-class New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Queens—we ranked Donald and Fred in the bottom tier among major real-estate developers, each with half of a $200 million apartment empire.Note the lunacy there.
Even though I learned later that this was far more money than Donald possessed, it did not satisfy him for the following year's edition. During his 1983 interview, Trump claimed that there were actually 25,000 apartments and that his net worth had ballooned because of the success of his new projects...
Eventually, nearly every one of Trump's pronouncements about his wealth unraveled.
The number of apartments was the first problem. The commonly cited figure—that his family owned 25,000 units—began with the mention of 22,000 apartments in that fawning 1976 New York Times profile. In 1988, after I left Forbes, I counted the units and found fewer than 8,000. (I was working briefly on a documentary about Trump that was never completed.) Another Forbes reporter that year, John Anderson, found the same thing.
The whole thing started with a claim in a fawning New York Times profile. The profile said that Trump owned 22,000 apartment units. Six years later, the people at Forbes simply assumed this was true.
How lax were the journalistic standards at Forbes? This lax:
In 1988, Zimmerman says, he actually counted the apartments! It turned out there were fewer than 8,000 units, not the 22,000 originally reported in that fawning profile.
According to Zimmerman, he was able to conduct this census while "working briefly on a documentary about Trump." Since it took so little time, why didn't he engage in this basic due diligence while at Forbes? In his 3500-word piece, Zimmerman doesn't say.
Assuming Zimmerman's current account is accurate, the journalistic standards at Forbes were virtually non-existent. This brings us to that "fawning 1976 New York Times profile," where he says this gong-show began.
Sadly, the profile can still be seen online. Trump was 30 years old when the fawning occurred. Sadly, pitifully, the profile started like this:
KLEMESRUD (11/1/76): He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford. He rides around town in a chauffeured silver Cadillac with his initials, DJT, on the plates. He dates slinky fashion models, belongs to the most elegant clubs and, at only 30 years of age, estimates that he is worth “more than $200 million.”Apparently, dazzling teeth helped a fellow date slinky models during those disco days. Before a fellow knew it, he was worth $200 million—or was at least saying he was.
Flair. It's one of Donald J. Trump's favorite words, and both he, his friends and his enemies use it when describing his way of life as well as his business style as New York's No. 1 real estate promoter of the middle 1970's.
If Zimmerman is right today, Klemesrud repeated a wildly inaccurate claim about Trump's net worth. The wild misstatement about the apartments appeared in paragraph 4:
KLEMESRUD (continuing directly): “If a man has flair,” the energetic, outspoken Mr. Trump said the other day, “and is smart and somewhat conservative and has a taste for what people want, he's bound to be successful in New York.”Sad. The inaccurate claim which started it all was presented there as a fact.
Mr. Trump, who is president of the Brooklyn based Trump Organization, which owns and manages 22,000 apartments, currently has three imaginative Manhattan real‐estate projects in the works. And much to his delight, his brash, controversial style has prompted comparisons with his flamboyant idol, the late William Zeckendorf Sr., who actually developed projects as striking as those Mr. Trump is proposing.
The New York Times published that dreck in 1976. Six years later, a kid reporter at Forbes took that statement about the apartments as a fact, then proceeded to bungle from there. Trump got on the inaugural Forbes 400 list and built his myth upon this initial rock.
We return to our origianl question. Is there any stupid story which didn't start at the Times?
In 1964, a bungled front-page report in the Times started the Kitty Genovese myth, a major tale of the era. In 1992, bungled front-page reporting in the Times started the history-changing Whitewater pseudo-scandal.
In 1999, Katharine Seelye "accidentally" "misquoted" Candidate Gore about Love Canal, then refused to accept correction. This set the history-changing AL GORE, LIAR narrative in stone. And in 1976, the Times included a bogus fact in a fawning profile of Trump. Six years later, the dopes at Forbes simply accepted it as a fact, or so Greenberg now says.
For twenty years, we've tried to tell you—these people are slightly subhuman. In their essence, they're narrative-driving clowns.
That said, Donald Trump had dazzling teeth. In the minds of the dopes at a famous newspaper, the public deserved to be told!