Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Sends Ghostwriter 'threatening cease-and-desist letter" Over New Yorker Article

The New Yorker reports that,
"Greenblatt [Trump's attorney] demands that Schwartz send “a certified check made payable to Mr. Trump” for all of the royalties he had earned on the book, along with Schwartz’s half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance. (The memoir has sold approximately a million copies, earning Trump and Schwartz each several million dollars.) Greenblatt also orders Schwartz to issue “a written statement retracting your defamatory statements,” and to offer written assurances that he will not “generate or disseminate” any further “baseless accusations” about Trump."
Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal.  The book has both his and Trump's name on the cover, but Schwartz says he wrote it all, based on what Trump told him and what he observed.  Now he's been interviewed in the New Yorker and says Trump's not fit to be president.  And Trump's attorney, as you saw in the opening quote, is telling him to recant and return all the money.

The original New Yorker interview with Schwartz is worth reading. While I'm no Trump expert, I have done some reading on him for the blog and what Schwartz says in the article is certainly consistent with the image I'm getting.

The article begins by telling how Schwartz got the job of ghostwriting Trump's book.  He'd written a piece about Trump that was anything but flattering, yet Trump loved the piece.
"In 1985, he’d published a piece in New York called “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story,” which portrayed him not as a brilliant mogul but as a ham-fisted thug who had unsuccessfully tried to evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants from a building that he had bought on Central Park South. Trump’s efforts—which included a plan to house homeless people in the building in order to harass the tenants—became what Schwartz described as a “fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.” An accompanying cover portrait depicted Trump as unshaven, unpleasant-looking, and shiny with sweat. Yet, to Schwartz’s amazement, Trump loved the article. He hung the cover on a wall of his office, and sent a fan note to Schwartz, on his gold-embossed personal stationery. “Everybody seems to have read it,” Trump enthused in the note, which Schwartz has kept."
He then writes of his moral conflict when Trump asks him to write his memoir.   On the one hand he had qualms about a) being a ghostwriter and b) telling Trump's story at all.  But he had a second child on the way and money was tight, this would give him a great cushion.  He acknowledges that what he did perfectly fit the definition of 'sellout.'

And then there is handwringing about whether he should say anything about Trump now.  But as Trump's candidacy got stronger, he felt he had to speak up. (I'd guess that Trump sees anyone acknowledging any hesitation or having moral qualms as a loser.)  Schwartz had to say things he'd learned while spending so much time with Trump while writing the book.  For example:
". . . this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said."  [emphasis added]
or . . .
"But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment. 
Other journalists have noticed Trump’s apparent lack of interest in reading. In May, Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, asked him to name his favorite book, other than the Bible or “The Art of the Deal.” Trump picked the 1929 novel 'All Quiet on the Western Front.'”
I'm sure a lot of folks don't read books these days, but they also aren't presidential candidates.  Well, there was a vice presidential candidate who couldn't name any magazines she read.

One wonders if Trump even read the original 1985 Schwartz article about him or just liked the cover and title and the fact that others were reading about him.

Schwartz talks about his frustration trying to get Trump to give him more than short superficial answers while trying to write the memoir.  He was ready to quit the project he tells the New Yorker, until he came up with an idea.  He'd shadow Trump in his office and listen in on his phone calls to understand how Trump did his deals.  He writes:
“'He was playing people,' Schwartz recalls. On the phone with business associates,
Trump would flatter, bully, and occasionally get mad, but always in a calculated way. Before the discussion ended, Trump would 'share the news of his latest success,' Schwartz says. Instead of saying goodbye at the end of a call, Trump customarily signed off with 'You’re the greatest!'
There was not a single call that Trump deemed too private for Schwartz to hear. 'He loved the attention,' Schwartz recalls. 'If he could have had three hundred thousand people listening in, he would have been even happier.'” [emphasis added]
OK, I've excerpted enough, but this is a New Yorker article, so it's pretty long and this is a tiny sampler.

Schwartz says he understood that speaking out would likely expose him to intimidation from Trump.

Having received a cease and desist order for a blog post myself, I do have a sense of how it feels.  In hindsight, it's clear that the letter was a bluff, intended to get any negative information about his client off the internet.  And Trump learned this tactic from his mentor Roy Cohn.   Fortunately, I was helped by Alaska's best first amendment attorney.

So with my experience guiding me, and remembering that a little knowledge can be dangerous, I'd say . . .  What would I say?  Unlike a with blogpost, the New Yorker can't unpublish their print article.  So what they want is a retraction and to cease and desist. And for Schwartz to pay back all the money.  So he's asking for a lot of different things, negotiating, and he'd probably settle for the retraction and a small symbolic concession check.  Or maybe just recanting would be enough.

But does he have a case?  I'd guess not.

UNLESS there was some sort of agreement Schwartz signed promising never to disclose anything he learned about Trump that wasn't in the book.  But if there were, I'm sure the attorney would have mentioned it.  And from all I'm reading, Trump is so full of himself and so impulsive that he probably didn't ask for anything like that.  After all, if the ghostwriter sees him all the time, he would only see how incredibly great Trump.  So, I'm guessing this is all bluster and, more ominously, part of a growing practice of threatening expensive lawsuits that force most reporters to give in.  Fortunately there are some protections.

Every time we get new insights into this candidate, we can find current examples to apply them to.
For example:
"it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes,"
Trump, he's saying, has to be the center of attention or he loses interest.  This Republican convention is different from any other.  It's almost like Trump thinks he's personally throwing a party and he has to be constantly mingling.  He just can't sit quietly while another person is in the limelight.

"Trump would flatter, bully, and occasionally get mad, but always in a calculated way. Before the discussion ended, Trump would 'share the news of his latest success,' Schwartz says. Instead of saying goodbye at the end of a call, Trump customarily signed off with 'You’re the greatest!'"

We can all watch for this pattern:

Step 1:  Flatter
Step 2:  Bully
Step 3:  Maybe even get mad
Step 4:  Share news of Trump's latest success
Step 5:  Sign off with "You're the greatest."

OK, that's the pattern for phone calls according to Schwartz.  But we can see clear variations of it in how Trump behaves with his fellow candidates, with his audiences, with the Republican party.

I accept that there is a portion of the American public with whom Trump resonates.  Some are just very angry at their situation in life and they need someone to blame.  They love it when Trump tells them it's not their fault, it's Obama's and Clinton's and Muslims' and immigrants' faults.  They so want to believe an authoritarian Daddy will make it all better and they don't have to actually do anything themselves except cheer Daddy on.

Others have probably overcome a lot of odds by working hard and making something of themselves.  In doing so, they have become alienated from their cultural community, family, and/or friends.  They do see people they know who abuse the system and they want those others who they've outgrown to be punished for not working hard like they have.  Maybe they've made it out of an abusive family, or beaten the odds against racism or class barriers.  They too seek Daddy's approval and want him to acknowledge their achievements and punish all the siblings who aren't pulling their weight.

I'm, of course, spinning narratives that might explain many Trump supporters.  I'd guess many had erratic fathers like Trump - sometimes flattering, sometimes bullying, always telling the world how great they are.  So those aspects that disturb many about Trump feel comfortable to his supporters.  But that's just one interpretation.  Again, try it out and see if it fits.  And if you have better explanations, let me know.


  1. Steve,
    Any names of US presidents in the past 50 years that were liked by the majority before and after term of office?
    Seems like most have been universally despised.
    Thank you.

  2. I guess it depends on how much after. Surely people like Carter get higher ratings well after they've left office. You can peruse these charts at PEW


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