Last week, Donald Trump gave a well-received speech to a sellout crowd at the National Press Club. But then he had to endure seemingly unfair coverage, especially from the club's in-house report.
The problem? The National Press Club news account in part denounced him as advocating a proven falsehood when he questioned facts surrounding President Obama's birthplace.
The club's news account included the author's opinion that Trump's views were "discredited." The report failed to include Trump's explanation. Separately, the Washington Post mocked Trump by cherry picking his comments to show that he is arrogant, while virtually ignoring his speech topic.
The billionaire entrepreneur can fend for himself, as he was only too glad to boast in his speech about his other battles.
What's relevant here is that his treatment illustrates how biased news can afflict even an honored guest. The Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly examined unfair news coverage as enabling other kinds of social problems.
Here is a brief account:
Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization, spoke May 27. His topic was "Building the Trump Brand," with a heavy focus on his successful bid to the federal government for rights to renovate the historic Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue into a major hotel. Ivanka Trump, executive vice president for development at the Trump Organization and Trump’s daughter, wielding major authority over the project. She attended also.
Donald Trump's other accomplishments that he discussed both in his talk and in Q&A included his creation of the hit television series “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” Other successes have included several best-selling books, including The Art of the Deal and How to Think Like a Billionaire.
This event was rather different than our normal legal fare at the Justice Integrity Project. My reason to attend was to invite former "Apprentice" star Omarosa Manigault, whom I had hired at the Wireless Communications Association as a summer intern. She had been a highly recommended doctoral student at Howard University before she began reality TV in 2004.
We have occasionally stayed in touch through the years, as indicated by her joke greeting in 2008 in the adjoining photo. She signed it after former colleague of ours saw her signing autographs at a trade show.
Later she taught marketing at Howard University in the nation's capital.
Last summer, Federal Communications Commission Interim Chair Mignon Clyburn, shown below right in an official photo, invited her to speak about branding during the first of a series of expert talks hosted by the commission.
That was an impressive progression after a difficult childhood in which her father was murdered.
For such reasons, I have admired her successes. I bought two tickets to the Trump lecture on the chance she might want to go as my guest.
As it happened, she is currently running for the Los Angeles School Board. I went to the lecture anyway.
At the pre-speech VIP reception, Trump was friendly and posed for photos with anyone who wanted one, as exemplified below.
Next, Club President Myron Belkind began the formal program by introducing Trump with high praise. Belkind kept calling him "Mr. Trump."
The club president noted that the room had sold out "within days" of ticket availability. Trump, a free market enthusiast, joked that the club should have raised prices.
The vast majority in the audience gave Trump a standing ovation even before he started speaking. I could not recall that mark of respect for many, if any, previous speakers at the many events I have attended there.
I asked a young lawyer at my table for a possible reason, and received this enthusiastic explanation: "He's a celebrity!"
The rest seemed to like Trump's remarks, which are on video in the link above. So, I'll not attempt to summarize them except in two respects.
Trump's image is that of a cocky, tough-minded businessman and no-nonsense conservative. That's part of the show, which was an opportunity to hear a billionaire share his insights. In my opinion, he overdid the act by repeating twice that the Obama administration had spent $5 billion building websites for the Obamacare sign-up whereas he, Trump, knew how to create a world-class website for just $3 by hiring young people. Please. That's ridiculous on its face, no matter what the actual spending or labor laws.
What turned out to be a second sequence I thought striking occurred during Q&A. An audience member asked via a written question read by the press club's president whether Trump was sorry that he has questioned the birthplace of President Obama.
Trump said he was not. But his description of his reasons was more nuanced than typically reported, including by the press club's later account.
Trump said he encountered evidence that pre-publication publicity surrounding Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, stated in the early 1990s that Obama had been born in Kenya.
Trump, a Republican who said he opposed the George W. Bush administration, said he saw three possibilities: 1) the president was born in Kenya; 2) the future president had falsely stated at some point he had been born in Kenya to obtain some benefit, such as a scholarship; or 3) Obama was born in the United States as his staff and most commentators have consistently argued.
Trump said he offered $5 million and then $50 million to be donated to a charity of the president's choice if he would provide relevant school applications showing a place of birth, and not necessarily including grades or courses. The White House has withheld all such records. Trump insisted that he found it strange that the White House ignored his offer (apparently now lapsed) when so many worthy charities could benefit from $50 million.
The press club recruited to cover Trump's speech Sean Lyngaas, a freelancer who has some strong writing credits. The assignments are unpaid volunteer work as a service to the club. His story ran under the headline Trump Says U.S. Brand Has Lost Its Luster. The news report proceeded in a normal professional tone common to straight news accounts until its last paragraph, which treated Trump's birth remarks in an opinionated and simplistic fashion:
Asked if he regretted raising the discredited and false assertion that Obama wasn't born in the U.S., Trump sauntered up to the microphone and said to scattered applause, “Not even a little bit. Why would I regret it?”
As a press club volunteer, I write for the same publication on occasion. So, I know that editors, as everywhere, seek short columns. But "discredited and false assertion" stands out as cursory and unusually opinionated treatment for that format. My column here, by contrast, is more of an opinion column than a straight news account.
I asked the author, Lyngaas, about his word choice:
"I think evidence of the president's birth certificate abounds, and that discredits Trumps continued raising of the issue," he responded by email. "That is not an opinion but what evidence shows," he said, citing a link to a 2011 White House blog showing the president's "long form birth certificate."
For what it's worth, my view is that Obama was born in the United States but he is hiding other important facts. That belief comes after my extensive research on the Obama-Dunham family background to prepare my book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. Many records have been lost or suppressed.
Furthermore, my book lays out the case that omissions, half-truths and other deceptions about the family's background raise significant questions about Obama's policies. The mainstream media demonstrate very modest ability or willingness to ask about sensitive matters such as this. The Washington Post this spring profiled, for example, a White House correspondent who has had a chance to ask just one brief question of Obama during her three years on the beat. Last week, the president rebuked a reporter who asked him at a science fair about a non-science question.
The report failed to include Trump's alternatives that: 1) Obama was born in Kenya, or 2) born in the US, or 3) born in the US and said he was born in Kenya to receive a taxpayer funded educational benefit he was not entitled to. Trump was trying to get to the truth, and acknowledged that may have failed despite offering $50K for relevant documents.
This, then, is a slice of workaday Washington life regarding how public figures and sensitive matters are handled.
Any big lessons?
When Trump experiences tough coverage he can handle it.
But how about the ordinary reader trying to figure out what's going on when the media mixes opinion, fact, and half-truths? Add to the mix a powerful White House that remains virtually unquestioned on certain basic facts.
Related News Coverage
National Press Club, Trump Says U.S. Brand Has Lost Its Luster, Sean Lyngaas, May 27, 2014. Real-estate mogul Donald Trump offered entrepreneurialism as a salve for what he said were America’s economic and diplomatic ills at a May 27 Club luncheon. “I love this country and I hate to see what’s happening,” Trump told a packed-to-the-rafters ballroom. In a speech on the power of branding, whether commercial or otherwise, Trump argued that the American brand has lost its luster in the last decade. As an example, he said Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not meet Barack Obama during the American president's trip to Afghanistan over the weekend. For Trump, who has repeatedly attracted attention by saying he would consider seeking the Republican presidential nomination, the signs of waning American power are everywhere, from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertiveness to China’s alleged currency manipulation, to high tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports to Japan. “We are in very, very serious trouble, and I just ask you, what positive thing has happened in this country in the last 10 years?” Trump said. But he followed that with a positive, if vague, hope about the “tremendous potential” of the country.
Washington Post, Donald Trump gets the keys to the Old Post Office, Jonathan O'Connell, May 30, 2014. Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka have full reign of the Old Post Office beginning May 31 and are beginning a $200 million overhaul of the building into a 271-room glitzy hotel set to debut in early 2016. Trump and the General Services Administration agreed to terms on a 60-year lease for the Pennsylvania Avenue property last summer, in which the government will continue to own the property but the Trumps will pay a base rent of $250,000 a month.
Washington Post, Donald Trump's eight biggest boasts at the National Press Club, Emily Heil, May 27, 2014. Donald Trump came to the National Press Club on Tuesday to talk about branding, and instead talked mostly about…himself. The swirly-haired mogul spoke to a sell-out crowd, and amidst complaining about the country being ruined (“what positive thing has happened to this country in the last 10 years?”) delivered exactly the kind of self-aggrandizement for which he’s famous. We listened so you didn’t have to, and noted The Donald’s eight biggest brags.
BuzzFeed, Donald Trump Has A New Theory About President Obama’s Birth Certificate, May 27, 2014. The Donald now believes Obama lied about being born in Kenya to get into college. Speaking at the National Press Club, Donald Trump proposed a new theory about Obama’s birth certificate. Trump conceded there’s a “very big chance” Obama was born in America but said he believes Obama lied about being born in Kenya to get into college.
Asked if he “regretted” questioning Obama’s birth certificate, Trump said he did not regret it “even a little bit.”
Washington Post, Reality star Omarosa Manigault is dating D.C.’s Thomas H. Graham, Helena Andrews, May 27, 2014. It was a reality star-studded affair at the Upper Marlboro home of Thomas H. Graham on Friday night when the vice president of human resources for Pepco Holdings, Inc. held a private fundraiser for Omarosa Manigault, who is running for a seat on the Los Angeles school board. Manigault, who was engaged to actor Michael Clarke Duncan until his death in 2012, has said Duncan inspired her. “My life’s work didn’t start when I walked into Donald Trump’s boardroom,” Manigault told Yahoo in February. “I have been working and advocating long before I ever got on television. To me, that’s important for people to know. It’s time for me to break out of that ‘Apprentice’ persona and do something meaningful to help people.”