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When CultureGrrl Met Young Donald, Revisited in Light of the NY Times’ Exposé

In my August 2015 CultureGrrl post that recounted my encounter with Donald Trump (whom I interviewed in 1974 for this article in the NY Times Sunday Real Estate section), I expressed my astonishment at the puff piece about the young mogul-to-be, written by Times reporter Judy Klemesrud and published two years after my piece had appeared.

To my even greater astonishment (and gratification), the Times itself on Wednesday admitted how off-base Klemesrud’s piece had been. That very belated 300-word corrective (which didn’t name the reporter but linked to her piece) was contained in the newspaper’s voluminous investigative report on Trump’s financial finagling, which bore a more forceful headline in the print edition than in the online version:

In her fawning profile, Klemesrud didn’t seem to be writing about the same person who had assaulted me—not physically, but with a barrage of pestering phone calls for several days after our conversation. Already publicity-obsessed, the 28-year-old Donald repeatedly tried to influence what this 25-year-old cub reporter would write. That annoyingly aggressive campaign had the opposite effect, causing me to omit his name and words from the article. I devoted one small paragraph to “the Trump Organization” in my long piece about rental trends in New York City:

In this week’s article, the Times rightly described Trump’s effect on the late Klemesrud as “a spectacular con” [emphasis added], right down to the priceless moment when Mr. Trump confessed that he was ‘publicity shy'”—a self-assessment believed by no other reporter, ever.

That the Times scribe had fallen under Donald’s spell was obvious from her first sentence:

He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford.

Umm, no. As you can tell from this 1973 NY Times photo, he was kind of cute, back in the day, but not even close to movie-star handsome. (Nor was I nearly as glamorous as the models he favored.)

On a more serious note: Wednesday’s Times piece noted that the projects about which Donald had boasted to Judy were mostly bankrolled by or owned by his father Fred. But other ways in which he misled Klemesrud (whose lively writing I often admired) went unmentioned: As I noted in my blog post, she bought his self-description as “Swedish” (his father’s background was German) and she repeated his claim (later debunked in this 1984 Times article) that he had graduated first in his class at Wharton. She did, for balance, quote some of Donald’s doubters—seasoned real estate executives who wondered whether his grand plans would be realized.

In a way, this wacky episode from the ’70s prefigures all we’ve come to know about the improbable rise to the Presidency of this shameless self-promoter. Too many people bought his bluster, with enormously disturbing consequences. It’s been (in the words I quoted, above, from this week’s Times piece) “a spectacular con.”

Where were the Times’ fact-checkers when Klemesrud really needed them? We can only hope that they (and the Times’ lawyers) were all over Wednesday’s explosive piece, making sure it would be bullet-proof.

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