Wednesday, August 1, 2018

King of Fake News: How Trump Made a Tragic Crash that Killed 3 Executives All About Him

by Nomad

King of the Tabloids

Anyone who has bothered to track the career of property developer Trump can't help but be a little stunned to hear President Trump's hysterical outrage over "fake news."  In-the-know New Yorkers who were around during his rise are well-acquainted with Trump's casual manipulation of the press. 

The self-promoting Trump adroitly turned the tabloids, questionably the sleaziest form of journalism, into his own full-time publicity agency. From "what am I building now?" to "who am I suing now? became "who am I schtuping now?" Trump was an expert at keeping his name before the easily-entertained masses.
Were the stories always true? Rarely or rarely completely. 
Of all of the phony or overblown stories that tabloids put out about Trump, one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Tragic Accident

Max J. Rosenthal from Mother Jones reported this tale during the 2016 campaign but the story was largely ignored. The press was more interested in asking whether the size of his hands really signified anything the voting public needed to know about.

On the afternoon of 10 October 1989, five people were killed when their helicopter crashed into a desolate pine woodland on the Garden State Parkway near Forked River, N.J. Of those five fatalities were three high-level executives of Donald J. Trump's three casinos in Atlantic City.
  • Stephen F. Hyde, 43 years old, chief executive of the Trump casinos;
  • Mark Grossinger Etess, 38, president and chief operating officer of the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel,  
  • Jonathan Benanav, 33, executive vice president of the Trump Plaza casino hotel.
The newspaper account provides us with a bit more details.
Earlier in the day, the three executives had attended a news conference in Manhattan to promote a junior welterweight boxing match on Feb. 3 between Hector Camacho and Vinny Pazienza at the Trump Plaza. The executives were returning to Atlantic City when the helicopter crashed about 35 miles north of the resort.
Frank Ghiorsi of the regional director of the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters:
''There is no evidence - not even a suspicion - that foul play was involved.''
In an official statement, Mr. Trump said:
''These were three fabulous young men in the prime of their lives. No better human beings ever existed. We are deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to their families.''
Outside of the questionable word choice of "fabulous" and the accuracy of "young," Trump's statement is pretty much what one would expect from a CEO facing a company tragedy.
Yet, not long after, the focus of that news story shifted away from the crash, away from the victims. 

Trump's Phony "Date with Death"

The day following the crash in New Jersey, stories circulated that Trump himself had been scheduled to be on the flight but decided at the last minute, he changed his plan.
The origin of that allegation was Trump's office. Immediately following the accident, Dan Klores, a Trump spokesman, said to the Philadelphia Inquirer
"He really doesn't want to talk about it, but he was going to go to Atlantic City and he did change his mind."
The story of Trump's "missed date with the Grim Reaper" appeared not in the tabloids but in the United Press International.

As the Mother Jones writer notes, other outlets reported the same claim from the Trump camp, including Long Island’s Newsday and the New York Daily News, which slapped the report on its cover.

Former Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett believed that the narrow escape story was just an example of Trump planting news.
In his book, Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth, Barrett wrote that Trump “did not hesitate to use [the crash] for personal advantage. He planted stories suggesting that he had almost boarded the chartered copter himself, though he’d never ridden to Atlantic City on one, trusting only his [personal] Puma [helicopter].”
And that's not the only cause for doubt.

The Only Thing That Could Have Been Worse 

According to one biographer, Harry Hurt author of  Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump,  Mr. Trump was sitting in his office after the crash when he got a call from a reporter asking for a comment about the tragedy.
"He switches on the speakerphone so that he can hear what the reporter is saying but puts on the mute button so the reporter cannot hear what is being said in the Trump Tower office."
"Mr. Trump, I know this must be horrible for you," the book quotes a reporter on the other line "I know it must be terrible for you to lose your three top casino executives all in the same day. I'm so sorry about what happened...I guess the only thing that could have been worse is if you had been on the helicopter with them."
The biography alleges that Trump then looked at one of his vice presidents and said he needed to get publicity out of the incident

True or not? It's hard to know. Obviously, only somebody in the room could have verified that. In support of that version, Hurt cited "a half a dozen bona fide sources close to Trump" who all called Trump's story a "barefaced lie." And one other detail found in Hurt's book, Trump had a meeting that afternoon and couldn't have been on the flight.

Most persuasively, after the original Daily News article appeared, Bernie Dillon, the vice-president of Trump Sports and Entertainment told the Associated Press:
"Trump had definitely never planned to be on it."
Trump's attempt at changing the story to match the moment was never going to be easy. His 1990 book Trump: Surviving at the Top leaves Trump the lying opportunist with no room for wiggling. Trump writes in his book.
"Then Steve, who was one of the hardest-working guys I ever met, said, 'Donald, we've got to run now. We've got to catch a helicopter.'"
He is referring here to Stephen Hyde, a Mormon father of seven who was considered the mastermind of Trump’s Atlantic City casino empire.
"I very casually look up and said, 'I'll see you guys over the weekend,'" .
"For an instant, as they were walking out, I thought of going with them. I fly down to Atlantic City at least once a week, and I knew that if I made the forty-five-minute helicopter trip then, we could continue talking business on the way. But there was just too much to do in the office that day. As quickly as the idea had popped into my mind, I decided not to go. Instead, I just said good-bye and went back to reading reports and making phone calls."
A year after the helicopter crash, the Trump Taj Mahal was nearly $3 billion in debt and went bankrupt in 1991. In 1992, both the Trump Plaza and the Trump Castle declared bankruptcy as well. Later, Trump would blame the collapse on the untimely death of Hyde.  

For Donald Trump, the facts are fluid. Was it a complete fabrication? Was it really a plan to board the helicopter? Yes but not really. It was just an idea that flitted through his mind. Or did it? Did Trump lie about that? Witnesses say it was all just an appalling PR stunt.
In short, for Trump, there is no definitive version of the truth.


The moral of this sordid footnote is, I reckon, that Trump's war on journalism began very early. Propagating fake news was always part of his modus operandi
It began as an amoral self-promoting manipulation of the press. To get his name out there. To get attention. 

Tabloids happily printed his silly "trumpery" because, like sex-crazed celebrities, outlandish conspiracy theories, and ridiculous diet plans, stories about Trump's latest exploits sold papers.
Meanwhile, legitimate news organizations absorbed this know-nothing culture and then came reality TV which was anything but real.

Back in the 80s and 90s, most self-respecting journalists snickered behind Trump's back and ignored him as much as possible. They understood he was a showman without substance. Not the kind of person anybody took seriously.

But as the New York Times pointed out, there's a fundamental difference between Trump in his tabloid days and today. The tabloid stories, by and large, trafficked in trivia.
As president, he is dealing with the most serious issues of the day. They involve the nation’s safety and prosperity, and it is the role of news organizations to cover them.

But there's also something else. Back in his glory days, Trump was content with planting favorable stories in the sensationalist media.
Today, executives from the National Enquirer reportedly forwarded digital copied of articles to Trump in advance of publication. Trump or his lawyer would have final approval on which stories ran.
As the case of former Playboy model Karen McDougal demonstrates, Trump doesn't just push flattering stories about himself in tabloids. On the eve of the election, he used his connections with David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., (the National Enquirer’s parent company) to suppress a politically-damaging story.

Enemy of the People

Today, as a president in daily denial of the facts, Trump has become a threat to the freedom of the press. While condemning any report that offers facts as "fake news," Trump also labels any journalist who dares to ask pertinent or difficult questions as "enemies of the people."
Trump's disdain for critical journalism could have global implications. As an article in the Columbia Journalism Review points out:
When the leader of the most powerful country in the world—one that has long been a champion of the free press—describes the media as the “enemy,” it opens the door for autocrats and even democratically elected leaders in other countries to do the same.
Earlier this year, Reporters without Borders (RSF) warned that
“political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”
In some respects, the first step in that dangerous trajectory began with Trump's amoral twisting of truth about the copter crash in New Jersey.