President Donald Trump has finally proved, beyond any doubt, that there is such a thing as #FakeNews. In the 1980s and 1990s, the news media conspired to perpetrate a vast fraud on the American people. So-called journalists and their complicit editors colluded — yes, that’s the word — to convince an unwitting public that Trump was a spectacularly successful businessman.
The scale of the ink-fueled myth has been exposed at last, thanks to 10 years worth of his tax information obtained by The New York Times, which revealed that Trump’s enterprises were flopping on an epic scale.
In 1985, Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his casinos, hotels and apartment buildings, which hemorrhaged $1.17 billion over the next decade. “Year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer,” The Times reported.
You wouldn’t have known any of that from a December 1987 People magazine cover that featured the 41-year-old tuxedoed “tycoon” under a headline pronouncing him “TOO DARN RICH.”
“Almost everything he touches turns to profit,” the magazine marveled, adding: “He says he’s too busy to run for president right now, but in a few years, well, who knows?”
It was not the only glossy magazine to be dazzled by Trump’s multimillion-dollar toys, including a huge black helicopter with his name on the side, and his claims of a gilded financial empire.
“He is the man with the Midas fist,” Newsweek wrote a few months before the People cover.
The Times wrote the earliest classic of this genre with its first profile of Trump back in 1976. The story by society reporter Judy Klemesrud began: “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.’”
Evidence now suggests that figure was preposterous. As my colleagues Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher noted in their book “Trump Revealed,” Trump reported a mere $24,594 in income to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement that year and said he owed $10,832 in taxes.
At the time, The Times did offer a tiny note of skepticism about Trump’s business acumen, in the form of an unattributed quote from a banker who told Klemesrud: “His deals are dramatic, but they haven’t come into being. So far, the chief beneficiary of his creativity has been his public image.”
Trumping up The Donald’s reputation was a mutually beneficial arrangement between the floundering businessman and his media enablers, particularly the New York tabloids, which had a seemingly bottomless appetite for all of this.
“When we would talk particularly to immigrants, recent immigrants who were the readers of the Daily News, they would always want to know about Donald Trump,” that paper’s gossip columnist George Rush told Kranish and Fisher. “He embodied the American Dream to them. Excessive, conspicuous consumption is not a bad thing in New York to a lot of people.”
Trump each year browbeat Forbes to include him on its annual list of the world’s richest people — which it obliged him by doing, beginning in 1985 — and then howled that it had underestimated his supposedly vast wealth.
Eventually, Trump’s blunders became too big to hide under a pile of press clippings. He was dropped from the Forbes 400 for six years, beginning in 1990, when the magazine posed a question on its cover: HOW MUCH IS DONALD REALLY WORTH NOW? And in December 1992, columnist Gail Collins, then at Newsday, described him as a “financially embattled thousandaire.”
An enraged Trump mailed her a copy of her column with comments scrawled throughout, including: “Gail — You are a dog and a liar.” He also drew an arrow pointing to her picture and wrote: “The face of a pig — no wonder you are so angry. I would be to.”
Even now, Trump would rather be thought of as a tax cheat than a loser. “You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes . . . almost all real estate developers did — and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport,” he tweeted in response to the recent Times report.
His backup singers at “Fox & Friends” chimed in, noting that piling up 10 digits worth of losses was a testament to Trump’s financial genius. “If anything, you read this and you’re like ‘Wow, it’s pretty impressive, all the things that he’s done in his life,’” co-host Ainsley Earhardt said in wonder. “It’s beyond what most of us could ever achieve.”
During the final debate of the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to “run our country the way I’ve run my company.” As we are now learning, that is one campaign promise he’s on track to keep.