Thursday, October 06, 2016


I skipped over the byline when I started reading this Politico story about how poor, suffering Donald Trump was compelled against his will to make repeat appearances on Howard Stern's radio show, where he reluctantly talked about breast size, sex with other men's wives, and (occasionally) news events he knew little or nothing about -- a humiliation the story tells us he was powerless to escape. I wanted to see what sexist pig of a man would have written this codswallop, and was shocked to learn that the author is a woman, Virginia Heffernan, a culture critic who used to write for The New York Times. "Ben Yagoda in the Chronicle of Higher Education named [Heffernan] among his top candidates for 'best living writer of English prose,'" Wikipedia tells me. So let's try to appreciate some of that swell prose, which absolves Trump of all responibility for what he said on Stern's show:
It was on Stern’s show ... that Donald Trump, then a playboy real estate mogul, called former Miss Universe turned Hillary Clinton supporter Alicia Machado an “eating machine.” It was on Stern’s show that Trump now infamously said he supported the Iraq War (“I guess so”) -- a recording that flatly disproves his countless claims he was against it. On Stern’s show, Trump also said it’s “hard to be a 10” if a woman is flat-chested and called the challenge of avoiding STDs his “personal Vietnam.”
None of this was Trump's fault, according to Heffernan, because he had no alternative:
Trump ... was in personal and professional trouble, fishing for any publicity he could get, and in Stern, he found someone who was willing to put him on national radio, over and over -- some two dozen times in the ’90s and the aughts, according to counts by BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

This much-craved publicity, of course, came at price: Stern has long had a devilish talent for lulling guests into a false sense of security -- and then luring them into rhetorical traps. He casts his guests in a burlesque he scripts for them, and cattle-prods them into playing their parts, first fawning over them until they feel like celebrities, then bringing down the hammer of humiliation. He’s a diabolically domineering scene partner. No interviewer has ever been as adroit with treacherous leading questions in the vein of “When did you stop beating your wife?” Stern, in other words, gets people to publicly embrace their worst selves -- and say things they live to regret.
So let's assume for the sake of argument that Trump had no idea the first time he went on Stern's show that he would be "cattle-prod[ded]" into "a burlesque" of "humiliation" by an interviewer with "a devilish talent" for "get[ting] people to publicly embrace their worst selves -- and say things they live to regret." I would have assumed he'd know all that if he'd heard the show once, but let's follow the argument where it leads. If Trump didn't know what he was getting into, that explains why he might go on the show once. If it was such an unbearable assault on his dignity, why did he go back "some two dozen times"?

And why does a real estate mogul in financial trouble need shock-jock radio publicity? New York is full of real estate moguls, many of them far more successful than Trump. None of them seek this kind of publicity -- they're too busy actually developing and selling real estate. Why was this so necessary for Trump's career? (We can guess why it was so necessary for his ego.)

But Trump, Heffernan tells us, was desperate. So he had no choice!
Generally, [Stern's] guests in those days -- if not strippers and professional opera buffa types -- had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars.
So there was no alternative!
Stern took Trump’s calls, and even had him into the studio. He gave Trump free airtime, as would cable news much later. And so Trump became dependent on the shock jock. He even admitted at times to being addicted to Stern’s show, telling Stern during one episode that he was late to at least one “really important” meeting, because he couldn’t tear himself away from the broadcast.
And he became "addicted" even though, in Heffernan's telling, he was being repeatedly taken advantage of and humiliated:
Stern, out of nowhere, with zero reference: “Why do people think it’s egotistical of you to say you could’ve gotten with Lady Di? You could’ve gotten her, right? You could’ve nailed her.”

“I think I could have,” Trump responds, uncertainly. But, with Stern’s nudging, he goes on to appraise the appearance of Diana -- skin, height, etc., as if she were a horse -- using the tone of sadistic connoisseurship he also used when talking about Machado. With this, Stern knows he’s got his checkmate. A fool’s mate, actually. Radio gold. Only a few sentences from Stern, and Trump has stooped to the show’s level of discussing every woman -- and a princess, no less, who had recently died tragically --as though she were a stripper.
What a radio genius Stern was! It must have been so difficult to get Trump to talk that way. Trump is so thoughtful and considerate in other discussions of women!
Time for a victory lap, Stern-style. “Can I feel your ass, Donald? Can I feel your ass?” Stern says, to howls from his studio sidekicks. “Check you for your wallet.” Trump had indeed been pickpocketed of his dignity.
Yes, and the dignity theft was so wrenchingly painful for Trump that he forced himself to go through it two dozen times.

Again and again Heffernan describes Trump as Stern's victim -- "Trump couldn’t figure a way out of this monkey trap," "Trump submitted even more fully to Stern," "Trump ... was not in the on the joke." After one appearance, Heffernan tells us, "the audience is left with the impression that Trump is more outside the realm of polite society than ever."

Oh, right -- Trump was so outside the realm of polite society that he got offered The Apprentice in 2004, right after he'd made those two dozen Stern appearances. He parlayed a semi-regular gig on a radio show enjoyed by many horndog media executives ino a lucrative TV career. What a humiliation!

This is preposterous. When Trump went on Stern's show over and over again, he was right where he belonged. He loved the attention. If what he said on the show is embarrassing to him now, that's because these days he's pretending to be something he isn't -- a man with serious goals who doesn't have contempt for the female half of the population. On the Stern show, he wasn't lulled into acting like a sexist pig and an ignoramus -- he is a sexist pig and an ignoramus. Shed no tears for him, Virginia.


Victor said...

Wu'n me!
I got snookered (not a good thing to admit if you're a business "genius!) into doin' Stern.
Who ya gonna beleeve?
Me, ur yur lyin' eyes 'n ears?

Jonny Scrum-half said...

I don't read the article as sympathetic to Trump. I think the author was trying to ridicule him for his stupidity, essentially making him into one of the freaks in Stern's "wack pack."

Maxwell's Demon said...

I read that article too. Don't think it was soft on tRump, but showed him as someone incompetent and easily manipulated and told of how all that has come back to bite him. tRump's pain and humiliation are portrayed correctly as self-inflicted, even describing him as virtually so addicted to listening to Stern's radio program that he was late for an important meeting (of course this could just be HO sucking up to Stern but that in itself is revealing).

It appears to me that this story is more damaging to tRump than an apologia, it seems, however, you have a different view. Rage on.

Lara said...

I don't know about anyone else, but Trump being so gullible that a radio shock jock could fool him two dozen times, and so foolish that he never figured out he was the butt of the joke does not make me think he would be a good president.

I mean, what happens when foreign leaders and evil liberals realize he can be tricked into doing something stupid so easily?

Steve M. said...

Trump wasn't Stern's dupe. He wasn't manipulated by Stern. He liked Stern's brand of smutty talk pitched at people with an emotional age of eleven (to be fair, so did most middle-aged heterosexual males in the New York metropolitan area at the time), and he loved having a lot of people pay attention to him just the way he does now, so he jumped in with both feet. He knew exactly what the conversation would be like and he was eager to participate. And it worked out just fine for him, until he had to pivot to the general election this year.

Joey Blau said...

One thing is true. Stern does a great interview. He has so much airtime to talk himself, that when he gets a guest who is talking, Stern does not talk over them or do more than gently prod them if they hesitate.

Unlike almost all TV interviwers, who interrupt and change the question and need facetime, Stern lets the guest speak. And yes sometimes they get in deep..

Molly Layton said...

Heffernan was skewering Trump for being so easily manipulated. His lust to be in the boys' tribe gets him into ridiculous positions, gets him to reveal his juvenile and transparent longing. Meanwhile Howard and the Cool Kids are laughing.

Gerald Parks said...

When someone shows you who they are ...believe them!
I heard someone say that, and it seems pretty accurate to me ...just saying!

CF2K said...

+1 to Joey's comment. It's easy to think Stern has only one thing going on.

Feud Turgidson said...

The Heffernan POLITICO story is worse for Trump than Steve M argues: it makes him look WEAK.

I remember Heffernan from those 20 Questions With bits in TNYT Mag - fluff, but not completely: they rumbled with subtext. She didn't get bounced from the Times; she left for a bunch of very good reasons, as discussed in detail at length at many websites (She's a BFD in academic circles.).
I disagree with the impression Steve M leaves on her. If all Yagoda meant was that VF writes clearly, economically, purposely & in compliance with whatever the rules happen to be, IMO Yagoda's simply right: it's possible no one around today does a better job at all that than Heffernan, plus that characteristic ability at working in subtext.
Yagoda' "best living writer" lick is inherently cosmic OTT & categorically "Too Soon" - but bear in mind, Yagoda's a go-to for outside authority quotes, he would have know she was then fishing for a publisher for her book project, they're a mutual admiration society if not outright friends ... i.e. do the math).
Regardless, FCOL, Steve: it's Yagoda's list. Is Yagoda deluded in thinking she's some BFD authority on the internet? WTF knows, but if such a thing exists she might actually be one. IMO the Beast's too damn big & wild for that to be said lightly, but there's a wide range of credible publications who'd readily agree with Yagoda on that, among them WIRED, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The Atlantic ... get it, Steve?
Is he right that she's is or could be reasonably said to be some sort of style or thought leader in some 'idealized' internet where academics like he & she get to play Leaders? Definitely.
My 2 cents: she's kinda like a minor key Jane Austen of the Internet, and yes, she IS INDEED among the cleanest, clearest, most economical, context-compliant writers who come to MY mind at least.
Here's my downbeat on why someone that smart & talented works the fluff rooms of the Grey Lady & POLITICO: single mom, 2 kids.
Also, I now spell out the rumbling context: W.O.M.A.N.
IMO you picked the wrong side on this one, Steve.

KenRight said...

How did a "sexist pig" produce relatively well adjusted kids of both sexes?
More importantly how does a non-racist woman help kill so many Arabs and Muslims worldwide?

Belvoir said...

Agree with Joey Blau above, that Stern is a great interviewer. He and Trump have been outsize NYC media personalities for over thirty years. No, Trump was certainly being himself.

Interesting that Heffernan calls Trump's first wife Ivana "imperious". When many accounts describe her as an abused and demeaned spouse. Ivana may have looked like a character from Dynasty, but I do not recall any incidents of her being "imperious", to anyone. If anything she had a reputation for being quite nice and gracious to everyone. From Brooke Astor to busboys, never heard a bad thing about her. And it seemed obvious to everyone that she had to be incredibly deferential and subservient to The Donald's wishes, at all times. I won't even mention the ugly allegations in their contentious divorce. But, in NYC Ivana was not known for imperiousness, despite appearances. She was social and kind and not a snob. She came from Czechoslovakia and seemed to appreciate her good fortune in America.