For a media that loves infotainment, the horse race and spectacle—and has trouble tackling real policy issues and digging deep—Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving: all spectacle, all the time.
Now he’s out there on his ugly birther trip, riding it to the top of the polls amidst a GOP presidential field in disarray. And other than a few notable exceptions, the media is largely playing the role of cheering spectator for Trump’s latest self-aggrandizing parade—none more so than Fox, which has treated his birtherism-based candidacy as a cause célèbre. Media Matters notes thirteen Trump appearances on the network since March 20.
But the more significant issue raised by the media coverage is this: if Trump is going to portray himself as a presidential contender, and the media is going to give him mega-time to do that, then let’s take a hard look at his record and his views—particularly on “fiscal responsibility,” which Congressman Paul Ryan and the GOP say is the issue of our time.
“I haven’t seen anybody do anything for a long time that’s really tough coverage on Donald,” says David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter formerly with the New York Times, who has written extensively about Trump’s net worth as well as his business dealings in the gambling industry in his book Temples of Chance. “He’s done exceptionally well at getting the media to treat him on the grounds that he wants—which is he doesn’t mind if you poke fun at him as long as you’re writing about him and making him sound important.”
In a recent column, Johnston points out that in examining four years of tax returns he discovered that Trump paid no taxes in two of them.
“He pays little to no income tax because he does these real estate deals that allow him to take—as a professional real estate developer—unlimited paper losses like depreciation against income he gets from NBC for his show,” says Johnston.
He’s also had more business bankruptcies than wives, and Johnston says Trump’s bravado about his wealth and business acumen contradicts his real record. According to Johnston, Trump typically does two kinds of deals: he borrows more than 100 percent of the purchase price for real estate and takes a fee off the top; or he’s paid a fee to put his name on a building.
Johnston suggests that Trump’s fortune relied on government favors and stiffing his creditors.