My guest today is Todd Gitlin, author, journalist and professor of journalism and communications at Columbia University.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Todd. You just wrote The Donald Trump Story You're Not Hearing About[6.24.16]. With Trump virtually monopolizing the spotlight for the last year, it's hard to imagine that there are still things we don't know about him. Would you care to get us started?
Todd Gitlin: Some of our most persistent and talented investigative reporters know much, much more about Trump than mainstream media have exposed. Among them are Wayne Barrett and David Cay Johnston, both of whom I spoke to for my piece. The angle I pursued concerns Trump's extensive relationships with the mob. I won't go into the details here--they're in the piece you've linked to above. But I can sum up by saying that Trump, as a developer, had extensive involvements with the New York mob. The best that can be said about these relationships is that this sort of thing was ordinary practice for developers on the New York real estate scene. The mob could bring in capital from Russia, could discipline the workforce, and bring other benefits. Some of Trump's colleagues, especially the Russian Felix Sater, whom I wrote about in the piece, were quite close to him, though he denies it (and at one point walked out of a BBC interview probing that relationship). That this sort of thing was routine in New York real estate is not a huge recommendation. I don't think that, for a presidential candidate, business-as-usual-with-the-mob is anything to write home about.
JB: But that wasn't the only aspect of his past that has not been properly explored, is it? Tell us more. You'd expect the presumptive Republican nominee to be thoroughly vetted by his party, wouldn't you?
TG: Other Trump back-stories not sufficiently explored: His use of undocumented workers; his achievement of special privileges when he acquired a New Jersey a gambling license; his involvement in racist rental policies; his huge tax writeoffs for private developments. All these are easily found by Googling. But none have been the subject of major TV treatment. As for the Republicans, they had grandiose ideas of their own prospects; they share a lot of his views; they were afraid of estranging his crazy base, which they coveted for themselves; not least, they are not deeply principled.
JB: Before we jump into some of the many juicy back stories you just mentioned, what do you think about Trump's refusal to release his tax returns, any of them? What does it mean and can he get away with it?
TG: Trump can surely get away with it--it's his legal right not to release. Clinton supporters will, however, benefit from reports of his deceptions and secrecy. By the way, Adam Nagourney's NYT story today about Trump and Clinton assumes "everyone knows" about Trump's mob-connected past. It ain't so. Nagourney's piece is a perfect case of smugness, in which "everybody knows" is his translation of "my pals and I all know." The stories that become influential are the ones that repeat, like Clinton's e-mails and Benghazi.
JB: So, where do you want to jump in with all these inadequately covered stories to choose from, Todd?
TG: So, for openers: 1. David Cay Johnson, whom I've already referred to, offered these items for close scrutiny. 2. Here's one of the best of the print articles about his monkey business with NJ casinos. it's not that such items aren't "out there"; it's that the TV news organizations haven't done much to advance and connect them. The big exception on the Trump-mob connections, Brian Ross on ABC, did yeoman work on ONE specific connection, but the rest have gone untelevised. I refer to Ross's piece in my own. 3. Cynics and insiders (sometimes the same people) say all the bad stuff on Trump is already "out there." Cf. Adam Nagourney in the June 26 NYT, on which, at the risk of belaboring the point, I posted this comment: 'You ask, "Is there anything left to say about two candidates who are so well known and so polarizing?" In fact, while scattered articles have appeared here and there on the Web, only ABC News among the networks has touched on Trump's relationships with the mob--and this with respect to only a single one of his collaborations with organized crime. No one in major news organizations has connected the dots. No one has given adequate treatment to full-blown exposes by the reporters Wayne Barrett and David Cay Johnston, who have followed Trump's operations for decades. You mention the fraud of "Trump University" but not the criminal aspects of his business record. I have more details in this piece . You assume that because charges are "out there" that they they have wide circulation. Everything is "out there" somewhere, but that doesn't mean it receives its journalistic due. Your article is, on the whole, complacent.'
I want to make it clear: I'm not an investigative reporter. The items I've cited I've distilled from my personal effort to connect dots that are already "out there," supplemented by my interviews with journalists.
Those who agree with the points I'm making should tell the network TV moguls they're offended by their gross malpractice with respect to Trump's background. Everybody knows about Clinton's emails; how many know about Trump and the mob, the unpaid taxes, the unreleased returns, the political subsidies for his buildings, etc. etc.?
JB: There are those who think that the press silence is promoting Trump. But couldn't it merely be simply their fear of a lawsuit?
TG: I doubt it. I've explored this subject with a number of reporters and can't find any evidence that this fear is silencing them. Much more likely is that the cable networks in particular are reveling in the huge numbers of eyeballs that the fatuous Trump coverage brings them. Certainly the networks have very deep pockets. So do the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post in particular is doing a lot of good work on Trump.
JB: Regarding Clinton's emails and the role of the press, many in the Sanders camp have felt that he's been shortchanged in media coverage. And that is actually borne out by recent news. Have you read about Guccifer 2.0's leak of material from the DNC website pointing to a collusion between corporate media and the DNC in promoting Hillary's candidacy? And if so, what do you think about it?
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