Two tales from the heart of Trump University

9596679453_4f88697d69_oI want to call your attention to two terrific pieces about Trump University—both published by Politico, both by people I know. As you are no doubt aware, Trump University, a dubious venture that dispensed real-estate tips and that is under investigation by the New York attorney general’s office, has become a major issue in Trump’s presidential campaign.

The first article, “I Survived Trump University,” is by my old Boston Phoenix friend Seth Gitell. Seth describes attending a 2008 session of what was then known as Trump Wealth Institute in Boston while he was working for the New York Sun. The nation’s financial system was collapsing. Seth writes:

I’d read Trump’s The Art of the Deal in college, so when I spotted an internet ad for the Trump “way to wealth” seminar, I thought it might be an interesting vantage point from which to capture the feelings of regular people at a terrible time. I was also intrigued by the idea of what strategies a figure as rich and famous as Trump could bring to the public, in the midst of a crisis to which few had any solutions.

The second piece is by Marilyn Thompson, an editor at Politico who’s currently a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, as am I. Marilyn reports on an online advice column for students of Trump U that was published under his name. “How much of ‘Ask Mr. Trump’ was written by Trump himself is, of course, open to further examination,” she writes.

Marilyn proceeds to recount what Trump told a 13-year-old boy (“Sounds like you’re a hard-working young person!”), what drives him (“I don’t have to work, I don’t have to make deals, but it’s what I enjoy”), and how he coped with the stress of being $1 billion in debt (“I started describing to everyone all of my plans for future projects and developments, and how fantastic they were going to be”).

These days, no doubt, he relieves the stress by telling his campaign officials how great that wall is going to be once he’s been elected president.

Illustration (cc) by Mike Licht.

Pushing back against the White House anti-leak crusade

By Bill Kirtz

Leading news figures this weekend blasted expanding investigations of national-security leaks, detailed the dilemma of dealing with confidential sources and offered ways to restore credibility in a media universe that merges fact with fiction.

Their comments came at Boston’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference attended by some 1,200 established and aspiring journalists.

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said the Obama administration’s widening probes have created an “urgent” problem because it has a “chilling effect” on confidential sources. She said the current Washington environment “has never been tougher and [confidential] information harder to dislodge.”

She said the attorney general’s latest attempts to ferret out leakers raise the question of whether the U.S. Espionage Act “is being used as a substitute for” Britain’s wide-ranging Official Secrets Act.

Using the Espionage Act, the current administration is pursuing six leak-related criminal cases. That’s twice as many as all previous administrations combined brought since the act was passed in 1917 to punish anyone who “knowingly and willfully” passes on information that hurts the country or helps a foreign power “to the detriment of the United States.”

The Official Secrets Act makes it unlawful to disclose information relating to defense, security and intelligence, international relations, intelligence gained from other departments or international organizations and intelligence useful to criminals.

Alluding to recent Times stories about U.S. drone strikes and computer attacks aimed at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Abramson said the government’s policy on cyber warfare is an important subject about which the public needs to know.

The vast majority of her paper’s national-security disclosures come from “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting” and not from leaks, she said. And before they run, she said, “We give all responsible officials a chance to reply” and will hold or cut information if they raise a legitimate security objection.

Times media columnist David Carr called the government investigations an “appalling” attempt to restrict information about significant issues.

“Whistle-blowers aren’t scarce but the people who blow them are,” he said, citing as an example the indictment of a National Security Agency worker who told a Baltimore Sun reporter about a failed technology program.

“As war becomes less visible and becomes its own ‘dark ops,’ reporters are trying to punch through and bring accountability,” he said. Carr added that while it’s easy to say leak-based scoops come gift-wrapped, they usually come from reporters working hard and asking the right questions. Continue reading “Pushing back against the White House anti-leak crusade”