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.

Gitell on Jewish war veterans

Friend of Media Nation Seth Gitell hasn’t had to give up all his writing since becoming House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s spokesman. Recently he wrote a fascinating piece about about Jewish veterans of the Vietnam War, pegged to a book by Col. Jack Jacobs and Douglas Century titled “If Not Now, When?”

In the course of exploring Jacobs’ book, Gitell discusses his father, Gerald Gitell, himself a member of the Green Berets. The elder Gitell — who helped discover Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, whose “Ballad of the Green Berets” was an unlikely hit in 1966 — was an uncredited source of mine when I wrote about the 2001 revelation that former senator Bob Kerrey had committed war crimes in Vietnam. (Pay no attention to the date at the top of the page; it’s merely a script that displays today’s date.)

Seth writes:

Back in the late 1960s, American Jews weren’t exactly renowned for their fighting skills. Jewish service in World War II (such as my grandfather’s) had been taken for granted as part of the total war effort America waged against the Axis Powers. But Jews as fighting men still hadn’t entered the general consciousness.

Indeed, as Seth notes, Jewish antiwar radicals such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were far better known during the Vietnam years than any Jewish military officers. In that respect, Jacobs’ book is something of a forgotten history.

Gitell moves on, suspends (left) and Media Nation at
Seth’s 40th birthday party, November 2008

I’ve been holding off until it became official, but now it can be told. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has named friend of Media Nation Seth Gitell as his director of communications. DeLeo’s gain is our loss — Seth explains why he’s giving up his widely read blog, in which he expertly covered everything from politics to food.

Seth may be best known as Mayor Tom Menino’s former spokesman, but before that we were colleagues at the Boston Phoenix. Here’s my account of our last road trip — a Rudy Giuliani event in Durham, N.H., in December 2007, which Seth covered for the now-defunct New York Sun and I covered for the Guardian.

Good luck, Seth. And here’s an excellent Web site you can bookmark for your new boss.

Lesson not learned

Seth Gitell explains one of the fundamental mistakes of the McCain campaign:

I know from my own reporting that McCain campaign operatives examined the Deval Patrick-Kerry Healey race in 2006. They saw how Healey’s tough law and order ads not only failed but also sent the campaign into a downward spiral. Those mean-spirited [ads] alienated independent swing voters and had no resonance in what was then very much a “change” election. Yet despite that knowledge they made the same mistake.

Gitell’s right, and there’s a larger theme, too. For 10 years, McCain has been campaigning on the idea that he can offer a higher level of leadership and independence. But when it finally came time to deliver, he turned over the single most important political task he’s ever undertaken to “operatives.”

Everyone’s got operatives. In most successful campaigns, though, the operatives work for the candidate. Conversely, in many losing efforts, the candidate ends up doing whatever the operatives tell him or her. That was certainly the case with the hapless Healey, who, in a matter of two weeks, morphed from respected if little-known moderate to right-wing nut.

There is no such thing as candidates who are better than their campaigns.

Seth Gitell on the setting of the Sun

I haven’t had a chance to take note of the New York Sun’s demise. Friend of Media Nation Seth Gitell, who wrote a political column for the Sun, weighs in usefully and at some length.

I’ve said this before, but the most fun I had in journalism was covering the two national conventions with Seth in 2000, when we were both working for the Boston Phoenix.

Last December I was able to enjoy a brief reprise, as Seth and I hit the road for a Rudy Giuliani event in New Hampshire, Seth covering it for the Sun and I for the Guardian.

Seth is a huge talent. Though it’s a shame he’s lost an important outlet, he’ll land on his feet.