2017 Toner Lecture: David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post


This lecture series grew out of the Toner Awards which we do every day— I’m sorry, every year. Every day would be too much. Robin Toner who was a national correspondent for the New York Times. She died nine years ago. She was an alumnus— alumna of the Newhouse School and when she died in 2008 her family endowed the Toner Prize which we give every year to a political journalist. And the idea was to try to inspire students and particularly students here at Newhouse to think about political reporting as a career. And so every year we give a prize. We have a contest, great political journalists submit their work, we pick somebody, we have an event down in Washington DC, and then we bring them back to campus in the fall to talk to students about their work and about the job of being a political journalist. So this year it gives me great pleasure to welcome to the Newhouse School David Alan Fahrenthold, who is a reporter, political reporter for The Washington Post. He also contributes to CNN and if you haven’t seen his work you probably have heard about his work because he was responsible for two really important stories during the 2016 political campaign. One of those stories involved contributions—political contributions made by Donald Trump’s foundation and David did the legwork of finding out about those contributions and basically found out there wasn’t very much to them. And in fact that the foundation really didn’t do much charitable giving. But probably the story that got him the most attention was a story he did about the Access Hollywood tapes. He was the one who broke that story that became one of the defining moments of that campaign and that horrified many people when they watch that presidential candidate on tape talking about how he interacted with women that he met for the first time and how easy it was to do things to them and have them not complain. It was an amazing story, people were horrified in that and that was some of David’s work so it’s really great to have him here today. Just a little bit more about him. He’s been working for the Post now for… What is it, David? Five years? FAHRENTHOLD: (off screen) Seventeen years. (laughter and applause) KAPLAN: (off screen) It’s pretty amazing because he’s only like 23 years old. BRANHAM: I know I know he started early. He’s a graduate of Harvard University, he wrote for the Harvard Crimson, he graduated with honors in 2000 so without further ado tonight we’ll have David talk a bit with Joel Kaplan, Professor Joel Kaplan, who himself at one time was a political reporter and he will share with you some of the… Joel will have a conversation with him and then he will open it up for questions later. If you’re tweeting about this you’ll see our hashtag #JournalismMatters. I hope you will tweet. Also, #TonerLecture, so we’re hoping that you all will light things up on social media and that people have an opportunity to follow us to see and take part in the conversation. David, and I hope he’ll mention a little bit about this, he talked about the fact that Twitter has been responsible for helping him on many stories and that he gets ideas that people follow him but also share information with him and then he also a lot of his news now like I’m sure many of you get their news from Twitter so it’ll be interesting. Hopefully you’ll talk a little bit about that, So David Fahrenthold, Joel Kaplan, thank you all for being here tonight. (applause) KAPLAN: I’m so looking forward to this. I understand Billy Bush is in the audience. He might have a question for you later. FAHRENTHOLD: Unfortunately he doesn’t have very much to do now. KAPLAN: I’m also told that you speak really fast so that way I can get twice as many questions in there. But I want to start – you’re from Houston so Hurricane Harvey did it—I assume you still have family members there. Did it hit close or… FAHRENTHOLD: A lot of my relatives have actually moved to DC. I don’t have a lot of relatives there now, but I have a lot of friends who did incredible things, saved people from… in their boats. One of my friends is a doctor at Texas Children’s and coordinated this rescue of all these children with dialysis, bringing into the hospital. So people did some amazing things and had a lot of damage. KAPLAN: And where you grew up, though, was that affected? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah. People, I think, never knew there was a—Houston, for those of you who haven’t been to Houston, you really try to avoid any contact with the outdoors as much as you can. So there was a… Buffalo Bayou ran through my neighborhood. I don’t think anybody knew that because you would never voluntarily go outside to go look at the water. It’s too hot, there’s too many mosquitoes. Yeah, so a lot of people did flood out in the neighborhood. KAPLAN: Any desire for you, once you heard about that to fly down there and cover the hurricane? FAHRENTHOLD: Yes a little but they actually tried to get me to go, but like four hours before the hurricane hit, and I was not about to fly into the middle of the hurricane, so I did a lot of rewrite stuff from the Post but didn’t go down there. The people that we send down there, actually, the people who did the best were people who’ve been, like, war correspondents, people who live without water and food for a long time, people who were used to working in some very rough circumstances. Those are people who were sort of, for us did the most good (inaudible) KAPLAN: Let’s start getting the good stuff but first I want you to maybe talk a little bit about your career path. You kind of did the old school career path, went to an Ivy League school no journalism, did it while you worked unlike Eli Saslow a great Washington Post reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize we came through who came through the Newhouse School but in the old days many people went your route, nowadays is not quite as common, so tell us, you know did you always want to be a journalist, and how you got to the post right out of college looks like FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, I feel very lucky. I got into the Post at the sort of end of the print boom. It was so long ago when I’m making all this money off the print newspaper. They were hiring people like crazy. We were like, you know, we had so much money, we were doing stupid things like, “We’re gonna challenge the the Baltimore Sun in Baltimore. We’re gonna send people out to these like horse country suburbs where nobody even thinks of themselves as Washingtonians.” We were wasting money, and wasting it on interns, so I got… They hired almost my entire intern class that year and I’m really… timing just worked great for me because I came in in the middle of a boom and then I stayed through some really lean years, you know, 2007 to 2013, where people were taking buyouts, we were struggling with the business model and so basically… When I started I looked ahead of this really long hierarchy of people above me and then most of them got bought out, they were just, they were too expensive they’ve been there too long. And so all of a sudden sort of all these people left and I was sort of too young and cheap to get rid of, so I’ve been able to sort of… I sort of had the good fortune of coming in right behind that wave. I stayed long enough to have Jeff Bezos buy us and sort of be part of this new Renaissance of the Post which I never thought was gonna happen. KAPLAN: Well, did you go in knowing that one of your goals was to be a political reporter? FAHRENTHOLD: No, in fact I thought that was the last thing that I wanted to do. I wanted to be a national correspondent. We used to be these people who are like, somebody in LA, somebody in Austin, somebody in Seattle. You could roam the country and write about whatever was happening in your region in the world. I got to be there for one year, in Boston. I was then the New England regional correspondent, which was an amazing job, just doing the most fun, interesting stories but then we ran out of money, all those people got… those jobs got canceled and so there was a time at the Post when if you wanted to move up… The one thing we did that was at the top of the heap was politics. We cut back on all of our other ambitions but we still did the politics, and so I sort of… politics is where you wanted to be, and that’s where I ended up and it’s been fun. I would not like to do it forever. I’d like to do something else eventually. KAPLAN: But even with Bezos’s money they still don’t have foreign correspondents anymore, or national correspondents. FAHRENTHOLD: We have foreign correspondents, not as many as we used to.
We have national… we’re sort of starting to put people in places that’s… that makes a lot more sense than having them work in Washington and cover other places. But, you know, things like that we didn’t used to have money for before. So a few weeks ago I did this story about a fake Time magazine cover of Trump, like the fakest looking thing you’ve ever seen, hung up in his golf clubs. It showed himself. All of you in… your journalism school students. Time magazine never writes a cover that’s like, “This guy is doing great!” and the subhead is like, “He really is!” (laughter) Never happens. But he had hung this cover up on the wall, of himself, on the wall of his golf clubs. And one of the golf clubs, I got in and saw it. I took a picture of it, and I said, “Well where else is it?” Well, just, the new world we have. We have freelancers all over the world so, like, I want to find out if it’s hanging on the wall of his golf course in County Clare, Ireland, I can call up somebody in Dublin and have them they go over there the next day. So the reason we have, we don’t have national correspondents in the way we used to, but the reach we have of with stringers and freelancers is amazing and that’s a really new thing. KAPLAN: All right so now let’s get… move ahead How did you end up getting in on the Trump story? When did you end up getting on it and how did it come about? FAHRENTHOLD: So I covered the 2016 election since the end of 2014. I started on the 2016 election so long ago that the first story I wrote was about Republican frontrunner Chris Christie. I actually traveled around New Jersey to find all these people that Chris Christie had yelled at. That was the first story. So I wanted to do… this was 2015. I wanted to do stories about people, candidates, where you could really get to meet them up close. I didn’t want to cover somebody who was surrounded by a big crowd of reporters and you just had to go to rallies. I wanted to see people, you know, candidates you could really meet. That meant that I basically covered losers, like long shots and losers, so I covered like Bobby Jindal. I did a long profile of Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry..
KAPLAN: it sounds like a Jeopardy category. FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah. These are people that you forgot ever ran. I have some advice for journalists. If you’re ever thinking about profiling somebody as I was about Bobby Jindal and you look up in the polling numbers to see what that person’s polling numbers are and it’s actually not even a number…
KAPLAN: It’s an asterisk.
FAHRENTHOLD: It’s n-slash-a. Don’t write that story. So I profiled Bobby Jindal, who never went anywhere. So, all of them dropped out, basically. I really enjoyed being that close to those people and getting to see their campaigns up close but they had all dropped out even by the time we got to be Iowa caucuses. So the day of the Iowa caucuses all my candidates were kaput and they said, “Okay, well, go to Iowa.” The caucuses are at night, so caucus day and there’s campaigning on the day, it’s not like a regular election day, and then they go caucus in the evening. So I said… They said, “Go follow Trump around for his last campaign events,” because it seemed like Trump… This guy had been married three times, he had been on the cover of Playboy twice, he was gonna win this state that was so socially conservative you know, the state of Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. The Christian conservatives are gonna go to Trump. It wasn’t that crazy.
KAPLAN: Ted Cruz. FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah. Ted Cruz won, barely. So I followed Trump around for that day and I saw him do this weird thing in the town of Waterloo, Iowa, where he stopped this rally and he called a charity up on-stage, a local Veterans charity from Waterloo. He gave them this giant check, like a golf tournament-sized check. So you can see it all the way in the back for $100,000 from the Trump Foundation and they said “Oh, you know, thank you so much. We’re gonna use this for such good works.” They sat down. The rally restarted. That’s unusual. I’ve never seen that before because probably that kind of thing is illegal. You can’t use a charity to boost a presidential campaign, and it got me interested in where was that money coming from, where did it go, where was the rest of it? It turned out that Trump had raised six million dollars for veterans at this telethon he had a few days earlier, while he was skipping the Fox News debate.
So I thought, “Okay, well…” I had watched all the video of his other rallies… KAPLAN: So, prior to that, you had never written a story about charities?
FAHRENTHOLD: No. Never, never. KAPLAN: So basically you were going in here, like journalists do all the time, with an idea but blind to how things work? FAHRENTHOLD: Completely blind. And I thought that… so I was like, “Well, okay, he said he raised $6 million for veterans I saw him give away $100,000, where’s the rest? And so I watched all his previous rallies where he’d given checks away and I could get like a million dollars out of watching those, but then he stopped, and that’s like $4.9 million unaccounted for and I liked that story because it was so concrete. Right? So much about Trump is… like, I feel like so much of covering Trump was like sort of norms and trying to pin him down and make him ashamed of the things that he done that were shameful or trying to pin him down in the flip-flop or a lie and it was… He was so sort of slippery and unsatisfying. I liked this because there were numbers. There was a concrete thing you could write about. That money existed, it went to somebody, and I could figure out where it went. And so I… but I didn’t think it was nine-month story. I thought it was a two-day story, so I called the Trump campaign and said, “Okay, he raised six million dollars. I know we’re 1.1 million of it went. Where’s the rest?” Thinking they would get back to me in like two days and then that I’d write that story and go on to something else, but they didn’t get back to me because they hadn’t given money away and that was the beginning of something that sort of slowly built into this kind of year-long project.
KAPLAN: All right, so you really know nothing about how charities KAPLAN: All right, so you really know nothing about how charities work or operate except except some vague notion that you probably gave to like the United Way at the Washington Post?”
FAHRENTHOLD: Not even that. KAPLAN: Yeah, and so, how did you educate yourself in this? FAHRENTHOLD: This was a really interesting reporting assignment because I really knew so little and it’s a complicated world. So I started by getting all the documents that I could. Thankfully if you cover charities, the IRS requires charities to produce something called the IRS Form 990 that lists… actually, a lot. The incoming money, the balance they have, the money they give out, so I got that.
KAPLAN: And not just charities, all not for profit Syracuse University has to file a 990 as well.
FAHRENTHOLD: Exactly. So the Trump Foundation had produced these 990s and I could get some information out of that. Um… and I would call, I tried to find in, like, former IRS people who are the law firms to explain things to me. it took me a while to find… So one of the challenges of this story… I used to cover the environment, and one of the ways this story was like that was that it’s hard to find people who knew the subject well enough to be experts but could pull themselves out of it and explain it to a lay person. Right? So you spent a lot of time talking to people who could understand it but you couldn’t quote them because nothing it was not really any more clear… KAPLAN: They were giving you a road map, though.
FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah. To know what other documents to pull, what other things to look for. So the more I started doing that, the more I started finding things the Trump Foundation had done that looked possibly illegal, looked like they might have been against the law and the more I started trying to figure out where Trump had promised to give money to people when he hadn’t given at all. But it… for me so much of this was learning what’s legal what’s normal, what’s expected, what’s an honor system between sort of legal and normal, and so that took a while.
KAPLAN: Were there other people in the newsroom who you could go to help you with this or…?
FAHRENTHOLD: No, we had a philanthropy reporter a while back, but we don’t anymore, so it was really sort of stumbling around in the dark and they were actually… This was a really interesting experience for me because there were a lot of times when I would find something today, find out a fact today, even report it today, and then three weeks from now, I’d find some source, or some expert and I’d realize, “Hell, that thing I wrote about three weeks ago, that was illegal. And that was a really big deal that I knew about it. A lot of times my analysis hadn’t caught up with the facts that I had… You know, the facts hadn’t caught up with the analysis. KAPLAN: So basically when you… from the eve of the Iowa caucuses through the election, almost all your stories had to do with his charitable contributions?
FAHRENTHOLD: Well there were sort of two phases. In the beginning the editors didn’t think this was a big deal, and so they had me doing a bunch of other stories. After Iowa, I was trying to figure out what had happened, specifically to the six million dollars he promised to veterans. You know, I was calling, not getting answers, trying everything I could to try to figure out where the six million dollars had gone because the Trump campaign was stone-walling me. During that time, they were not that interested, and so they had me doing other stories about Ted Cruz and Rubio, Clinton, and other people. But then we had this thing where in late May one of the questions I was trying to answer was of the six million dollars Trump said one million dollars would come out of his own pocket, five million came from other people. A million dollars came from him and I couldn’t find any evidence that anybody had gotten the million dollars. It was his, you’d think that would be the easiest for him to give away, it comes right out of his pocket. I couldn’t find any evidence anybody had gotten it and Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager then called me and he said, “Actually, look I can’t tell you” – now this was at the end of May when the reporting had started in February – “I can tell you the Donald Trump has given away all six– all the million dollars that was coming out of his pocket but I can’t tell you who got it or what amounts or when or anything else. It’s all secret. But you should know for sure that he gave away two million bucks.”
(laughter) KAPLAN: Trust me.
FAHRENTHOLD: Trust me. Right? And Corey Lewandowski has not earned that level of trust. I mean no one has, right? But especially not him. So then I said, “Okay, well how am I gonna check this?” Right? I can’t call every charity in America. I can’t even call every veteran’s charity in America. There’s too many of them. So I’m gonna try to prove a positive. I’m gonna try to find… use Twitter to find somebody that will come forward and say, “Yeah I got $100,000 from Donald Trump. I got some of that million dollars.” So I spent the day searching for anybody who would say, “Yes, I got some of that money,” and, you know, trying, like, veteran’s advocates, veterans magazines, veterans groups, veterans… you know celebrities who have a lot of… do a lot of work with veterans. Anybody I could it would sort of amplify this search. I’m looking for this money I’m going to prove Donald Trump right. And every query I always included you know “@“ Donald Trump because we know Trump searches Twitter for his own name so I thought he’d find it and they, you know, he’s the only one that really knows. So I thought he would sort of fess up and tell me what he’d done and so I spent a day searching on Twitter and hadn’t found anything. Everybody that got back to me said, no they never heard of this money, they had never gotten any money. At the end of the day I felt like I’ve just wasted a day, like, I just I felt like the oldest person in the world like I tried the stupid social media thing it’s just a total bust. That night after my public search Donald Trump actually gave a million dollars away and so when Lewandowski told me he had given a million dollars it was still in his pocket. He only gave it away after I had made this public search. KAPLAN: And then didn’t he call you a loser?
FAHRENTHOLD: Nasty guy.
KAPLAN: Nasty guy.
FAHRENTHOLD: The next time the said, “Okay, I gave a million dollars away to this group,” and I… and they were called the Marine Corps Law-Enforcement Foundation and I said, “Well, you know you promised Marine Corps Law-Enforcement Foundation and I said, “Well, you know you promised this money four months ago, why did you give it away now? Why did you wait four months and give it away now?” and he said, “Well, I had to vet the group that I was giving it to.” And it turned out, I just knew from other reporting that this veterans group, they had given him like a Lifetime Achievement Award, a Man of the Year award the year before at this big gala at the Waldorf-Astoria.
KAPLAN: Made the cover of Time.
FAHRENTHOLD: It was TV Guide that time. They had given him like a whole gala in his honor this and I was like, “After that, you had to vet them? It took you four months to vet them after they gave you this big reward?” and he said, “Oh yeah that’s true,” and I said, “Well, would you not have given this money away if it hadn’t been for me searching for it?” and that’s when he called me a nasty guy. That was the last time I talked to him. (laughter) Maybe that was why, I sort of forget why, but the upshot was that it was all secret. KAPLAN: All right, I have a couple of bigger picture questions, but the first question is now that you you’ve kind of stepped back, which story that you did from the caucuses to election are you most proud of and why?
FAHRENTHOLD: It’s a really interesting question and to me… It’s not the Access Hollywood story. That was great that that sort of fell in our lap and the actual reporting of that wasn’t that hard. Some of the stories that… We wrote this story right before the election that sort of summed up everything we knew about his charitable giving. It began with this incredible scene that like, a random reader in the email (inaudible) 1995, Donald Trump – so just thinking about the way the Trump had constructed this facade of being generous, like being a generous sort of playboy and then the difference between that facade and the reality. So in 1995, there’s this orphanage. It’s opening on the west side- the upper west side of Manhattan and they were having their ribbon cutting. Big ceremony, the TV cameras are there. Trump has never given these people a dime and then they saved seats up on the dais, like, you know, in front of everybody for their big donors, like, Frank and Kathy Lee Gifford were there, I think Mayor Dinkins, Mayor Giuliani were there. The priest was there, and then they had saved a seat for this guy who was a real estate investor, given a lot of money to open this orphanage. As the time is getting closer for this event Trump, who again who has never had any contact with this organization, has never given any money, shows up and steals the guy’s seat on stage, sits on stage in the seat reserved for this big donor and everyone’s like, “What do we do? Donald Trump is here,” and then it starts. And so Donald Trump sings This Little Light of Mine with all the orphans and he does the Macarena with the orphans, the whole thing, he goes through this whole ceremony where he’s, you know, by association being honored as like a donor to this group and everyone’s who’s, like, working the group is like, “That’s weird.” A, there are real donors now in the audience that are pissed off because his seat has been stolen, and also, they are like, “Well, I mean, no one would come to this thing and not give a donation afterward. Maybe Donald Trump is going to surprise us at the end with a 10 million dollar check.” When it ends he leaves and never says anything to anybody ever again about that event. KAPLAN: Not even $7?
FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, not even $7. To find out that and like all the other things we documented about how he used the charity to buy things, to buy paintings of himself. He used it to pay off his business’s debts. I thought, like, we had really done this great… We’d written this the Friday before Halloween, so close to the election, we’ve done all this great stuff. We’d done a portrait of this guy who wanted to create… it… he knew that part of being rich and sort of a playboy in America was being generous and he wanted to play that role and he wanted to do as little as possible to actually live up to the substance of that, sort of charitable reputation that he had actually given himself. I was really proud of this story I thought we really summed things up and like the day before it came out, the Jim Comey letter happened and not many people paid attention but I thought by the end we had taken this part of Trump’s life that he had spent so much time trying to construct a facade and hide the reality and show you the reality and I was really proud of that. KAPLAN: So that was my favorite story as well, but let’s talk a little bit about the timing of that story. It happened a week before the election, or the weekend before the week before the election. Was there an urgency before the election but I didn’t think that we… in terms of, like, would it unfairly bias people toward Trump. about, well, might this not influence the election?
FAHRENTHOLD: We definitely wanted to get it in before the election but I didn’t think that we… in terms of, like, would it unfairly bias people toward Trump. I feel like it was summarizing something that we’ve been telling you about in bits and pieces all throughout the year so it… You know, newsrooms are always reluctant to, like, drop a really big story about one candidate two days before the election but this is not me telling you something new about Trump. It’s telling, you know, summarizing something you should have already known.
KAPLAN: So here’s my big question for you, then. So you’ve spent 14 months you would think that you did so much… On election night, what did you think? culminating… not, well, in that story but also in the Access Hollywood story. Which you would think that you did so much… On election night, what did you think? FAHRENTHOLD: So on election night my job was… there was two of us, me and a reporter named [inaudible] our job was to write the web lead all for this story, so like the main web story of the website that would carry all the results of the night so in the beginning of the night it was like, polls are closing, here are the early returns, but we knew at some point in the night our story was going to be the one that said Clinton wins or Trump wins. And so you can’t just write… you can’t have… to write that story, the way to write that is called prewriting so we split it up that afternoon. She had taken the Clinton wins version, I took the Trump wins version. So I wrote this long story with Donald Trump winning the election. I had done it for Romney the last time around and I really liked my Romney story. (laughter) KAPLAN: He’s at Mara Lago right now.
FAHRENTHOLD: This time I was really struggling with it because, like, I was struggling to explain… I thought in a hypothetical sense, how shocking it would be for Donald Trump to win the election, you know. First president who has never served as governor or in the military. For, you know, all the things he’d done in this life and just how to communicate how stunning and surprising “Don’t count North Carolina out, Charlottesville is out.” And then, you know, Clinton never came back and was never up in those places and so at 2:30 in the morning we posted the story that I had written in the afternoon saying that Trump had won and immediately I got a troll e-mail saying, “Ha Ha! You lost! Tough one!” that night remembers people were like, “Well, don’t count Florida out,” or “Broward County is still out,” “Don’t count North Carolina out, Charlottesville is out.” And then, you know, Clinton never came back and was never up in those places and so at 2:30 in the morning we posted the story that I had written in the afternoon saying that Trump had won and immediately I got a troll e-mail saying, “Ha Ha! You lost! Tough one!” from some guy who had been waiting until like 2:30 in the morning and I wrote the guy back then like I’ve never been part of an event where the outcome was so surprising like you felt like Like, if you like Donald Trump your job is to, like, get out and help him, you know, to help him succeed. It’s going to be hard. you know a year of your life to kind of expose and obviously no one listened to you. FAHRENTHOLD: No one? That is harsh. (laughter) KAPLAN: So your role, the role of all journalists, is to inform the public. What they do with that information is up to them? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah and this is the classic example of it, right? And that’s the only job that you can hope to have because as someone who’s kind of written
stories in that… in that vein a little bit. I mean basically what you’ve reported I mean basically what you’ve reported over that year was a massive example of self dealing and that he would go and he would maybe give a speech for $100,000, like you’re giving today, and… FAHRENTHOLD: His rates are much higher. foundation.” So really he wasn’t paying the foundation, but he was earning the money but it served two purposes. One is,
he didn’t have to pay taxes on it and secondly he was then using the foundation as kind of his personal piggy bank so that he could then buy portraits, pay legal fees,
so he’s really skirting the laws that the rest of us all have to do.
FAHRENTHOLD: Right.
KAPLAN: How is that A, not illegal and B, how was he never caught prior to this
and why are there no consequences for those things? FAHRENTHOLD: Well, it is illegal. I guess that the first thing to say, it’s totally illegal to use your My wife’s family has a small family foundation, they have… they follow the letter of the law, right? They have lawyers they have annual meetings… like ,you know, it’s like her, her father and her sister and they go by the Robert’s Rules of Order, anything the IRS could ever care [inaudible] it’s an honor system. They’re afraid… they’re afraid of the IRS and also they just follow it because it’s an honor system and but it really is mostly honor system it was pretty clear that this was illegal so why…? KAPLAN: All right, so I’m going to ask you maybe to surmise, maybe you can’t do it, but obviously he refused to give out his
taxes and everyone’s, “Well, it’s because he didn’t give any money to charity,”
although you kind of proved that. So I’m not sure that would be the reason he wouldn’t do it because…. and then you know because there’s Russian money, and tax, all of that might not show up either. Do you have any idea? KAPLAN: Well, because obviously he wants everyone to know that he’s worth $10 million and and there was a book written that showed that he wasn’t and he sued them, right? So during that year that you were reporting on this, was there a story that one of your competitors wrote or broadcast that you were jealous of? he was then using the foundation as kind of his personal piggy bank so that he like, big galas at Mara Lago, or golf tournaments, those are big clients of his so it’s been helpful to know about the rest of us all have to do.
FAHRENTHOLD: Right.
KAPLAN: How is that A, not illegal and B, Special Counsel, is looking at the
Russian connection but he has a broad portfolio. You think he’ll get into any of this? KAPLAN: But the New York Attorney General, does he have…? Can he prosecute him criminally or only civilly for these things? KAPLAN: And just one quick some of them will go… so you… what are your future plans? What would you like to cover in the future? The thing that I’ve done at the Post that I love the most, the job that I really enjoy the most, well, I love covering New England, but I love covering government bureaucracy. I did that for a couple of years where I took these stories and like, starting with like, an incredibly stupid thing the government did and then, like KAPLAN: So I have one more question. Any reaction to you or people in the newsroom about they just follow it because it’s an honor system and but it really is mostly honor system Bezos, who is the owner of the Post, what
kind of reaction to that? KAPLAN: Yeah. Okay enough of me. Let’s have some questions. There you go, right there. In the Syracuse orange. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Just a question about the campaign in general. It’s reported that there was over five billion dollars of free coverage Trump
got from the press and Hillary Clinton couple phone calls and they never did. The IRS just doesn’t have the capacity to do that. effect how Trump was elected elected? Trump partly through all the free media
and I think he really… they made him sort of the star in the agenda-setter of the
campaign. I mean, I can’t tell you that he would have lost the election without
that coverage, but I think there was a tendency to treat him… I mean, like,
Saturday Night Live let him host the show. There was a tendency to treat him as, like, an entertainer, or a star instead of just a presidential candidate. That
brought a lot of money into a lot of presidential (inaudible) a lot of TV networks, but was not really justified by any sort of like journalistic need and wasn’t
accompanied by journalism. There wasn’t effort to, like–You know, to try
to find out what he actually believed. There was some, but it was not equal to this
sort of just giving him a platform to reach a bunch of people. So, yeah, I think they… I think the media did play a role and elevated KAPLAN: How many, you know… you told me the last time he talked to you was when they when he called you a… what did he call…?
FAHRENTHOLD: Nasty guy. point on to the election? “Look, you know, bleep him, we’re never talking to him again.” (inaudible) I asked for a comment like 400 times KAPLAN: You definitely look like a killer to me. KAPLAN: Right here in front, young man. Yep. No, you. Yeah yeah yeah yeah. nobody would check because they just
assumed everybody did it the same way.
And the IRS which was supposed to do the AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m wondering how you are viewing what I view as a threat to democracy from Facebook and other social media. I mean
the unedited… obviously, you know infiltrated media now is a danger and how would you… how do you deal with that in the print media? in the print media? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, I don’t think we understood it. I definitely understand how bad it was. those, like, teenagers in Macedonia, made up stories about like, the Pope endorses Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, you know, worships Satan or whatever, but there was some that was planted by the Russians for the intent of, like, undermining our democracy. I think that
we did not… As journalists I don’t know, I don’t think we understood the nature of that, even as it’s happening. And, you know Facebook, particularly, the content and they just sort of sell it to… either they sell it to us but they And in their most recent tax filing they didn’t check the box that said, “I did something illegal.” really responsible right they’re not taking on a function of editing or vetting. Of course, they do, the edit out violent content and other sexually explicit things so it’s gonna be interesting for them. You’re seeing Mark Zuckerberg, the guy’s the head of Facebook, he was doing this weird tour when he like went around Iowa not sure that would be the reason he wouldn’t do it because…. and then you know like sell himself to the public. I think they have to really understand is the role they play in American society and
the responsibility that comes with that. They’re gonna be the primary news source for all these people. I mean, set aside whatever the legal consequences are from
what happened in 2016, I mean there’s a moral responsibility to make sure that you’re not letting another country poison our democracy. Well, I don’t know… but to do that, really, how much work would it take? How much effort would they have to, you know, they would have to cut into their business to their very lucrative business model to make that happen? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Freedom of speech?
(laughter) to spend a lot of time going on social media in saying, “This is true, this is true, this isn’t true, this is… ’cause that could take up all your time? spreading the original falsehood. I don’t think that’s a good idea to have us be the platform of spreading our role is but I don’t want to make us sort of the police because we’ll never be enough. and just move on from.I thought that was really interesting, and I don’t know what it is about him Tribune. If you’re familiar with it and
its kind of model of using kind of citizen journalism mixed with standards-based journalism, what are your thoughts on it and do you think it could kind of mitigate that some of that danger that the gentleman before me was speaking about? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, my name is (inaudible) I’m a newspaper student here. A little while ago you just broadcast that you were jealous of? I was just wondering what angles you might have gone into on the actual campaign, like what issues you might have looked into, what events might have occurred that made you look deeper in? People often wanted to compare the Trump Foundation to the Clinton Foundation, all right? Both are legitimate things to write about and they sound similar but they’re so different. The Trump Foundation was basically like a checkbook. It didn’t have any employees, it didn’t have any mission, really it just sort of serves to further the sort of social and business interests of Donald Trump. Its main cause was Trump himself. The Clinton Foundation had a lot of people, a lot of money, you know, it did good in the world
but it also you know allowed Trump allowed Clinton to, like, you know, create these links with people who might want something from the US State Department. It’s an important story. It’s important vision– view into her character, the way that she and Bill Clinton saw themselves and what they were sort of above the law and above norms. But it was just so different than the Trump Foundation, which is like breaking the most sort of penny-ante rules, but I was glad to cover both. (inaudble) write stories… me and another reporter would team up and sort of explain, here’s the difference, but I didn’t write that much about it or really that much about Hillary. It’s hard for me to say what
I would do about Hillary, just cause I read that stuff but I didn’t write any of it, so I didn’t really think about that. you would have been going in to Health and Human Services and hunting and finding like raisins, but if they had said, no, you gotta cover the Clinton administration, where would your focus have been? covering the agencies and I think they’re really interesting… they’re interesting now, really, but they would have been interesting in that context too as they tried to, sort of, like, govern without a legislative branch. you like to cover in the future? capitals but the bureaucracy has gone uncovered. Where, where is, you know, Des Moines Register used to cover the US
Department of Agriculture and yet you had people all over these agencies now none of them are being covered. being covered. the public can’t even… It’s a huge loss. have so much power, right, and there’s such a huge… we cover Congress and the president and their intentions and when they pass a law, what they intend for it to do but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.
The bureaucracy is what actually determines– takes that intention and translates it into an action and it’s so interesting… it… like, it’s hard to cover in some ways because it’s so obscure but like the outcomes are
interesting and the people are interesting, but we don’t do enough of
that. I think that I’m hopeful. The Times actually, has really kick our butts on this. They have… they (inaudible) and a few of their people have done a lot of great stories
about the EPA now, the FDA… I’m sorry, the Department of Ag, Bezos, who is the owner of the Post, what
kind of reaction to that? appointees and we really haven’t done
that and it’s it’s a loss because those things are so important and if you work a little hard at it, they’re interesting. nd so this is a possible way that Trump will make
journalism great again because well the the focus might be on some of the places there it always should have been on. Right? He (inaudible) Fox & Friends, and he exudes all his energy on The New York Times. Uh, so he… he by very little, and so he’s devolved power to all these people that we weren’t covering that much before. Agency heads, you know, Ben Carson and stuff over at the EPA, but also people in Congress like the people in Congress who have sort of… because Republicans had not had enough power to really do anything they have been sort of cut off from the responsibility of governing and now you’re seeing, you know, McCain, Murkowski, Susan Collins, you know, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, all these people in Congress emerge as, like, decision makers and interesting personalities in their own right because they are key in making the decision because Trump isn’t doing it, Trump doesn’t know enough to do it. So I KAPLAN: Yeah. Okay enough of me. Let’s have some questions. There you go, right there. Washington decision-makers, more than just the White House. Which is never really where all the decisions are made, but now under Trump it’s much more obvious the
decision-making is is among a bunch of other interesting people. already called on you once. I’ll call on you…
All right, you can go. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, I’m (inaudible), good evening. Thank you so much for speaking. I wanted to ask what would you say, and you can talk about
this at the personal viewpoint, how has fake news changed the way you report stories? a lot of people in the first days reporting things that turned out not to be true or they turned out to be sort of partially true just because it seemed
like under Trump, you know, we didn’t know what was sort of within the bounds of the possible anymore. So we have to be sure that we don’t report things that are wrong and that we don’t take Trump’s chaos as an excuse to not check facts that’s the first thing. The second thing
is that I’ve tried to give people more of a view into how I do my job, you know, how, where I’m looking, how I’m checking, what the evidence I’m doing is–I’m finding is–so that when I put out the final product, you’ve seen it come together and you might have more trust in it. So there still are people that–we did this
story on Monday about um… yesterday about Trump’s businesses losing customers. So,
like, he’s depended on charities and sports teams and other people to rent all rooms and golf courses and other things from him, and a lot of them aren’t doing it anymore because they don’t want to be associated with him. And so we wrote a story, we had all these examples and quoted everybody on the record, like, nothing is secret, nothing is on background, all the people in the story are quoted by name, you know, and we’ve been sort of reporting it out of the open so if you’ve been paying attention, you can see us doing that and some guy wrote in and was like, “That’s fake news!” Like, I don’t even know what–what are you talking about? Like, did I make up these charities? Like, I don’t understand what the part is you think is fake, and so I want to give people more of a sense (inaudible). A, I’m open to
every side of the story and B, you’ve seen me report this so you know what lengths I’m going to to make sure it’s right. That to me is the best thing we can do to try to combat fake news news is we show… It’s interesting, first of all, people like seeing journalists sort of work. I think people like watching that kind of, like, the hunt for facts, but also it It gives people confidence if they can see how you’re doing it. That’s the best I can think of. KAPLAN: Is there a fear though that you might be set up because this is such an unusual administration? That it’s not just an adversarial situation, but that they “Dan, we found some holes in your reporting. The Trump campaign says this, this, and this.” And I learned from you’ll report something wrong so they
can jump in and once, and once David if this is wrong obviously all his reporting that’s wrong. very much, but yeah, there were stories where they were bragging that they got reporters to write things that were wrong and (inaudible) I think, good reporters to write things that are wrong. I mean the trouble with covering this White House is there’s not a White House, right? Before, it was that the White House says X, there was an expect– expectation that, like, everybody was on the same page, you know for the most part. If there was dissent in the White House that was a big deal. But now you have five different factions, all of whom think that the way to get to Donald Trump’s ear is to say it to the New
York Times or the Washington Post or to CNN. And so, like, the White House, you know,
White House official says X, that could be Steve Miller could be Steve Bannon pushing one agenda, or it could be Gary Cohen pushing some other agenda. So I think people have to be wary about that. To me, personally, and I understand why these stories get written but my policy has been just not to, like, retweet, talk about publicized stories that are about what Trump is “considering,” right? Trump is “considering” doing this, he’s “considering” you know, everything from, like, you know mass deportations and legalizing the dreamers. He’s considering all these things because somebody… he may not even know about that but somebody
the White House might say that to a reporter in the hopes that he will consider
it. I just don’t think that in the past stories about the White House is considering X, what that really meant was, the White House is gonna do X in a week and it wants to put that out there now so that if anybody has objections, they’ll get them out in the open, it’s a trial balloon. Now “the White House is considering X” means, if like Trump may have seen it on television and then he forgot about it, like, it’s not an actual guide to what they’re gonna do and it gets people spun up in all these different directions without any progress, so for me, I just don’t… I don’t want to talk about or report on stories about what they’re considering. I wanna talk about what they’re gonna do. And what they, right now, what they may put into action which is a very small subset of the
things that they’re supposed to consider. KAPLAN: Alright, how about one in the back there, right there in the middle? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. Okay, so my question is, what is it like covering the White House and this president? And what do you think are the
potential threats to freedom of press? They’ll say things that are wrong on the record. How many times have you seen Sean Spicer or Sarah really responsible right they’re not taking on a function of editing or vetting. president thinks this and the president
themselves contradicts them the next day? It’s hard if the official spokespeople are not reliable, and that before was sort of, of course, if they say it from the podium on the record, it’s real. I think there are reporters… I’ve benefitted from, at least in the pre-John Kelly era and some now, the fact that these people are all (inaudible) against each other. They see the news media as a way of getting to Trump and so they’re all talking… We used to have these stories that, like, 25 people in the West Wing had told us, had been sources for our stories, like, I didn’t know there were 25 people in the West Wing. inside this White House. And even in the times when Trump has invited us, our reporters, in, like, there was a there was like three health care bills ago when the house was considering, when the health care bill failed for the first time the house, Trump was on the phone, like, trying to strong-arm Republicans and House members to vote for some whatever the current
repeal bill was and Bob Costa, one of our reporters, is in the White House talking to somebody else and they were like, “Hey come on,” so Trump has Costa sit in the White House on the oval office couch and puts the congressman, it was Joe Barton from Texas, on the speakerphone he starts haranguing Joe Barton on speaker
phone to vote for this bill with Costa sitting right there. The congressman doesn’t know. Like, how much more transparent can you get? Just because Trump thinks it’s cool to show off how he’s doing this. One thing Bob said actually in that FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, I… I don’t… I… am uncomfortable in that role because it lets somebody else set our consistent with Trump in health care, the haranguing was not like, “Okay, let’s horse trade, you want this particular provision change from doctors reimbursement but I want to take out this tax, you know, let’s trade,” trading you know the like actually horse trading no one ever thought about being able to horse trade. Trump was just like, “It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be awesome, I love it, it’s a big victory for all of us,” but that is as far and details as he’d gotten, so you can really see how like maybe he was… strong-arming wasn’t gonna be that effective. Okay so it’s a strange white house and they are, on the one hand, so transparent, on the other hand, so hard to trust. KAPLAN: You know it would be great to get
to Robert Caro who did the power brokering but also to the five volumes on Lyndon Johnson and have him compare and contrast Johnson versus Trump, right? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Michael, I’m a student here in newspaper. I was just kind of curious the fact that you were the charitable reporter throughout the campaign, knowing that there was not really any competition, did that do anything to kind of change your approach? Was it a different space to be in for you at all? Pulitzers were announced, had you already known you won? KAPLAN: But you never got notice on the Toner Award, because that was the more prestigious one and
they kept that from you. (laughter) FAHRENTHOLD: The Toner Award, I’ll take two stories. Toner Award, I wrote a story about this Trump has a golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, goes to often. He has this weird thing where he’s applied for like three different cemetery permits there and he’s told everybody in New Jersey he wants to be buried there. Well, nobody believes he wants to be buried in New Jersey. He like, I was like in New Jersey scoping out this land where he was going to, Trump wants to be buried, supposedly, and like talking to the… I was like just got off the phone with New Jersey
Cemetery Commission, its owner, or where people call, I was like a parking lot talking about cemeteries in New Jersey and I thought I was like– KAPLAN: Very appropriate . I didn’t win, so that, you know, like, Eli, Lester (inaudible) the year he won, I knew they told you on Friday like sometime in the afternoon, and you’re supposed to not tell anybody but if you don’t win as I had not won for many years, you just sort of hang around until like 11 o’clock Friday night money, you know, it did good in the world
but it also you know allowed Trump allowed Clinton to, like, you know, create these links with people who might want something from the US State Department. It’s an important story. It’s important vision– view into her character, the way that she and Bill Clinton saw themselves and what they were sort of above the law and above norms. But it was just so different than the Trump Foundation, which is like breaking the most sort of penny-ante rules, but I was glad to cover both. (inaudble) write stories… me and another reporter would team up and sort of explain, here’s the difference, but I didn’t write that much about it or really that much about Hillary. It’s hard for me to say what
I would do about Hillary, just cause I read that stuff but I didn’t write any of it, so I didn’t really think about that. KAPLAN: Had… well, so, had she been elected you would have been going in to Health and Human Services and hunting and finding like raisins, but if they had said, no, you gotta cover the Clinton administration, where would your focus have been? FAHRENTHOLD: It would have been really interesting to cover the bureaucracy because there would have been so little done legislatively, right? Imagine a Clinton presidency with a very hostile Republican congress, nothing’s gonna happen in Congress. If things are gonna happen, they’re gonna happen in the agencies, and I think that’s… like, we had not spent that much time covering the agencies and I think they’re really interesting… they’re interesting now, really, but they would have been interesting in that context too as they tried to, sort of, like, govern without a legislative branch. KAPLAN: So, you know, one of the fears is that kind of the economic destruction of the
journalism has been that not only state capitals but the bureaucracy has gone uncovered. Where, where is, you know, Des Moines Register used to cover the US
Department of Agriculture and yet you had people all over these agencies now none of them are being covered. FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, well, they’re being covered by… they often are covered by people but industry publications, so they’re being written for a very narrow audience, often pay-walled, so the public can’t even… It’s a huge loss. One of the things I really liked about
covering the bureaucracy was it they have so much power, right, and there’s such a huge… we cover Congress and the president and their intentions and when they pass a law, what they intend for it to do but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.
The bureaucracy is what actually determines– takes that intention and translates it into an action and it’s so interesting… it… like, it’s hard to cover in some ways because it’s so obscure but like the outcomes are
interesting and the people are interesting, but we don’t do enough of
that. I think that I’m hopeful. The Times actually, has really kick our butts on this. They have… they (inaudible) and a few of their people have done a lot of great stories
about the EPA now, the FDA… I’m sorry, the Department of Ag, the HUD, what’s happening to those agencies is they are being sort of dismantled or changed by Trump’s appointees and we really haven’t done
that and it’s it’s a loss because those things are so important and if you work a little hard at it, they’re interesting. KAPLAN: And so this is a possible way that Trump will make journalism great again because we’ll have… the focus might be on some of the places there it always should have been on. FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, I think one of the great things that Trump has done for Washington journalism is that he is relatively powerless. He’s somebody who talks a lot and does very little, and so he’s devolved power to all these people that we weren’t covering that much before. Agency heads, you know, Ben Carson and stuff over at the EPA, but also people in Congress like the people in Congress who have sort of… because Republicans had not had enough power to really do anything they have been sort of cut off from the responsibility of governing and now you’re seeing, you know, McCain, Murkowski, Susan Collins, you know, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, all these people in Congress emerge as, like, decision makers and interesting personalities in their own right because they are key in making the decision because Trump isn’t doing it, Trump doesn’t know enough to do it. So I think that’s been a really good cool
thing that we’re now covering in Washington decision-makers, more than just the White House. Which is never really where all the decisions are made, but now under Trump it’s much more obvious the
decision-making is is among a bunch of other interesting people. KAPLAN: Oh now we got some questions. Well, I already called on you once. I’ll call on you…
All right, you can go. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, I’m (inaudible), good evening. Thank you so much for speaking. I wanted to ask what would you say, and you can talk about
this at the personal viewpoint, how has fake news changed the way you report stories? FAHRENTHOLD: I think about that a lot, and, sort of, the accusation of fake news has… um… I think about that a lot and it’s changed the way I think about my job in a couple of ways. One is that if… especially in the beginning of the Trump administration there was this sense that sort of the Trump people were capable of anything. And a lot of people from the mainstream media ended up getting suckered into things that weren’t true just because it seemed like kinda all the rules were being broken, and.. and… you… it happened so fast, and I think people were tempted by the fact that the Trump people broke so many rules, we can break some of our rules. So, you saw… it happens less and less but there was a lot of people in the first days reporting things that turned out not to be true or they turned out to be sort of partially true just because it seemed
like under Trump, you know, we didn’t know what was sort of within the bounds of the possible anymore. So we have to be sure that we don’t report things that are wrong and that we don’t take Trump’s chaos as an excuse to not check facts so we can actually report things. That’s a… that’s the first thing. The second thing
is that I’ve tried to give people more of a view into how I do my job, you know, how, where I’m looking, how I’m checking, what the evidence I’m doing is–I’m finding is–so that when I put out the final product, you’ve seen it come together and you might have more trust in it. So there still are people that–we did this
story on Monday about um… yesterday about Trump’s businesses losing customers. So,
like, he’s depended on charities and sports teams and other people to rent all rooms and golf courses and other things from him, and a lot of them aren’t doing it anymore because they don’t want to be associated with him. And so we wrote a story, we had all these examples and quoted everybody on the record, like, nothing is secret, nothing is on background, all the people in the story are quoted by name, you know, and we’ve been sort of reporting it out of the open so if you’ve been paying attention, you can see us doing that and some guy wrote in and was like, “That’s fake news!” Like, I don’t even know what–what are you talking about? Like, did I make up these charities? Like, I don’t understand what the part is you think is fake, and so I want to give people more of a sense (inaudible). A, I’m open to
every side of the story and B, you’ve seen me report this so you know what lengths I’m going to to make sure it’s right. That to me is the best thing we can do to try to combat fake news news is we show… It’s interesting, first of all, people like seeing journalists sort of work. I think people like watching that kind of, like, the hunt for facts, but also it It gives people confidence if they can see how you’re doing it. That’s the best I can think of. KAPLAN: Is there a fear though that you might be set up because this is such an unusual administration? That it’s not just an adversarial situation, but that they would plant something or give you
something to make you go and then so you’ll report something wrong so they
can jump in and once, and once David if this is wrong obviously all his reporting that’s wrong. FAHRENTHOLD: Right. Oh, absolutely. I mean, I don’t deal with the actual Trump administration very much, but yeah, there were stories where they were bragging that they got reporters to write things that were wrong and (inaudible) I think, good reporters to write things that are wrong. I mean the trouble with covering this White House is there’s not a White House, right? Before, it was that the White House says X, there was an expect– expectation that, like, everybody was on the same page, you know for the most part. If there was dissent in the White House that was a big deal. But now you have five different factions all of
whom think that the way to get to Donald Trump’s ear is to say it to the New
York Times in the Washington Post to CNN and so like the White House you know
White House official says X that could be Steve Miller, could be Steve Bannon
pushing one agenda or it could be Gary Cohen pushing some other agenda so I think people have to be wary about that. To me personally… and I
understand why these stories get written but my policy has been just not to like
retweet, talk about, publicize stories that are about what Trump is considering,
right? Trump is “considering” doing this, he’s considering, you know, everything
from like you know mass deportations and legalizing the dreamers, he’s “considering”
all these things because somebody, he may not even know about that, but somebody
the White House might say that to a reporter in the hopes that he will consider
it. I just don’t think that… in the past stories about, the White House is
considering X, what that really meant was the White House is gonna do X in a week and it wants to put that out there now so that if anybody has objections, they’ll get them out in the open, it’s a trial balloon. Now, “the White House is considering X” means that like Trump may have seen it on television and then he
forgot about it, like it’s not an actual guide to what they’re gonna do and it gets
people spun up in all these different directions without any progress, so for
me, I just don’t I don’t want to talk about, report on stories about what
they’re considering, I wanna write about what they’re gonna do, what they write down, what they put into action which is a very small subset of the
things that they’re supposed to “consider.” KAPLAN: Alright how about one in the back there, right there in the middle? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. Okay, so my question is what is it like covering the White House and this president, and what do you think are the
potential threats to freedom of press? FAHRENTHOLD: I think covering this White House in some ways is… I mean, I’m only basing this on my observations of other people at my newspaper covering the White House. I think it’s hard in some ways, they lie to you, they’ll lie on the record, they’ll say things that are wrong on the record. How many times have we seen Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders say something definitive from the platform, from the
podium, this is going to happen, the president thinks this and the president themselves contradicts them the next day? It’s hard if the official spokespeople are not reliable, and that before was sort of, of course if they say it from the podium, on the record, it’s real. I think there are (inaudible) I’ve benefited from, at least in the pre-John Kelly era, and some now, the fact that these people are all (inaudible) against each other. They see the news media as a way of getting to Trump and so they’re all talking… We used to have these stories that, like, 25 people in the West Wing had told us, had been sources for a story. Like, I didn’t know there were 25 people in the West Wing. And so the leaks of that kind have been so voluminous, at least in the pre-John Kelly era, and it’s continuing some now that it’s made it… I think you see much more transparently inside this White House. And even the times when Trump has invited us, our reporters in… Like, there was a there was… like, three health care bills
ago when the House was considering the… when the health care bill failed, for the first time, in the House, Trump was on the phone trying to strong-arm Republicans and House members to vote for some, whatever the current repeal bill was and Bob Costa one of our reporters, is in the White House talking to somebody else and they were like, “Hey, come on in.” So Trump has Costa in the White House, the Oval Office couch and puts the congressman, it was Joe Barton from Texas, on the speakerphone, and he started haranguing Joe Barton on speaker
phone, “Vote for this bill,” with Costa sitting right there and the congressman doesn’t know. Like, how much more transparent can you get? Just because Trump thinks it’s cool to show off how he’s doing this. One thing Bob said actually in that situation that was really revealing was
that and I think this has been consistent with Trump in health care, the harangue was not like, “Okay, let’s horse trade. You want this particular provision change for doctors’ reimbursement, but I want to take out this tax. You know let’s trade.” Trading, you know, the, like, actually horse trading. No one (inaudible) about how to build a horse trade. Trump was just like, “It’s gonna be great ,it’s gonna be awesome, I love it, it’s a big victory for all of us,” but that was as far and as detailed as he got, so you can really see how, like, maybe he was… strong-arming wasn’t gonna be that effective. Okay so it’s a strange White House and they are, on the one hand, so transparent, on the other hand, so hard to trust. KAPLAN: You know, it would be great to get to Robert Caro who did the power brokering but also to the five volumes on Lyndon
Johnson and have him compare and contrast Johnson versus Trump how about
right? FAHRENTHOLD: Those are books everybody should read, all the Robert Caro books, they’re amazing. KAPLAN: How about right over here? AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay. Michael, I’m a student here at newspaper. I was just kind of curious, the fact that you were the charitable reporter throughout the campaign, knowing that there was not really any competition, did that do anything to kind of change your approach? Was it a different space to be in for you, um, at all? FAHRENTHOLD: It did. I mean, I wish there was more competition. I, like, presidential campaigns I think work better when there’s like a… you know… there’s sort of an echo chamber, you know? If TV was interested, if the New York Times was interested, if we could get other people writing about it, I think it would dominate more of the cable news landscape, it would seem like a bigger deal. It was just me, it was hard for that story to break through with so much else going on. Um, it was weird, it was weird to not have any, sort of, real fear of competition. A couple times, I was afraid about… like, the HuffPo did something, Buzzfeed did a couple of things, but I was never that worried about it, and I wish I had been. Maybe they would have found something that I didn’t find. But it did… it changed my approach in some ways, but the thing it would have done was sort of take off the time pressure. Because it was a presidential campaign, we knew everything had to be done by late October, so there was time pressure, anyway. It was an unusual experience. I don’t think I’ll ever have that again, to be like, that ahead, alone, on a story like that. I don’t know why people didn’t pick it up, I really thought the Times would sort of jump into gear and they never did. I don’t know anybody there well enough to know why they didn’t. KAPLAN: Let me ask you an
inside baseball question. On the day the Pulitzers were announced, you know, had you arleady known you won? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah. I found out that Friday. So they announce it on Monday, I found out on Friday. KAPLAN: So they leaked it to you ahead of time? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah.Yes. Which is not always the case. That’s like a big media advantage, that’s a… The guys from Storm Lake, Iowa who won the editorial cartoon, editorial writing, they learned that day. KAPLAN: But you never got notice on the Toner Award, because that was the more prestigious one and they kept that from you. FAHRENTHOLD: The Toner Award… I’ll take two stories. The Toner Award, I wrote a story about this— Trump has a golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, he goes to often. He has this weird thing when he’s applied for, like, three different cemetery permits there, and he’s told everybody in New Jersey he wants to be buried there.
No one really believes he wants to be buried in New Jersey. See, like, I was like in New Jersey scoping out this land where he was, Trump wants to be buried, supposedly, and, like, talking to the… I was… I just got off the phone with New Jersey
Cemetery Commission… The Toner Award people call, I was like a parking lot talking about cemeteries in New Jersey… and I thought, “All right!” KAPLAN: Very appropriate. (laughter) FAHRENTHOLD: And so the Pulitzer day, I was with my in-laws, I just happened to be in New York with my in-laws, on that Friday. And they always call you—I’ve been through a lot of years where I didn’t win, and so that, you know, Eli, Lester (inaudible) from the year he won, I knew they told you on Friday, like sometime in the afternoon. You’re supposed to not tell anybody but if you don’t win, as I have not won for many years, you just sort of hang around until 11 o’clock Friday night… KAPLAN: Hoping that they change their mind! FAHRENTHOLD: Right. You, like, hope there was a mistake and you drown your sorrows. (laughter) So, um, so I was with, I was with my in-laws, and my mother-in-law is a college admissions director She worked in college admissions her whole career. And so I’m telling them, I’m, like, nervously sitting around in New York on this afternoon, and I was like, “Okay, well this is the day, they’re gonna call. If I won, they’re gonna call, if I don’t win they’re never gonna call and I’m just gonna agonize for the next, like, eight hours. And, um, my mother-in-law immediately started giving me, like, the thin envelope speech, which is what she does in admissions. She was like, “You know, it’s not about you…” (laughter) “It’s not a judgment on you at all.” FAHRENTHOLD: And in the middle of that, they called me. KAPLAN: And then she gave you the thick envelope.. FAHRENTHOLD: She was like, “Of course! It means everything!” (laughter; inaudible) But the last story about that, so the… my daughter is five, she was in pre-k then and she came to the… she was in the picture, she was there for the actual formal announcement on Monday. She wore this sparkly dress and got this compliment from the fashion critic, but she was in all the pictures on the front of paper I that I was sort of standing next to her when they announced it. The next day in pre-k it was show-and-tell day, you were supposed to bring something that starts with an N, so Alexandra had the newspaper with her picture in the front. Some other kid has, like, a nut. (laughter) FAHRENTHOLD: It was a big day for her. KAPLAN: And they traded! (laughter) KAPLAN: And the other kid probably got expelled because someone had allergy right? FAHRENTHOLD: You can’t bring that to elementary school. KAPLAN: All right, we still time for a couple more questions. Right here. In the middle. Yeah. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, I’m Brooke, I’m a freshman newspaper and online journalism major. Um, my question for you is, so, with like the rise of fake news or like the emphasis of it in the past like year two, how are journalists and news sources kind of taking back that credibility that they used to have and, like, how do you see that in your own work? FAHRENTHOLD: To me the, the thing that I think is different now is… the fake, the fake news allegations have changed things… also, the fast pace of news, people get distracted after five seconds so you can’t like, throw out a big story and expect, like, “Oh, this is so big, it’s going to dominate the news cycle,” or do anything. Like, this was an attitude, I think, for a long time, especially in political campaigns, where, like, I’ve got a big story, I’m gonna throw it out there and I’m just going to sit back and watch the ripples go. And… and that’s not the way you… like, so you have to get people’s attention, so you… Both the fake news problem and the question of, like, how do solve people’s – keep people’s attention are kind of related because if they’re not really paying attention, it’s easier to
fool them. To me, I think part of our job has to be to give people a thread to
follow. They always like… each of… the story that I’m writing, I want to give you something every week, every day, that helps you understand that even though I don’t have a big story, to keep up with what I’m doing it right? So you remember, you have an attachment to my stories, you can’t get fooled about it. And also so you could sort of like get back to it in the middle of this whirlwind of news, like I can get back to the story that I… this… this story that I care about. Part of the job, too, has to be like building maps of some things. Like, Trump particularly, he keeps so much about his life secret, so much about his business, his government, his charity. Building is something that people can refer to. I… there’s a secret world here and I have mapped it and I want you to see what I’ve mapped so that you could look at it and draw your own conclusions, find something that I don’t find so that’s what… We’re trying to do a lot of things, we’re going like I post a lot of lists on, on Twitter like, “Here’s a list of all the charities that are at Mar-a-lago, here’s a list of all charities that I’ve called to see if Trump gave them money,” so that you can look at it yourself and like, trust it, but also find… you know, find your own use for it, find an analysis of it that I haven’t found. Involving people in stories that way I think both helps them sort of keep up with the story but also helps them trust the story more so that’s how I’ve tried to respond. Um, I think people have this
other… there’s been other reactions from other people… The Times I think has done this really good thing called The Daily podcast, where, like, okay now you’re hearing somebody’s voice talking about it, but you’re hearing about… it’s not just a disembodied word on the page, you’re hearing a guy that you know, you know and like, you build that kind of rapport so we stand out in the world of other outlets. Like if truly there are people out there who are interested in politics and don’t know to trust the Washington Post over like Patriot news, 24/7.com, or some like fake news, fake news site. If they don’t know the difference like from our name, then we should give them something about us that you can see
right away, “Oh yeah, this is different,” this is more trustworthy than that, so people know to trust us. And that, to me, is how I’m doing it to try to to try to show people more of my work. KAPLAN: So there’s this great scene in “All the President’s Men” where Woodward and Bernstein are at the Library of Congress going through all the slips trying to find the book that Howard Hunt took out on Chappaquiddick. What you did with the charities is very similar to that. So, first of all, did you ever look at that and say, “Man, this is daunting. I don’t think I’ll ever get
through it,” and B, did you ever spend a lot of time on a story that just didn’t pan out in this area? FAHRENTHOLD: Yes, it was daunting, but I like that kind of stuff. I like… to me, like, solving the little mysteries is fun, and like, building a database is fun, almost to the point of sometimes I don’t want to stop doing that, I just like, collect what I have and write a story. Um, I just find that part sort of satisfying. Like, this thing… we’re doing that lately, is like trying to find people who had events at Mar-a-lago and
then left, try to analyze whether Mar-a-lago was doing better or worse as he became president, started running for president. The Palm Beach Daily News, the
society newspaper has an online calendar, every social event at Palm Beach going back to 2009. So we scraped it, made a new database, and I’m like, analyzing all these trends, calling all these weird charities, I just like that because at the end I built something that didn’t exist before, I understand a world that I didn’t understand before. Talking about things that never panned out… a lot of them. I flew to Indiana a couple of weeks before the election because there was supposedly a cop there who had seen Trump, like, go behind the… go to the women’s locker room at the Miss USA pageant… whichever one he owned. Turned out his story was like, he didn’t really remember, so I went to, like, Nowheresville, Indiana and came back with nothing. We spent a lot of time chasing, um, the “Celebrity Apprentice” outtakes, there was supposedly this tape, Tom Arnold talked about it on Twitter, that supposedly people in Hollywood had seen where there was a… Trump… outtakes of Trump acting like a boar on the set of “Celebrity Apprentice.” We spent a lot of time calling people who worked on that show, trying to figure out whether they had ever seen it or if they had it. I personally don’t think the tape exists because everybody you talked to that sort of neither has seen it and gave different versions of what it showed. That was, obviously, produced no results. There were a lot of things that Trump did, you know, rumors we chased that didn’t produce anything. It’s part of the job. KAPLAN: Yep. Down there in the corner. AUDIENCE MEMBER: I really enjoyed following your quest for the particular Trump portrait that someone on Twitter was
able to walk into, sneak into a golf club and track down. What did you
consider your greatest moment of Twitter leading you to something that you didn’t
think you could find? FAHRENTHOLD: That was a good one. So the brief version of that is we knew from reporting that Trump had used the money in his charity to buy a $10,000 portrait of himself. Actually, he spent $10,000 on a portrait of himself, I can’t say it was a $10,000 portrait. (laughter) I’ve seen it. We didn’t know where it was and it could have been anywhere in the world, it could have been buried in the backyard of you know, Trump, one of his – at Mar-a-lago. Now, and a Twitter user found it on the wall at… first found a picture of it on the wall at Trump’s golf course at Doral, outside Miami, and another Twitter follower went to Doral and took a picture of it. That
was big. My favorite story like that is less like
consequential in some ways but much more satisfying because the mystery and solve
was much more frustrating. So we’d gotten all these documents from the
Trump Foundation, its records going back to its inception in 1987 and in 1989
Trump took — they list all that gifts that the foundation has given over the years. 1989
they listed a seven dollar grant to the Boy Scouts. Okay, it’s just seven dollars, the smallest gift ever in the history of the Trump Foundation. And Trump, obviously, won’t talk about why he did that. The Boy Scouts wouldn’t talk to me. It’s like 20-something years ago. I sort of felt like, “Okay. well, I just– this is like a great, I’m sure there’s a great story that has disappeared into the midst
of history, I’ll never know the answer.” So, but I was like, okay look, like, I’ll just put this out on Twitter to amuse my followers, where it’s like, look at this,
it must be a great story here, I’ll never know what it is. So people picked it up. Like, I didn’t say, “Help me find the answer to this,” I was like, “Eh, look at this.” At like 5:00, 5:30, 6 o’clock, I went home and then I’m like headed home and I’m watching the, like Twitter– KAPLAN: I hope you weren’t driving when you were doing that. FAHRENTHOLD: I was Ubering. KAPLAN: Okay. FAHRENTHOLD: We’d had death threats, so I had to take different routes home, so I was Ubering to get home. So, so, so I was, I was watching this on my
phone it was like watching in a spy movie you know to see where they’re trying to track the hacker. “Oh, he’s in Budapest! No, he’s in Shanghai!” or whatever. So there.. the people, at first Twitter followers have a theory that this is popcorn, okay? Boy Scouts have always sold crappy stale popcorn to guilt-ridden parents. And so people were like, “Well, you know…” I did it too when I was a Boy Scout. How much did a tin of popcorn cost in
1989? And so the crappy popcorn maker, it’s all on Twitter and they… some people, were like, you know, @TrailsEndPopcorn, this is a funny metaphor you get to the end of the trail (laughter; inaudible) @TrailsEndPopcorn, how much did a tin of popcorn cost in 1989? And there, they come back right away. $5. Okay, wasn’t $7, so that’s wrong. So put that aside. And then somebody else finds like a digitized newspaper from the 80s like it
was like the Binghamton paper or the Poughkeepsie paper or something and they’ve digitized not just the stories with the ads – so it’s all searchable, they
googled on that and they and they found it in the bottom of that paper that said,
you know, “Sign your son up for the Boy Scouts this year, registration is only seven dollars for the year,” and so then the Boy Scouts confirm that, that’s what
it cost everywhere, including New York City, to sign up for the Boy Scouts for the year was $7.00. So I don’t know for sure but that was the year that Donald Trump, Jr. turned 11, you’re eager to join the Boy Scouts. So to me it was like, I was so happy to solve that mystery but also it shows you something about the
way Trump had viewed his charity from the very beginning. It’s two years into the (inaudible) of the charity which was, this is not really for charity, it’s just another pocket of my pants, and if I have to pay a charity– KAPLAN: A tax-free pocket. FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah right. Tax-free. If I have to pay a charity for anything I’ll use the money in my charity to do it. The idea that the charity is a separate entity with its own goals, it has to serve the public and not you, totally foreign to him even then when he was spending… like, the trouble it would take to go get some seven dollars out of some other bank account to buy Donald Jr. into the Boy Scouts is amazing. That was the moment, my greatest Twitter accomplishment. KAPLAN: Are you sure it wasn’t Eric? FAHRENTHOLD: No, Eric was too young. Eric was in the Cub Scounts. KAPLAN: Okay and that was five dollars. Professor Davis. AUDIENCE MEMBER: So I think you have this incredible sense of humor that I think is really important. FAHRENTHOLD: One of the hosts was, um… her husband was the pitcher for the Orioles, so she was …she said, like, “My husband has been in locker rooms his whole life, and he’s never heard–” Trump called this “locker room talk.” She said, “You know, he’s never heard anybody talk like that.” So it was a totally fine interview. And then afterward, some guy in Milwaukee who had seen me on Fox News called the Post, we learned later on he was drunk, and he slurred my name into the automated voice mail system, and it sent him to somebody else, this guy named (inaudible) it sent him to (inaudible) voice mail. He left a death threat for me on that guy’s voicemail. And so, then, (inaudible) forwards that to HR, HR called the FBI, the DC police, and got the… so they, everybody took it seriously. I think it would have been easy to say, “Well this is just some drunk in Milwaukee.” The FBI went and interviewed the guy, and the Post hired this person, she was a former South African Police Commander and she had done embassy security in Tanzania in South African
embassy. So she had seen some stuff and she she did like a security… took me and my wife and did like a security walk-through of our house and I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was serious. She was like… she was me and my wife were standing in the front room of our house she looks out of the curtains at the street, you know, how far away the cars in the street are from here, and she’s like, “Well, it’s probably too far away for a car bomb, but they (inaudible, laughter)” And, she, you know, we wanted to like… you know… she said, vary routes to work, don’t go to work at the same time every day, go in the back way sometimes, um, some things she went into, she wanted us to build a safe room there in our house that would have food in it, we would be barricaded in there for long enough that we would be eating, like, snacks. But, that was my one time, but I think other reporters, especially female reporters, got much more abuse than I did. Because that threat was sort of, so specific, had the word “kill” in the threat, and went to HR first, it was taken very seriously. So I felt very well taken care of by them, I don’t think it was a threat, but it did change my life for a month or so. AUDIENCE MEMBER: If I can just ask a follow-up, Joel? FAHRENTHOLD: So, he asked if they had arrested him. He was drunk when the FBI went to interview him. And they decided not to charge him. He seemed sorry. (laughter) AUDIENCE MEMBER: David, what is your take on this discussion about whether or not the president’s words really are a threat, a physical threat to journalists and he is encouraging physical attacks and if you
think those… what’s your take on that? FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah… I mean… I think they certainly… I don’t know what they mean in his mind. I don’ t think he actually wants people to assault journalists. Like I said, journalists are his favorite people in the world. He doesn’t care that anybody’s opinions as much as he cares about journalists but I think they are a lot of people out there who would take that as an excuse to attack journalists and people in the journalism,
in the pen reporters at these rallies certainly have felt menaced by the people who were out there. I’m glad that it hasn’t happened, that reporters haven’t been attacked, but I don’t think there’s anything about this rhetoric that would stop somebody… I think there’s a lot in his rhetoric that would encourage people to think it was okay. It was worse during the campaign but I think this potential still exists. Certainly, I mean it’s so irresponsible for somebody who’s the head of the United States government, in a country where we have the first amendment, and somebody who privately relies so much on the press for self-worth, information, everything, to encourage people to thinkof us as enemies of the people. I’m glad that there’s been no tragic consequences of it yet, but I think that’s luck rather than anything he’s done. KAPLAN: We have time for one more question. There. Yep just shout it out. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay, um, so obviously we’re all college students… my name’s Katherine, I’m a newspaper student We’re all college students. So what do you think the aftermath of a Trump presidency holds for journalism? Will he go back to entertainment? (inaudible; laughter) with his fake charities and his beautiful wife… what will that mean for us? FAHRENTHOLD: It’s a good question. I mean, it kind of depends on how he exits. I think what he always… my theory about what he would… his preferred outcome of this election would have been for him to lose and thento be the one that got away. They’d be able to spend four years saying, “Look at Hillary Clinton, she’s terrible, you could have had me, I would have fixed all these problems, to continue to sort of promise to fix everything with a snap of his fingers without actually having the responsibility of having to do it. When he leaves, probably
he will do that to whoever follows him, no matter if… there will be people who will pay attention to him and believe that, too. I don’t know. I think that… there aren’t that many people who are like Trump and I hope to the next president whether it’s a Republican or Democrat is gonna be somebody who restores a lot of sort of norms of behavior the president have followed. But who knows? I think we’re so far away from knowing who that’s gonna be, is he gonna leave and it’ll be Mike Pence, is it going to be some kind of Democrat who beats him in 2020? I just don’t know. I think that… I hope that the political journalism… either the people who are watching this from college or are just getting into journalism will learn from our mistakes and don’t let… treat somebody like this if there is another Trump, you know,
if Kid Rock was your president in 2020, to like not treat them as a celebrity. You know, treat them as a politician, try to make them have policies that make sense, and if they don’t, don’t cover them as a celebrity, don’t cover the sort of outrageousness of it all. Um, I hope we’ve learned that lesson, but who knows? The way we have covered the like possible Kid Rock candidacy suggests we have not learned anything AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can I just follow up really quickly? So obviously, Trump has been kind of the epicenter of media for the past two, two and a half years, can anyone who follows him continue to dominate reporting the way that he has? FAHRENTHOLD: No. I don’t think so. I mean… I’ve mentioned, like, in jest, like a Kanye West presidency… If we have President Kanye West, President Kid Rock, maybe, but I don’t think anybody’s like him but he’s like he’s been a salesman on television his whole life and a showman on television. That, this is what he’s always done so I don’t think there’s anybody else out there would be like that. Honestly I think that there people are not gonna want that next time but you
know I think the next president will be somebody who runs on the fact that like, you’re not gonna have to sit around and wonder what crazy thing’s happening in Washington now, let me take care of it. I’m gonna run things and you can go back
to your life and not worry about me. I think that’s gonna be this you know
restore the dignity of the country now and plus, you go back to living your life.
I think that will be the message the next president has. I just don’t think
they’ll be anybody like him and I think by the time he’s gone we’re gonna be sick of him being like him. AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. KAPLAN: Thank you very much. This was a fantastic evening.
(applause).

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