Susan Mulcahy helped make Donald Trump and she's very, very sorry
In the 1980s New York City was in transition.
The previous decade, gritty and dark, was blighted by an economic collapse, rampant crime and a transit system that was dangerous to use. On the verge of bankruptcy, the largest city in the U.S. was a synonym for dysfunction, a punch line.
But after the recession of 1980, things were changing. As Wall Street took off, New York's real estate skyrocketed in value. The city was morphing from the dark nightmare of Taxi Driver to the conspicuous wealth and excess of Bonfire of the Vanities.
"We helped create what became this reality television persona whether we knew it or not" - Susan Mulcahy
"There are many of us who wrote about him in the 1980's as a great New York character," says writer Susan Mulcahy. As a former editor with Page Six, the New York Post's gossip and society column that covered the power brokers and celebrities of New York in the 80's, Mulcahy spilled a lot of ink on Trump and she regrets it.
"I think if we could all go back in time we would temper the way we covered him," she tells Brent Bambury.
Mulcahy apologized for her decades-old coverage of the reality TV star turned presumptive Republican presidential candidate in a recently published op-ed in Politico.
It's not her journalism she faults. It's the way Trump used her and the media to craft his image.
"We helped create what became this reality television persona whether we knew it or not."
Trump embodies the 1980s
Trump was perfect fodder for Page Six and the readers it attracted in the 80's.
"This was an era", Mulcahy remembers, "when businessmen became a different sort of celebrity and Donald Trump really fit into that mold. So we covered him quite a bit. We covered his deals. We covered his personal life to some extent."
Trump had a hand in major developments in New York City in the 1980s, and he was still married to his first wife. Mulcahy says his life was less complicated than it was to become, and his record not as checkered.
"He was doing big projects. At this point the record shows so many failed businesses and many writers have pressed that he's really marketing himself now. But back then he really built major projects and that was part of his appeal, this big brash important guy."
A serial liar
Trump sought the press and reveled in his coverage.
"We did give him a lot of attention and that's what he wants and that's what he has parlayed into his presidential bid," says Mulcahy.
But she quickly noticed in her dealings with the mogul how seldom he told the truth. In her op-ed Mulcahy said Trump lied about 90% of the time.
"If I could say that again, I would say 99.9%," she laughs. "I was being generous."
She remembers asking Trump about a real estate deal he was pursuing on the Upper West Side.
"I asked him what was going on there, and he said 'Oh, nothing'. The next day it was on the front page of the New York Times. He lied to my face about that."
She claims business journalists covering Trump were also misled and lured into helping to aggrandize Trump.
"People would publish the figures that he gave them without checking and a lot of business reporters helped to burnish his image far more than the gossip columns did. That's what helped turn him into a person taken seriously by the general public as a successful businessman."
He hasn't changed
So why publish a mea culpa now for coverage she gave Trump in the Reagan era?
He's a genius at manipulating the media.- Susan Mulcahy
Mulcahy says, "I asked myself 'Do I even want to say another word about Donald Trump?' But there were so many specific examples of his lies and people have been paying more attention to the fact that much of what he's saying is not true. I thought, well, it's worth pointing that out, because this has been going on for a very long time."
And she says it's continuing into the campaign. "I think it's the same Trump, but times 1,000," she says.
Mulcahy sees an evolution in Trump's use of the media, but not in the way media deals with him.
"He used newspaper coverage in the eighties and then cable news, to work on creating a persona that really exploded on The Apprentice and now the public thinks that he is the character of The Apprentice."
"He's a genius at manipulating the media."