Woodward, Bernstein and now…Fahrenthold.
A Washington Post reporter who Donald Trump once called “a nasty guy” for his pointed questions and even tougher news stories throughout the 2016 presidential campaign was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting today for his articles exposing the corruption of the Trump Foundation and Trump’s alleged charitable activities.
The Washington Post said David Fahrenthold won, “for his pioneering work exposing the distance between image and reality in Donald Trump’s philanthropy.”
“The point of my stories was not to defeat Trump,” Fahrenthold wrote in a December 2016 Washington Post magazine story about his campaign coverage. “The point was to tell readers the facts about this man running for president. How reliable was he was at keeping promises? How much moral responsibility did he feel to help those less fortunate than he?”
Among the stories Fahrenthold broke was the existence of the 2005 Access Hollywood videotape in which Trump tells Billy Bush that as a celebrity he can kiss and even grope the genitals of women without asking permission first.
As Fahrenthold recalled, the tape said: “When you’re a star, they let you do it!” Trump said. The thing that stood out to me was the genuine wonder in his voice. He seemed to be saying: I can’t believe it either, but the world lets you get away with this.”
He also broke the story about an oil portrait of Trump which his wife Melania purchased at a charity auction and paid for with a Trump Foundation check that ended up hanging in a basement sports bar at Trump’s Doral Golf Resort in Miami. It was a violation of IRS rules on charitable giving to pay for the picture and use it in his commercial establishment, but Trump’s spokesperson came up with a lame excuse, recalled Fahrenthold.
“A Trump spokesman later offered the explanation that the resort was actually doing the foundation a favor, by storing its art free of charge. Tax experts were not impressed by this reasoning.”
“It’s hard to make an IRS auditor laugh,” one told me. “But this would do it.”
Fahrenthold dug out the facts that showed when Trump raised millions and claimed to have donated a million of his own money to veterans, he actually only gave away a small portion of that money to veterans groups. When Trump was pressured by Fahrenthold’s articles, he eventually gave away but half what he promised.
“I asked Trump’s people to account for all this money. They didn’t, recalled Fahrenthold, “Then, finally, I got a call…’The money is fully spent,’ Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, told me in late May (2016).”
“But, Lewandowski told me, the details of Trump’s $1 million in gifts were secret. He wouldn’t say which groups Trump had donated to. Or when. Or in what amounts.”
“This was an important assertion — that Trump had delivered on a signature campaign promise — made without proof. I didn’t want to just take Lewandowski’s word for it….So I tried to prove him right.”
“I spent a day searching for Trump’s money on Twitter, asking vets’ organizations if they’d gotten any of it. I used Trump’s Twitter handle, @realdonaldtrump because I wanted Trump to see me searching.”
“The next night, he called me to say he had just then given away the $1 million, all in one swoop, to a nonprofit run by a friend. That meant when Lewandowski said Trump’s money was ‘fully spent,’ it was actually still in Trump’s pocket.”
“On the phone, I asked Trump: Would you really have given this money away if I hadn’t been asking about it?”
“You know, you’re a nasty guy,” he said. “You’re really a nasty guy.”
“Because my stories had led to this angry moment, I was on ‘Morning Joe’ and CNN and Lawrence O’Donnell. The New York Times and Le Monde referenced my work. My dad wrote to say how proud he was of me. I read pundits predicting that the presidential race itself would change. They said the old trope about Trump — that he was a Teflon candidate, immune to accountability — was now disproved.”
He dug into records of the Trump Foundation going back to the 1980s and found that it gave away little money and in recent years only gave away money that was raised from others, allowing Trump to take credit for donations he didn’t make.
Shortly after The Post published his stories, Trump announced he would shut the Trump Foundation down.
Fahrenthold also broke a story about how Trump used nearly $300,000 of the Foundation’s money to pay his own legal bills in a suit brought against him. He also reported numerous instances Trump promised charitable donations but never made them.
Fahrenthold did most of his work with little or no cooperation from Trump or his campaign and in some cases outright hostility toward him and the Washington Post.
He did it while living the life of a husband and father who was helping raise his children, cooking and cleaning, when he wasn’t away on the road for days and weeks at a time covering the 2016 Presidential campaigns.
He did it by tapping into an army of helpers on Twitter, where he accumulated over 60,000 followers who sent him tips, leads, and stories, and acted as his reporter in some cases, tracking down facts about where Foundation money had, or had not, actually gone.
He did it despite threats to his life which police and FBI experts told him to take very seriously. After that happened his family felt the impact.
“I had to get back to work,” Fahrenthold recalled. “My wife — who hadn’t complained about any of this, the long hours or the missed bedtimes or the early-morning TV appearances — stopped me, shaken at what I’d gotten us into.”
it even impacted his children.
“After a while,” recalled Fahrenthold, “my 4-year-old daughter started talking about the Trump Foundation at dinner, just because her parents talked about nothing else. ‘He should give the money to the people, so the people get the money,’ she said. ‘It’s not nice.'”
What is nice is that a true journalism hero has been honored with his profession’s highest award, for work that was original, outstanding, made an impact and affected the national political dialogue when it mattered.
Ironically, Fahrenthold on election night was the one who had to write the story of Trump’s surprise win and his election as the next President. He did that with the same competence and professionalism that he had exhibited throughout the campaign.
No wonder Trump thinks the media is the enemy, and no wonder the rest of us can say thank god for freedom of the press, and for reporters like David Fahrenthold.
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