Paul Reid, co-author of the New York Times best-selling biography The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, argued that the news media’s approach to Trump mirrors the skepticism and criticisms that the English media of the 1930s and 1940s levied against Winston Churchill in a speech at the Fixed Point Foundation on Tuesday.
The Fixed Point Foundation, a Christian apologetics organization based in Birmingham, hosted Reid as the first speaker in their Latimer House Luncheon series of group discussions on theological and political topics. Tuesday’s discussion was titled “Trump and Churchill – Similarities?”
Reid opened his speech by pointing out that Churchill and Trump both experienced successes and failures in their business ventures, and both entered into politics relatively late in life. However, he continued, what interested him more than any similarities in the personalities or biographies of the two men was how segments of the news media took a hostile attitude toward the two outsider candidates.
“Trump was already pre-judged by a huge swath of the media,” Reid said in an interview with Weld before the luncheon. “You read various New York Times and Washington Post columnists and The Boston Globe and you name the paper, and tell me if I’m wrong, but don’t you notice the use of adjectives before Trump’s name gets mentioned that you never saw before in genteel column writing such as ‘kleptocracy’ [and] ‘fascism?’
“I’m amazed at the response to Trump, but then I go back and look at the London tabloids from 75, 80, 90 years ago and the same thing — they were calling Churchill a fascist, a mental case, a degenerate. So it’s just kind of fun to look at our election and the way we handle things. It’s not the first time in democratic or republic history in England or the U.S. where this sort of thing has gone on,” he said.
Reid, who in 2000 spent three days with Trump while writing a profile for The Palm Beach Post, connected the president-elect’s strained relationship with the media with the two instances of news coverage in 2000 that Reid described as overly negative.
“Sixteen years ago he was going to run for the Reform Party candidacy,” Reid recalled. “Trump was putting out feelers 16 years ago, and I’ve gone back into the archives, including my paper, and they were saying ‘What’s in it for him? What’s he up to? This egotistical, narcissistic’ — the adjectives were already flowing — ‘What’s he up to?’”
Reid also said that Trump’s decision to open the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, to African Americans and Jewish individuals was viewed with unwarranted skepticism by the news media.
“When he wanted to open Mar-a-Lago as a club, the city fathers of Palm Beach just gave him a horrible time. And he finally threatened to sue and reveal — which everyone already knew — that certain clubs in Palm Beach excluded Jews and blacks. … This is disgraceful, and Trump, in his own way, took it all public,” Reid said. “And people are thinking, ‘What’s he up to, what’s he up to, what’s in it for him?’ And the guy was trying to change almost a century of abysmal racial, religious prejudice that was de facto in Palm Beach.
“It would be like [asking of] Martin Luther King, ‘What is he up to? Is it a hotel he wants to open up?’ No, when you’re doing the right thing, morally, and Trump was, then all bets are off. Even if he was up to something, doesn’t matter,” Reid concluded.
Reid castigated the contemporary news media for unfairly focusing on the unsuccessful moments in Donald Trump’s business history. Reid explained that before becoming a reporter and writer, he owned a manufacturing company, and that this experience taught him that business is complex and unpredictable.
“Bad things happen in business: unexpected obsolescence, product failure, liability. And I watched this campaign, month after month after month, all I’m reading about [is] ‘Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills,’ ‘Here’s a little old lady in Atlantic City who he didn’t help out.’ And there was nothing that you’d expect from Forbes or The Wall Street Journal about the complexities of business,” Reid said. “We’ve reduced politics to people like Hillary saying ‘I have a plan to put 10 million people to work.’ I never heard the plan.”
Reid wrapped up his lecture by recounting that when he interviewed the future president in 2000, Trump had recently raised several thousand dollars to pay for the housing and medical expenses of an evicted family in New York and to save the farm of a Georgia woman whose husband had committed suicide. He noted that Trump had never bragged about these instances of charitable giving, and criticized the news media for their failure to bring them up during the campaign.
“We are in tough times and we should give Mr. Trump the chance that the electorate has allotted to him,” Reid concluded. “And if we don’t, shame on us.”