Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter for Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” confesses his remorse for “putting lipstick on a pig”
By Mary Reinholz
First published in The Villager in New York City
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Donald Trump’s famed 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” has appeared on such broadcasts as “Good Morning America” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” after issuing a much publicized mea culpa in The New Yorker last month, announcing that the best seller he penned in his younger days was basically a form of fiction.
“I put lipstick on a pig,” Schwartz explained to Jane Mayer for the magazine’s July 25 issue, referring to his nearly 30- year-old autobiography of Trump which the Manhattan mogul has touted on the campaign trail as a how-to business bible second only to Holy Writ, one that showcases his skills as a negotiator.
Trump’s impending role as the Republican Party’s nominee for president apparently alarmed the 62-year-old Schwartz so much that he was moved to confess that he had prettied up the candidate’s early career shortly before Trump got his official nod from the GOP at its Cleveland convention. Schwartz’s disclosures created considerable buzz in political circles on both sides of the aisle.
“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is,” he said during his interview with Mayer. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
Schwartz, a former New York Times reporter and freelance journalist who spent 18 months interviewing Trump and eavesdropping on his telephone conservations at Trump Tower back in the 1980s, told this scribe that he chose to speak out after Mayer contacted him. “She wanted to write something about Trump and thought I might be able to guide her in some way,” he said in an email from Riverdale where he runs a consulting business called The Energy Project.
Not long after Mayer’s piece appeared online, Schwartz acknowledged in a Facebook exchange with me that he had betrayed Trump’s trust by his New Yorker “tell all” in which he characterized the tycoon as a “a black hole” in need of constant publicity and a dangerous candidate with a penchant for exaggeration and an alleged attention deficit disorder.
“I betrayed Donald Trump’s trust because I believe genuinely that his election imperils the future of the planet,” he stated on a FB thread begun by prominent liberal author Lucian K. Truscott IV, a long time contributor to The Village Voice. “That was not true when he was simply a real estate developer.”
Trump reportedly did not require that Schwartz sign a non-disclosure agreement when he became a credited co-author of “Deal” with his name on the book’s cover. “It’s a sign of Trump’s lack of professionalism that he didn’t have Tony sign one,” wrote Gene Stone, a prolific ghostwriter, on Truscott’s thread. “As far as Tony talking now, normally I would say that what’s he’s doing is a clear breach of professionalism. When you ghost a book, you are taking on a role like a shrink or a priest. You are taking on a role of trust. Tony broke that trust. However, there are always exceptions. Trump is one of them. He is an obvious threat to the country, and anyone who can stop him should do so.”
Meanwhile Trump’s chief counsel Jason D. Greenblatt wasted no time sending Schwartz a letter demanding that he “cease and desist” his commentary against the bloviating billionaire and also send him a “certified check” returning his advance and the royalties he had earned on the book – along with “written assurances that you will not generate or disseminate any misleading or inaccurate information or make any baseless accusations with respect to Mr. Trump, according to the New York Times.
In turn, Schwartz’ lawyer Elizabeth McNamara, fired back a letter stating that Greenblatt had failed to identify “a single statement by Mr. Schwartz that is factually false, let alone defamatory.”
Litigation could be ahead, and Schwartz appears ready to pay the price for candor about Trump’s character. He apparently can afford the legal bills.
Mayer made it plain in her New Yorker article that Schwartz earned a mint in royalties and knew he was making a “Faustian bargain” with Trump for ghosting “The Art of the Deal” at a time when he needed money. (His wife was pregnant with their second daughter.) She wrote that Schwartz agreed to take the job if Trump would give him half of the advance of $500,000 from the publisher and half of all the royalties on the book.
“The Deal” received favorable reviews from top newspapers and stayed on The Times’ best seller list for 48 weeks, 13 of them at No. 1. More than a million copies have been sold, generating several million dollars in royalties, according to Mayer.
Asked by this freelance why he felt such deep remorse so many years after assuming Trump’s brash voice and detailing his early successes on projects like transforming the rundown Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt Hotel on E. 42nd Street and renovating the Wollman Rink on Central Park, Schwartz replied: “Mary, I feel remorse because I chose to write a book with someone whose values I did not share, and I rationalized that it wouldn’t matter because he was just a developer. I did help to create the image that has allowed him to run for president — or put another way, I helped to create a monster. Remorse feels appropriate. As for what isn’t true in the book, the public record since speaks to that.”
Some of Truscott’s FB friends strongly applauded Schwartz “heroic” stand against the litigious Trump and insisted he had nothing to apologize for. But others lambasted him for writing Trump’s book for filthy lucre in the first place and for not speaking out against him sooner.
“After years of reporting, I find the deal he made despicable,” posted Myra MacPherson, an esteemed veteran journalist and former Washington Post writer, on Truscott’s thread. In capital letters, she said of Schwartz: “HE KNEW HE WAS CREATING A MONSTER JUST TO MAKE MONEY. So where was he all these years of Trump lies, years of lost jobs because of T’s bankruptcies and a difference Schwartz could have made at the VERY BEGINNING OF THIS TERRIBLE Campaign. Decent writers are ashamed of that deal w the devil…”
Michael M. Thomas, another distinguished author who writes for The Observer (now owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner) disagreed with MacPherson’s take on Schwartz’ decision to ghost for Trump and pretty up his successes as a deal maker.
“Strikes me as a classic case of taking the money, then running,” Thomas opined. “He realized all this stuff while he was writing the book. He helped in the spinning and making up of ‘the facts.’ There are people who would have said, halfway through, perhaps earlier, ‘I just can’t go on with this.'”
Schwartz respond humbly to the harsh criticism. “fair enough to you (Thomas) and Myra. have spent a lot of years trying to redeem myself.” Schwartz also noted that he didn’t come forward earlier ” because I didn’t believe Trump had a chance to win, and because I certainly would have preferred not to have had him come after me. I am all in now sharing what I know with as many people as are willing to listen and I will speak out every day until the November 8 (election).”
As for Truscott, he staunchly defended Schwartz’s actions, saying he is an old friend whose ghosting for Trump long ago reflects the perils of freelance writing. “Anyone out there who doesn’t remember what it was like to be a so-called freelancer and have a family to support, shut the fuck up,” he wrote at the start of his Facebook thread. “We should all be thankful that Tony is around today to report on the shit he went through with Trump so we didn’t have to. Good on you pal. You want a place to hide out, you know where to find me.”