Talking Points Memo
1989 Documentary Resurfaces With All Kinds Of Dirt On The Donald
By CATHERINE THOMPSON
A 25-year-old documentary on Donald Trump that the real estate mogul reportedly tried to quash at the time of its filming now has been revived in light of his presidential bid.
"Trump: What's The Deal?" was bankrolled by businessman Leonard Stern, who owned various New York media properties at the time, including the alternative weekly newspaper The Village Voice. It was conceived by the late producer Ned Schnurman as part of a series called "Famous Americans," according to a 1989 New York Magazine cover story on the project.
"What's The Deal?" ultimately failed to reach an audience for a number of reasons: Trump reportedly tried to derail the project, Stern refused to infuse more cash into its production after a certain point, and no TV stations ever agreed to air it, according to the New York Magazine story.The New York Times reported that in 1991, over Stern's objections, Schnurman did end up screening the 90-minute finished product to an audience of 800 people in Bridgehampton, New York.
The unauthorized documentary since had been kept under wraps until it was posted for free online last week. What's striking about watching "What's The Deal?" today -- and learning its backstory -- is that so much of what kept The Donald in the headlines in the late '80s still rings true going into the 2016 election.
There was a fair amount of press coverage about the tension between Trump and Stern during the documentary's filming. New York Magazine reported in its cover story that Trump "confirmed" to the tabloids a report of unknown provenance stating that Stern's wife, Allison, had called Trump to ask him out on a date.
"If the documentary-makers were investigating Ivana Trump, then Trump would make Allison Stern part of the story, too," the magazine story read. "Moreover, if Stern reacted as a prototypical irate husband -- threatening to punch the guy in the nose or, even more pugnaciously, to sue -- then that would strengthen" Trump's plan to file suit against what he saw as a "hostile" documentary.
Ivana Trump in a still from the documentary.
Compare that reported intimidation "trap" with a contentious interview the special counsel to the Trump Organization, Michael Cohen, had last week with The Daily Beast.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have," Cohen told the news site when he was asked about Ivana Trump's 1990 allegation of assault against her ex-husband. "And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
One of the most ironic discoveries of Trump's not yet two-month-old presidential campaign was the presence of undocumented workers at the site of the future Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C. One of the cornerstones of Trump's 2016 campaign has been railing against immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
But as "What's The Deal?" pointed out, Trump had hired a contractor that employed what was known as "the Polish brigade" -- more than 200 undocumented immigrants -- to clear the way for Trump Tower in New York City. (Trump was later sued and denied any knowledge of the undocumented workers, even though his company supervised the demolition.)
While the documentary may not surface revelatory new information about the Trump empire, it's certainly good for an hour-plus of '80s nostalgia. Watch the trailer below and watch the full documentary here: