Earlier this week there was a fascinating piece in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer, interviewing Tony Schwartz, who is credited as the co-author to Donald Trump's first and most famous book, The Art of the Deal
(Schwartz is interchangeably referred to as the ghostwriter or co-author -- his name appears on the book as the much smaller type-faced co-author, which is unlike most ghostwriters -- but Schwartz claims he really wrote the book after just following Trump around for a bit and getting some ideas from him). The interview with Schwartz is great
storytelling and focuses on his belief that Trump would be a disastrous President (and the fact that The Art of the Deal
was exaggerated reality).
Despite the fact that the Republican National Convention happened this week, where Trump was officially nominated as the Republican Party candidate for President, Trump apparently found the time to have his lawyer dash off a ridiculously stupid cease and desist letter
. It's the kind of cease and desist letter that we tend to see from complete cranks, rather than serious businessmen, let alone the official nominee for President from a major political party. Everything about the letter
is flat out ridiculous (and at points, contradictory). Throughout it, Trump's Chief Legal Officer, Jason Greenblatt, keeps saying that Schwartz's statements are defamatory, but fails to name a single one
. As has been pointed out many times, if you're screaming "defamation" but fail to point to a factual statement that is defamatory, you're just making noise.
The letter also claims that Schwartz is attempting to "rewrite history" and even starts out suggesting that Schwartz's claim of writing the book is an exaggeration, because the contract was merely to "provide certain services." But, rather than actually follow through on that line of argument, Greenblatt then more or less admits it, while arguing something totally different: that the book was successful because of Trump's association with it, not because of Schwartz. But Schwartz never argued otherwise, and that's completely besides the point.
Mr. Trump hired you to provide certain services in connection with the
preparation of the Book. Although it has long-suited you to dramatically overstate your work on
the Book in order to further your own career, (for example, telling George Stephanopoulos on
Good Morning America that, "I wrote every word of [the Book], Donald Trump made a few red
marks when I handed him the manuscript, but that was it."), let me set the record straight about
the origin of the Book: Mr. Trump was the source of all of the material in the Book and the
inspiration for every word in the Book. You would not have had access to any of the information
that appeared in the Book without Mr. Trump. He was the mastermind behind the deals described
in the Book, and he provided you with the facts and facets of each of these deals in order for you
to write them down. What's more, Mr. Trump is wholly responsible for the great success of the
Book, not you. It was his ingenuity that made the deals described in the Book happen, and it was
his promotion of the Book that made it a runaway success.
Again, so what? That's got nothing to do with Schwartz's point and is nowhere near defamatory. Greenblatt also goes on to weirdly attack the one claim from Schwartz that he's pretty sure that many of the things in The Art of the Deal
are false. Greenblatt wastes many perfectly good English words arguing that the book contract gave Schwartz the right to make changes to the book to make sure it was accurate, and somehow suggesting that his failure to change things proved that he didn't actually believe things in the book were false. Of course, again, this is not what Schwartz was arguing. He was saying that the stuff Trump told Schwartz
, which Schwartz then crafted into the narrative of the book, were lies told by Trump. That should be obvious to anyone with basic reading comprehension skills.
Also, the above accusation is doubly weird, because just a page earlier in the letter, Greenblatt was arguing that Schwartz was a mere conduit and was basically just hired to scribble down Trump's words of wisdom. If he played such a minor part, then isn't that more or less admitting that Schwartz would have no say in correcting falsehoods in the book? The letter also tries to claim that Schwartz has been begging Trump for more work for decades and recently signed an agreement for royalties on the audiobook version of it. Schwartz, for his part, denies ever asking Trump for more work and says he actually turned down the offer to work on the sequel. The agreement on the audiobooks may be true, but it's difficult to see how that matters. Schwartz now speaking out against Trump, if anything, would likely diminish the interest in the book, and would impact Schwartz's own royalties (for which Schwartz has pledged to charity for any works purchased this year).
Even more hilariously, Greenblatt ends the letter by demanding Schwartz not only shut up, but also return all
the royalties earned over the years from the book, including his half of the $500,000 advance.
Thankfully, Schwartz had lawyer Elizabeth McNamara at Davis Wright Tremaine respond to the letter
, calling bullshit on it. The whole thing is worth a read (it's really only two pages), but here's a snippet:
Your letter alludes vaguely to "defamatory statements," "outright lies" and "downright
fabrications," but you do not identify a single statement by Mr. Schwartz that is factually false,
let alone defamatory. Instead, it is self-evident that Mr. Trump is most concerned with Mr.
Schwartz's well-founded expressions of his own opinion of Mr. Trump's character, as well as
Mr. Schwartz's accurately taking credit for the writing of The Art of the Deal, which you
pointedly do not contest. Also, in Mr. Trump's eyes, Mr. Schwartz has been "very disloyal" in
speaking out on these issues, as he is quoted saying to Mr. Schwartz in the recent New Yorker
article by Jane Mayer.
The fact that Mr. Trump would spend time during the week of the Republican National
Convention focused on settling a score with and trying to censor his co-author on a thirty-year-old book is, frankly, baffling, but only further underscores the very basis for Mr. Schwartz's criticisms. In any event, the demands you make in the letter are without any foundation in law or
fact. Mr. Schwartz will not be returning any of the advance or royalties from the Book, and he
has no intention of retracting any of his opinions about the character of the Republican nominee
for the presidency, nor does he have any obligation or intention to remain silent about this issue
Of course, as we've noted in the past, this is kind of par for the course for Trump. When people say mean things about him, his lawyers tend to go ballistic, threatening (and sometimes suing for) defamation, even when there clearly is no defamation at all. This is why it's so ridiculous when Trump talks about "opening up"
libel laws to go after those who write or say mean things about him.
Being so thin skinned and willing to at least threaten to drag an author to court for stating his opinion hardly seems particularly Presidential.