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How businessman Trump turned exaggeration into his brand

President Trump has been called out before for not sticking to the facts. Gwenda Blair, author of "The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President," joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his lifelong predilection for “truthful hyperbole.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as we wrap up with Yamiche, I want to say that, outside the president's rally last night in Nashville, we talked to his — we heard some of his reporters (sic), and they shrugged off questions about whether some of his claims were not factual.

  • Allen Tyler:

    I don't think he's lied to the American public. I think that it's just like anything. I think there's times that you have a situation where all the facts is not presented at one time, and you make an assumption on some things, and that happens with every president.

  • Seth Hackett:

    He gets the job done, and he's not just all talk. He does what he says he's going to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump — so that, again, was last night in Nashville, some people who came to hear the president.

    The president has been called out before for not sticking always to the facts.

    The author Gwenda Blair examined that in her book "The Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire," which was originally published in the year 2000. Gwenda Blair is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of Journalism.

    Gwenda Blair, welcome back to the program.

    It is the case that — and you have written about this — that over time the president has been called out for exaggerations and for saying things that could not be borne out by the facts.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Yes, he has.

    He's — but he's made his brand — that phrase exaggerated hyperbole, he made that into a brand. He made that into a symbol of success. The whole idea of excess, you know, of bumping everything up, saying it was the biggest, the best, it's always a superlative.

    And so he was well-established, I think, in the public eye, certainly by the time I started my book, even, and that was a long time ago, the beginning of the 1990s. He was already — he made it his job to establish himself as someone who could stretch the truth, and that was part of his — stretch whatever he said.

    That was part of who he was. And I think that that has turned out to be very shrewd. He has been always a performer, always selling himself, and part of that sales job is to — that superlative thing, to push the boundaries of everything and to get away with it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we should say, of course, when you started out reporting on him and writing about him, he was a real estate developer, a businessperson, so he had a different career, a different line of work.

    But what we're looking at is now as president. But you identified a pattern of how he would talk about things. Give us some examples of what you found and what you wrote about.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    From the start, he was a fabulist, someone who pushed things, you know, to the extreme.

    And early on, when he was — one of my favorite examples was when he was building Trump Tower and doing a marketing strategy for selling the condominiums in Trump Tower. He had someone do a scale model of Trump Tower, of the projected Trump Tower and the streets around it.

    And ,lo and behold, an adjacent building, the GM building, was taller than Trump Tower was going to be. And it's illegal to market real estate and to lie about it. So he couldn't make Trump Tower any taller. So what he did instead had the model builder lop a few stories off the GM building.

    It was OK to make the adjacent building shorter than it was, in fact. So the adjacent building was shorter. Trump Tower was the accurate height, but it looked like it was the tallest building.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's also the story about phone calls he made on a few occasions to reporters writing about him or writing a story for a tabloid. You had a couple of examples of that as well.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    He — in part of that building the brand, building himself into a known name, you know, a super name that really would be the icon for success, part of that was getting as much press coverage as he possibly could.

    And that included calling the press at every possible opportunity, sometimes calling and saying that he was someone else, that he was John Barron, a press agent for Trump, and then telling some positive tidbit about Trump, things like Prince Charles was looking for a condo in Trump Tower.

    And he — the funny thing wasn't just that, but that his father did this. His father would call up reporters decades before and say that he was Mr. Green and that he was calling for Fred Trump.

    So Donald Trump's sister, Maryanne, who's a federal judge, told me that she and her husband used to kid about sending a summons to John Barron at Trump Tower and then to see how long — whether John Barron disappeared, which I always thought was pretty funny.

    It's also interesting to me that Donald Trump has named his youngest son Barron, and I don't know what was in his head when he did that, but he already had a son named Donald Trump Jr., so he couldn't name another kid after himself. So he named his youngest son Barron. I don't know what he was thinking, but I just think it's interesting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In less than a minute, in fact, just half-a-minute or to, Gwenda Blair, is there something about New York and what is acceptable in business in New York that made people accept what the president, what then businessman and of course now politician and President Donald Trump was able to do and say and get away with?

  • Gwenda Blair:

    Well, he was a salesman. He was selling real estate.

    Salesmen are performers. They target their market. What does the market want to hear? They tell the market what it wants to hear. He would tell the market, in his first project, which was the Grand Hyatt, a hotel, he told people it was the biggest ballroom in New York. It wasn't, but people liked that idea.

    In Trump Tower, he had also a very — also in the Grand Hyatt — a very innovative system of floor numbers. So, by conventional numbering, the top floor of Trump Tower would be somewhere in the 50s. He started the numbers at what he said — he started the numbers with, I think, the 12th floor. So the top floor is floor 68.

    If you look across, directly across, it's 50 — in the 50s in adjacent buildings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gwenda Blair, author and watcher of the Trump family for a number of years, thank you very much.

  • Gwenda Blair:

    My pleasure.

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