How is Trump’s ‘John Barron’ Fortune 400 Scam Not an Earth-Shattering Story?!


It is a basic reality of life that timing is nearly everything. There may be no better example of that than the amazing story the Washington Post ran yesterday, which, if it had been known at the start of the 2016 campaign, would have ended any chance of Donald Trump being the Republican presidential nominee.

In this story, which has not gotten nearly the play in the rest of the media that it deserves, we learned that there is audio proof that Trump blatantly lied to get on the prestigious “Fortune 400” list of richest people. But it isn’t just that he lied, he did so by using a fake persona, “John Barron,” which further verifies the allegation that he had used this pitiful gambit to manipulate the tabloid media early in his evolution of becoming a celebrity.

There are many ways that this report, which is both incredibly shocking and yet sadly not really that surprising, should, in a rational world, have massive impact. Yes, the story originates from way back in the early 1980s, but this is essentially the equivalent of Trump’s origin or birth story.

Imagine if we suddenly learned that Barack Obama really was born in Kenya and faked his birth certificate (to be clear, he did not), that Lance Armstrong was not found to be a rampant cheater (he was), that Superman admitted he was not really from Krypton, or that Jesus Christ was not really born under a star in Bethlehem. Would we simply discard that information as “old news”? I think not.

This is the current president of the United States, and we now know that how he became relevant in the first place was because of a pathetic and grotesque series of lies, which were communicated in a manner that would be far too demeaning for even a C-list Hollywood actor to engage in. And make no mistake, this isn’t just about Trump being willing and able to lie like a sociopath — this episode was critical to how Trump became Trump.

Trump’s entire identity is wrapped up in the massive misperception of this wealth and his path to the presidency was paved, bizarrely, by that fraud and the celebrity it allowed him to create, all with the media’s willing assistance. This was all a ruse which literally fed on itself.

Trump lying about his worth (when he might have only had $5 million or less in real assets at the time) got him on the “Fortune 400” list, which increased his celebrity, which allowed him to fool others—including banks—that he was rich, which allowed him to “buy” properties that he couldn’t really afford, which further increased his celebrity, which allowed him to date women he had no business being with, which then further increased his celebrity, all in a never-ending cycle of deception. This fake celebrity status then saved him in the early 1990s when, after it all collapsed, the banks he owed many millions to allowed him to stay afloat (even paying him a monthly “allowance” so he could he could still pretend to be rich and maintain his brand) under the presumption that he was worth more to them “alive” than “dead.”

There are other aspects of this story which are important — other than how it proves that Trump is not a person who should be anywhere near the White House. For instance, how the heck did the former Forbes reporter, Jonathan Greenberg, only just now decide almost three years too late, to go back and figure out how he got so easily duped by Trump’s claims? While Greenberg is clearly not the sharpest given how easily Trump fooled him, this absurd “oversight” is very reminiscent of the “Access Hollywood Tape” somehow not coming out during the Republican primaries.

Then there is the disturbing interview Greenberg did with CNN’s Chris Cuomo about how they both were duped by Trump’s finances. Their tone was one of “Gee, it’s funny how this happened, isn’t it?”

Actually no, it is not funny at all. This was a situation in which the media’s abject incompetence and gullibility in blindly accepting a narrative they liked, has led to potentially catastrophic consequences for our country (though not for the media, which is all media people seem to really care about).

Tellingly, Greenberg was actually proud of himself for having only cited Trump’s wealth as being about 1/5th of what Trump was ludicrously claiming at the time, though he now admits that he should have realized that the real number was 1/100th of what “John Barron” told him. This exposes an important reality about how Trump gets away with his lies.

Trump clearly understands the “Big Lie Theory,” meaning that people are more likely to believe the audacity of a giant lie and, even if they don’t buy the whole thing, if they accept a significant portion of it as true, the liar wins. In other words, Trump realizes that if, as a celebrity, you say that 2+2=100, there is a very good chance that some of the many morons in the media will report that 2+2=50, or at least 10.

No matter what, Trump wins.

Finally, this fiasco is also edifying with regard to how Trump views the media as whole and why he has created, to his great personal benefit, the notion that “Fake News!” is rampant against him. Trump fundamentally understands just how broken and unreliable most of the news media is. And that’s because he has been shocked how easy it was for him to manipulate them — and get away with all that he has over the years — without it being reported until it is too late to cause him any real harm.

The primary reason that Trump, rightly, has no respect for the news media is that he knows that if they had a clue about what they were doing he not only wouldn’t be president, he’d likely be nothing but an opinionated New York slumlord with about 836 followers on Twitter.

John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud  or email him at

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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