A Conflict of Interest Lesson: The New York Observer’s Donald Trump Endorsement


Stipulated: Jared Kushner, who is married to Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, and who owns the The New York Observer, which he purchased in 2006, was in a difficult situation regarding the New York Republican primary. (That’s Jared on the right in the photo above.)

He had a clear and unresolvable  conflict of interest. If his paper endorsed Trump, the endorsement would appear to be dictated by family loyalty rather than objective analysis, and would harm whatever credibility the paper has left (it has been falling in influence and quality for a long time). If The Observer endorsed anyone else, in addition to whatever problems it would cause Kushner behind closed doors (and they would undoubtedly be considerable), a rejection by a paper with such a strong Trump family connection would be interpreted as having special significance, and would be handing a potent weapon to Trump’s adversaries.

Kushner’s dilemma was made worse by the fact that for any newspaper to endorse Donald Trump for President without a conflict of interest that at least would explain such an idiotic position would be tantamount to an admission of collective insanity, instantly turning such a  paper into the successor of the late, lamented Weekly World News, which was prone to breaking scoops like this one:


Faced with these two mutually unacceptable alternatives, there was only one ethical, rational, responsible course that would acknowledge the conflict of interest without falling prey to it: endorse nobody, and explain why.


What the Observer decided to do is disgrace itself by not only endorsing its owner’s billionaire father-in-law anyway, but do so with one of the most ridiculous newspaper endorsements of all time.

“Donald Trump is the father-in-law of the Observer’s publisher. That is not a reason to endorse him. Giving millions of disillusioned Americans a renewed sense of purpose and opportunity is,” it begins. Huh! I did not know millions of Americans purposefully want  their country to fall apart in chunks. Or that the chance to run a misogynist, racist boor to give Hillary Clinton the best possible chance of becoming President could be called an “opportunity.” You learn something every day!

The endorsement lurches from spin to dubious proposition to outrageous comparison (True, critics liked to say Ronald Reagan was “just an actor,” but he also had substantial public policy and government leadership experience, and had been governor of California. Trump is more fairly compared, in both experience and intellect, to the Kardashians…), culminating in this classic paragraph:

“The media tried very hard to construct excuses and rationales for his success. Mr. Trump was a celebrity, an entertainer; he knew how to play the media and gain its attention; his policies grabbed headlines but lacked the specificity of his rivals—which gave him an unfair advantage. But what every pundit’s platitudes missed was simple: they failed to recognize that Mr. Trump’s success is the result of one thing—optimism. Mr. Trump was tapping into the pent-up desire of millions of voters to make America great again.”

Yes, the critics were employing platitudes, but the Observer is using real substance, like “make America great again,” which is included in the endorsement three times. One can’t deny that optimism is at the root of Trump’s support, however. The problem is that the optimism of trusting that a babbling huckster whose reasoning is based on rationalizations and whose rebuttals consist of schoolyard insults and taunts can be anything but an existential disaster for the U.S.is indistinguishable from insanity.

Nobody will be persuaded by an endorsement that comes from the paper owned and operated by Trump’s daughter’s hubby, so all the pathetic editorial accomplishes is to further diminish the Oberver’s reputation, make the paper an object of ridicule, and gurantee that Ivanka doesn’t make Jared Kushner sleep in the garage.

Recognizing an impossible conflict of interest and dealing with it professionally could have avoided the first two, and I bet Kushner would have been allowed back into the house after a day or two.

15 thoughts on “A Conflict of Interest Lesson: The New York Observer’s Donald Trump Endorsement

  1. Didn’t know about Jared. From his wiki page. I guess anybody can grow up to be a real estate mogul’s son. Let’s here it for meritocracy in higher education.

    “Kushner is the eldest son of Seryl (née Stadtmauer) and real estate developer Charles Kushner. He has a brother, Joshua, who is also a businessman, and two sisters, Nicole and Dara. His father has an estimated net worth of $500 million.
    Kushner was raised in a Jewish family in New Jersey. He graduated from the Frisch School, a private, coed yeshiva high school in Paramus, New Jersey, and from Harvard College in 2003 with an A.B. in sociology. According to journalist Daniel Golden, Kushner (and his brother Joshua Kushner) were admitted despite modest academic credentials after his father had made a $2.5 million donation to the university, with the Director of the school’s college preparatory program describing his admission to be “an unusual choice for Harvard to make” given that he was “not anywhere near the top of his class.”
    In 2007, Kushner graduated from the New York University School of Law where he earned his JD degree;[9] his father donated $3 million to the university in 2001. He interned at Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office.

    In July 2006, at age 25, Kushner purchased The New York Observer, a weekly New York City newspaper, for $10 million, using money he says he earned during his college years by closing deals on residential buildings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with family members providing the backing for his investments.
    Since purchasing The Observer, he has pushed for changes to increase sales and created a new focus for the paper, [clarification needed] moving towards a tabloid format. Kushner has been credited with increasing the Observer’s online presence and expanding the Observer Media Group. In December 2011, The New York Post reported that the Observer expected to become profitable for the first time.”

    Just think, in a few more presidential elections cycles, we can have Jared Kushner running against Chelsea Clinton.

      • Jack said, “That’s right, but since American newspapers have done this from the very beginning, it is, by definition, what American newspapers do.”

        I understand where you’re coming from, I really do, but I’ve just got to ask how many rationalizations are there in that reply? 😉

        • None. Editorializing isn’t journalism, but punditry, and that’s always been part of the package. It isn’t “everybody does it” or “it is what it is.” It’s “That’s the nature of the beast,” and that’s not a rationalization. “Wrong” means something that an entity can’t ethically do. Since the entity was developed to do this, you can say that American Newspapers are by nature unethical, but within their own definition, endorsements are allowed, expected and kosher.

          It like saying politicians shouldn’t say they will do things that are politically impossible.

          • Just for the sake of an argument to present in debate… 😉

            A newspaper is not a sentient being therefore it cannot editorialize. A newspaper is a business that provides a means of distribution of news, journalism, opinions, etc. A newspaper has individuals with the business that have individual opinions that can share those individual opinions via the means of distribution but it does not have the ability to have one unified singular opinion; therefore, a newspaper shouldn’t present itself as a sentient being sharing an unified singular opinion endorsing a particular candidate.

            It was long ago; but, I was once called an asshole in a debate by someone that completely lost their composure; I think I’m practicing that trait again. I really am LOL! 😉

        • I think “Everybody Does it” fits best. I am just lying in wait for him to pull out the Pioneer’s Lament in response.

          • Of course, sometimes everybody does it is true, and does dictate conduct.

            Essentially what ZS is arguing is that Newspapers shouldn’t express opinions; its not journalism. Yes, but neither are recipes, horoscopes, or comics. It has never been true that newspapers were just about reporting and journalism—so ZS is saying “I think newspapers should be reinvented as news services—just the facts, maam.” That’s fine, but it’s like saying that the Presidency should be like a Prime Minister, or that baseball shouldn’t use the Designated Hitter. You are complaining about what the thing IS, rather than what it is doing.

  2. “Trump is more fairly compared, in both experience and intellect, to the Kardashians”

    Actually, I’d be inclined to give the Kardashian’s a couple of points in that comparison.

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