"Donald J. Trump had barely met Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes."
"Oh, boy," readers of The New York Times thought when they picked up the Sunday paper and read that opening line of a story on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Here comes good stuff: hot, leggy models getting out of their clothes, sex, lust, bodice ripping, pretentious pawing, aggressive coupling, runaway desire and maybe drugs and damnation, all set under the palms at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
At long last: the lowdown on the Donald.
Umm, well, not quite. There was indeed a poolside party at Mar-a-Lago, though this one was 26 years ago, and the leggy model did "change out of her clothes." The host started to show her around the mansion, and when he learned she didn't have a bathing suit, he took her to a room where she could find one. What happened next could only have shocked Grandpa and Grandma Grundy, the authors of the newspaper exclusive, also known as Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey. (Gramps and Granny Grundy can't be too careful.)
The Donald was 44 years old on that distant day, and he was in the midst of his first divorce. His ego was on the line — anything might happen. He was fragile, vulnerable and libido-driven. That sometimes happens to a man in such circumstances. This would be a sensational account of a man "Crossing the Line" of conduct with women, reported in the spirit of the famous Detective Sgt. Friday: "Just the facts, ma'am."
Alas, the facts turned out to be not nearly as exciting as promised. Brewer Lane took the Donald's invitation to borrow a bathing suit and join the other guests. "'I went into the bathroom and tried one on,' she recalled. It was a bikini. 'I came out, and he said, 'Wow!'"
That's the explosive three-letter word that men have been known to use at the sight of what author Damon Runyon called a "doll," attired in a bikini. That's just what a bikini is designed to do, which is why many young women can't wait to get into one. The ladies loved the "Wow" reaction in those antique times, before Gloria Steinem, in a Playboy-bunny suit, exposed the appetite of the rabbit in men. Many women like to hear such admiration from a male even today, though some, intimidated by the prevailing feminist sensibility, are reluctant to admit they do. This particular Trump guest sounds like one who didn't mind.
"For some reason Donald seemed a little smitten with me," she said. "He just started talking to me and nobody else." On that day, Trump followed the rules of flirtation in a stylish way the Grundys couldn't understand. Their account was intended to illustrate Trump's appalling treatment of women, which the authors describe as "degrading, impersonal, performed." They also called his introduction of Brewer Lane to his guests — "a stunning Trump girl" — a "debasing face-to-face encounter."
But Brewer Lane doesn't agree, she told Fox News the next day. She was enraged by the newspaper's account. She felt neither degraded nor offended by Trump, she told Fox. She described him as kind, generous and thoughtful, "a gentleman." And she intends to vote for him.
Not all women share her view of the candidate — not to put too fine a point on it — and there are ample examples of his less-than-gentlemanly behavior. But it's easy to agree with Brewer Lane that The New York Times was eager to go Trump hunting. It felt the "need to do something to make him look bad." Trump and the media have well-known ill feelings toward each other, and many reporters and editors are frustrated that nothing they write or say has brought him down. He can expect more stories like this one, but few are likely to be so obvious in intent.
Donald Trump is not a subtle man. He has made enemies of lots of women with his boorish behavior, his ugly epithets and his insults. The New York Times added nothing new to the mix but its own frustration and an example of what campaign coverage is likely to be: rife with anger, innuendo and snark. The two reporters offered the usual boilerplate in defense. "We really stand by our story," Barbaro told CNN, "We believe we quoted her fairly and accurately and that the story really speaks for itself." Well, it certainly does do that.
Summer is on the way. Soon the sight of young women in bikinis will decorate the land and provoke the "Wow" factor. Not every man will avert his eyes. Beware, New York Times.