Deadline Artists: Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin's faceoff with Donald Trump in 1989 is still relevant today

Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, two newspapermen who changed print journalism forever, were fiercely critical of real estate mogul Donald Trump back in the late eighties.


                            Deadline Artists: Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin's faceoff with Donald Trump in 1989 is still relevant today

Reporters Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill radiated glamor that was in stark contrast to their profession. Writing in colloquial prose that clarified the muffled cries of New York's underclass, the duo brought forth a multitude of personal stories that were hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city.

More than anything else, they will be lauded in eternity for holding the powerful and elite accountable in a stiffly polarized society. HBO's 'Deadline Artists' beautifully illustrates why these two brazen columnists struck a chord with the populace and won their hearts. 

A segment in the documentary features a younger and thinner Donald Trump calling for the death penalty for five young men of color arrested for the rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989, and which pitted the journalists against the real estate tycoon, a visible figure of the New York establishment.

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (2018) tells the story of newspaper journalism in New York City right from the 60s to present times by exploring the lives of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill and the stories they covered. (Twitter)
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (2018) tells the story of newspaper journalism in New York City right from the 60s to present times by exploring the lives of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill and the stories they covered. (Twitter)

On April 19, 1989, a young investment banker was raped and nearly beaten to death in Central Park. Five people were charged with the said rape. Four of the accused, who came to be known as the Central Park Five, confessed to the crime on videotape with adult relatives present while one admitted to the charges with a parent present, but not on videotape, thereby leading to their conviction.

Despite a panel of multicultural judges passing a unanimous verdict, major media outlets decided to conduct their own trials - judging not by evidence, but by the race and color of both the accused and the victim. However, in 2002, the five were exonerated by 'DNA evidence' - a primitive science back in 1989 which couldn't be relied on especially considering the heap of other incriminating evidence brought forth at the time. 



 

Although several claims later emerged saying the accused were "tricked" into their respective confessions, law enforcement had simply followed due process. With rising crime statistics coupled with the much publicized trial of the five, many felt that New York had had enough. 

One of them was a hotshot real estate mogul by the name of Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in four major newspapers with the headline: 

"BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY.

"BRING BACK OUR POLICE!"

The page did not mention the Central Park rape, but brought forth the predicament of working-class families, including "White, Black, Hispanic and Asian," who were unable to enjoy evening walks or picnics around the park due to the menace of muggers and murderers.

Soon after the attack, a hotshot real estate mogul by the name of Donald Trump took out a full-page ad on four major newspapers in the city. (Twitter)
Soon after the attack, a hotshot real estate mogul by the name of Donald Trump took out a full-page ad on four major newspapers in the city. (Twitter)

"I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. ... They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes," Trump wrote, speaking of the criminals.

"You better believe I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally. You better believe it. It's more than anger; it's hatred. And I want society to hate them," he said at a later press conference.

Many would say that Trump was voicing the discontent of many, something that would generally merit praise.

However, he was excoriated in the newspapers -- especially by Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, who said his "scream for vengeance could be considered premature by some" and who decried his "violent language" "as if it were coming from someone who walks around with bodyguards."

"Snarling and heartless and fraudulently tough, insisting on the virtue of stupidity, it was the epitome of blind negation,” Hamill wrote about the ad.

“Hate was just another luxury. And Donald Trump stood naked revealed as the spokesman for that tiny minority of Americans who live well-defended lives. Forget poverty and its causes. Forget the degradation and squalor of millions. Fry them into passivity."

Following suit, Breslin advised his readers, "Beware always of the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation and appealing to a crowd's meanest nature."



 

It wasn't just the handling of crime with which the duo had issues with Trump, they also had cautionary words for journalist while dealing with him.

In 1990, Breslin noticed that reporters were markedly receptive to what Trump had to say - something that did not sit well with him.

"Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery," he wrote in a column.

"He uses the reporters to create a razzle-dazzle: there are five stories in the newspapers in the morning papers leading into 11 minutes of television at night. The financial people, who lead such dreary lives, believe what they read and see on television. Trump is larger than life."

Some of the sentiments explored in the documentary vis-à-vis Trump have gone on to sit well with liberal journalists today who have taken the cue from their illustrious predecessors, accusing Trump of "inflaming race hating" and "division."

With Trump as the president of the US, and the issues the journalists clashed with him over still pretty much around, the way it pans out is still a developing story.