Front Row at the Trump Show

Front Row at the Trump Show

by Jonathan Karl

Narrated by Jonathan Karl

Jonathan Karl

Unabridged — 10 hours, 16 minutes

Front Row at the Trump Show

Front Row at the Trump Show

by Jonathan Karl

Narrated by Jonathan Karl

Jonathan Karl

Unabridged — 10 hours, 16 minutes

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An account like no other from the White House reporter who has known President Donald Trump for more than 25 years.

We have never seen a president like this...norm-breaking, rule-busting, dangerously reckless to some and an overdue force for change to others. One thing is clear: We are witnessing the reshaping of the presidency.

Jonathan Karl brings us into the White House in a powerful book unlike any other on the Trump administration. He's known and covered Donald Trump longer than any other White House reporter.  With extraordinary access to Trump during the campaign and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Karl delivers essential new reporting and surprising insights. 

These are the behind-the-scenes moments that define Trump's presidency–an extraordinary look at the president, the person, and those closest to him. This is the real story of Trump's unlikely rise; of the struggles and battles of those who work in the administration and those who report on it; of the plots and schemes of a senior staff enduring stunning and unprecedented unpredictability.

Karl takes us from a TV set turned campaign office to the strange quiet of Trump's White House on Inauguration Day to a high-powered reelection campaign set to change the country's course. He shows us an administration rewriting the role of the president on the fly and a press corps that has never been more vital. Above all, this book is only possible because of the surprisingly open relationship Donald Trump has had with Jonathan Karl, a reporter he has praised, fought, and branded an enemy of the people.

This is Front Row at the Trump Show.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


ABC News correspondent Karl (The Right to Bear Arms) offers a blow-by-blow chronicle of Donald Trump’s path to the White House in this detailed yet disappointing account that concludes two months before impeachment. Though Karl credits Trump with “pulling off the greatest political upset in American history” and carefully notes that all presidents have “bitterly complained” about their press coverage, he condemns the Trump administration for waging a “war on truth” and “pour rocket fuel” on America’s political divisions. His litany of evidence includes a 2013 TV interview in which Trump refused to take the “golden opportunity” to walk back claims that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.; White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lying to reporters about air strikes against Syria; and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitting, in response to Karl’s question, that Ukrainian military aid had been withheld for political reasons, then denying the admission. Karl delivers a plethora of insider anecdotes, but his analysis of the administration’s impact on democratic norms feels shallow, and his tendency toward self-congratulation grates. (Is it really necessary to know that Anthony Scaramucci thought Karl’s exchange with Mulvaney over the Ukraine affair was “the question that saved America”?). Readers searching for headline-worthy insights into the Trump White House should look elsewhere. Agent: David Larabell, Creative Artists Agency. (Mar.)

From the Publisher

Praise for Front Row at the Trump Show

“Jonathan Karl gives us much more than program notes for the Trump Show in this revealing and personal account of his relationship with our 45th president. We learn what it is really like to be on the White House beat, about the peculiarities of dealing with the personality in the Oval Office, and ultimately the risks and dangers we face at this singular moment in American history.”—Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary (1995-98) and director/professor, Center for Public Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary

“The Constitution is strict: It says we must have presidents. Fortunately, we occasionally have reporters as talented as Jonathan Karl—an acute observer and gifted writer—to record what presidents do. Karl is exactly the right journalist to chronicle the 45th president, who is more—to be polite—exotic than his predecessors.”—George F. Will

“No reporter has covered Donald Trump longer and with more energy than Jonathan Karl. It pays off in his account of what he calls the Trump Show with some startling scoops. What did the president scrawl across the rejected resignation letter from his attorney general? He tells us.”—Susan Page, Washington bureau chief, USA Today
“Jon Karl is fierce, fearless, and fair. From cub reporter at the NY Post to chief WH correspondent for ABC News, he’s covered Donald Trump—and the White House—for a generation. He knows the man, and the office. Front Row at the Trump Show takes us inside the daily challenge of truthful reporting on the Trump WH, revealing what’s at stake with vivid detail and deep insights.”—George Stephanopoulos

“Jonathan Karl is a straight-shooting, fair-minded, and hardworking professional so it’s no surprise he’s produced a book historians will relish. It’s about good old-fashioned news-getting—about the process and the rules and how it works. Overlaying it is this most amazing moment in American political history. Underlying it is a story about waking up each morning and trying against the odds to find out what’s true.”—Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Front Row at the Trump Show provides an unvarnished view of the deceptions, eccentricities, and occasional achievements of the Trump presidency from a first-rate television correspondent with a ringside seat.”—Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

“Must read: Jonathan Karl's Front Row at the Trump Show. Time and again he was in the room where it happened. I've read every book about the Trump presidency. This is the best.”—Bill Press

“Mr. Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, necessarily tells the story from the media’s side, but he is a fair-minded reporter rather than a media cheerleader. Unlike other books about Mr. Trump by members of the news media, Mr. Karl’s book presents the 45th president as a complex, multilayered person… Mr. Karl also manages to convey something missing from other books by his media colleagues about the Trump era: the sheer hilarity of it all.”Wall Street Journal 

“A valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.”Kirkus Reviews

“Front Row at the Trump Show is the best long-form study of the relationship between Trump and the media—and it’s not possible to understand the Trump presidency without understanding that relationship.”—The Morning Dispatch

[Front Row at the Trump Show] is an attempt to capture the madness that is the Trump presidency and the danger to democracy it poses. Aided by measured prose and healthy skepticism, Karl succeeds. Well-organized and respectfully written before the pandemic, Front Row at the Trump Show conveys the chaos and the characters that inhabit the president’s universe.”The Guardian

“Karl, the chief White House correspondent at ABC News, has known Donald Trump since 1994, and it shows.”—New York Times Book Review

“It was so good I was sad when it ended.”Olivia Nuzzi, New York magazine

Kirkus Reviews

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, "What you just described is a quid pro quo." Mulvaney's reply: "Get over it." Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today "faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy." Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press "is not the opposition party." The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump's ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, "Fucking nasty guy!"—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl's account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn't to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump's bidding.

No one's mind will be changed by Karl's book, but it's a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177871097
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/31/2020
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

I didn’t have his phone number, so I dialed the one listed in the phone book for the Trump Organization.

“Can I speak to Donald Trump?” I asked.

It was an audacious call. I had been working as a reporter in New York City for less than a year. I had never met the man, and at this moment Trump’s home and office were the epicenter of the most intense media frenzy I had ever witnessed.

“What do you want?”

The woman on the line was Norma Foerderer, Trump’s longtime gatekeeper and someone so integrally involved in all his dealings— business and personal— that The New York Times had reported a few years earlier, “Some suspect she runs the company.”

At this point, all I knew about Donald Trump was what I had read in the newspapers or seen on television. But I figured I knew enough to say exactly the right thing to get him on the phone.

It was August 1994, and the public was fixated on the tabloid story of the decade: Michael Jackson had just secretly married Lisa Marie Presley— the King of Pop together with the daughter of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. And the newlyweds, who had not yet been spotted together in public, were trying to stay out of sight right in the middle of Manhattan— at Trump Tower.

The news had brought a mob of paparazzi, Michael Jackson fans, Elvis Presley fans, and a parade of onlookers hoping to catch the first glimpse of the married couple. So many people had surged to Trump Tower that the NYPD had cordoned off the sidewalks around the building, forcing the growing crowd to watch from across the street.

I was a twenty- six- year- old reporter more interested in politics than celebrity sightings and spent most of my time reporting on a new mayor in City Hall named Rudy Giuliani, but I was working for the New York Post and on this particular day, my editors only cared about one story.

So I made what I believed would be a slam- dunk pitch to get Trump on the phone:

“I want to do a story on why the most famous newlyweds in the world would have their honeymoon at Trump Tower.”

And sure enough, I got a quick call back. Donald Trump was on the line telling me to come on over. Along with New York Post pho­tographer Francis Specker, I hustled uptown to Trump Tower. Walk­ing past the police cordon set up to keep the paparazzi mobs away, I was whisked up to meet Trump in an office on the twenty- sixth floor filled with framed magazine covers featuring his favorite subject: Donald Trump.

It was a whirlwind from the start, a private tour of Trump Tower given by the man himself. The ground rules were simple: He would show me everything, I could use all the information he gave me, and I could quote him as “a source in the Trump Organization.” We met with Michael Jackson’s bodyguards and photographed the basement tunnels Jackson and Presley were using to get in and out without be­ing spotted by the mob outside. He showed me a blue van with tinted windows in the garage— the couple’s secret getaway car.

He showed it all off— from basement to penthouse— and along the way my source in the Trump Organization gave me all the gossipy details. I learned the terms of Michael Jackson’s lease of the apart­ment directly below Trump’s own. He wanted me to know that Mi­chael and Lisa Marie had lots of famous neighbors. Steven Spielberg had an apartment on the sixty- fourth floor, Andrew Lloyd Webber on the sixtieth. My source pointed out apartments he said were owned by Elton John, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Sophia Loren, and the British royal family. He told me of a woman who bought one apartment for several million and then bought the one below so she could put in a swimming pool. “It’s the most expensive pool in the world,” a source in the Trump Organization told me.

None of this was serious, but my editors at the New York Post ate it up. They had a screaming front- page headline—“INSIDE MI­CHAEL’S HONEYMOON HIDEAWAY”— and four separate articles inside the newspaper, including one headlined “Tour Bares the Se­crets of Lisa and Michael’s Honeymoon Nest.” If any of the residents of Trump Tower were unhappy with the New York Post’s printing a graphic of the building with arrows pointing to where they lived, they would need to take it up with a source in the Trump Organiza­tion. The Post had a big exclusive for the front page and I had a new source.

At one point while he was showing me his apartment on the sixty- eighth floor— the same floor plan and décor as Michael’s, he told me— Trump stopped, turned, and asked if I wanted a picture. At first, I was a little confused. Didn’t he notice I had come with a photogra­pher who had been snapping photos the entire time? But I quickly realized he was asking if I wanted to get a picture taken with him. And with that I stood next to Donald Trump and faced photographer Francis Specker.

At some point while I was still in New York, I put the photo in a frame, but when I moved to Washington some two decades ago, I tossed it in a box of other old photographs. And for more than a de­cade it has been in the box down in my basement. Looking at the picture now, it appears to me as if it just came out of a time capsule. I am wearing a heavily wrinkled suit and a tie I almost certainly bought for three dollars from a New York street vendor. The back­ground is pure Trump: a crystal chandelier, glossy marble, a decadent ceiling adorned with carved stone, and gold— lots of gold. I have long hair and the awkward grin of a reporter trying to figure out why the guy he’s interviewing suddenly stopped to pose for a photograph with him. As for Trump, he is considerably slimmer than he is now, but it is striking how little about his appearance has changed: He’s wearing the same style of dark suit he wears now, the same long red tie, the same facial expression I have seen in a thousand other photos.

As my secret tour of Trump Tower ended, I figured this wouldn’t be the last time I’d call him and get a quick call back, but I had no idea where it would lead. I was a cub reporter for a New York tabloid. He was a flamboyant real estate developer with a scandalous personal life. As I shook his hand, I couldn’t have begun to imagine his jour­ney would ultimately lead to the White House, and so would mine.

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