NPR Celebrates Spy Magazine Mockery of Trump; Skips Wicked Hillary Satires

On Monday’s Morning Edition, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik traveled to an old and faithful geyser of Donald Trump mockery: the late Spy magazine, the lefty satire rag run by Graydon Carter (now running Vanity Fair magazine) and Kurt Andersen (now hosting the pretentious arts program Studio 60 on NPR stations on the weekends). The magazine debuted in 1986 and died in 1998.

It is true that Spy had a special appetite for mocking Trump to the hilt….but it’s also true that Spy did some rather unforgettable mocking of the other frontrunner in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton. NPR never went there in a seven-minute Trump-bashing segment.

Folkenflik celebrated Carter and Andersen: “In 1986, they were both young reporters. And that is when they created the satiric magazine Spy. Spy picked Trump as the embodiment of a crass age. The magazine has long since been shut down, but its jokes echo.”

Unless the jokes are about Hillary, and then NPR slams the memory hole shut.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: They focused on New York's obsessions - politics, finance, fashion, media and real estate. Spy targeted the rich and powerful for comeuppances, none more so than a striving Donald Trump.

KURT ANDERSEN: He epitomized so much of the sudden ostentation.

GRAYDON CARTER: The brashness, the ostentation...

ANDERSEN: The vulgarity.

CARTER: ...Vulgarity, yeah, of New York in the '80s. Yeah.

ANDERSEN: I mean, New York, '80s, Donald Trump -- that until now could have been his -- the illustration in the dictionary. And because he has loved then and loves -- like nobody I've ever seen in a kind of addict way --  public attention, he started rising to the bait and talking back to us.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump hated their hazing and threatened the two editors with lawsuits. They published his threats in the magazine. Spy once praised Trump for his promise never to run for public office. Years earlier, Carter says he noticed Trump had small fingers for a tall man. So from Spy's earliest days, they called him a short-fingered vulgarian, repeatedly....

The image stuck. Graydon Carter says Trump's anger endures.

CARTER: He blames me for this more than Kurt. He'll send me pictures, tear sheets from magazines, and he did it as recently as April. With a gold sharpie, he'll circle his fingers and in his handwriting say, see, not so short. And this April when he sent me one, I should have held onto the thing. But I sent it right back by messenger with a note stapled at the top saying, actually, quite short. And I know it just gives him absolute fits. And now that it's become sort of part of the whole campaign rhetoric, I'm sure he wants to just kill me with those with those little hands.

Folkenflik recalled for the audience how Spy sent tiny checks to prominent New Yorkers as a gag to see who would cash them, and Donald Trump cashed every one, down to one for 16 cents. This led to internment-camp jokes:

FOLKENFLIK: So if Trump reaches the White House...

ANDERSEN: Well, Graydon and I would share a bunk in the internment camp. (LAUGHTER) I don't know. It would - it would probably be...

CARTER: Shiny.

ANDERSEN: ...It would be very shiny.

CARTER: If you had to describe it in one word, it would be shiny.

But below are a few Hillary covers that could have been discussed, and then perhaps Carter and Andersen might be seen as more juvenile in their tastes. Most remembered is the February 1993 dominatrix cover: 

Feminist critic Caryl Rivers blamed the right wing for this cover: “The right wing, which likes its women silent and subservient, hates Hillary Clinton with the passion of junior-high bullies…The right’s loathing of a bright woman rubbed off on the mainstream press. The next phase of Hillary bashing cast her as either bad wife or bad feminist.... Spy magazine put Hillary Clinton on its cover in a black studs-and-leather dominatrix outfit, holding a riding crop, with the headline WHAT HILLARY PROBLEM?”

Then there was the July-August 1993 health-care reform cover, with HIllary in scrubs preparing for an implied prostate exam:

These are not sophisticated covers. They're low-class enough to make a high-school joke giggle. They described themselves as young, brash comedic guerrillas:

CARTER: It was basically a funny magazine about New York City that explained New York, even to New Yorkers. We were young enough to not have any bridges to burn, and just old enough to know a little bit, a few things.

ANDERSEN: And where to put the explosives under the bridges.

For me, the most memorable image was the October 1995 cover on her sudden $100,000 profit dabbling in the cattle-futures market, where Hillary was posed as wearing tighty-whitey men's underwear with a bulge: 

How nice it was for Carter and Andersen not to have to explain these digs to Hillary-adoring NPR listeners.

When asked about the prospect of Trump winning the White House, Anderson sounded like many liberals....amused until the end: "I think it would be a great American failure of a character test. ... I don't want it to happen, but I gotta say, up until the moment he's sworn in, I find it wondrous and astonishing and a perverse pleasure."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis