PODCAST: The story behind our Trump golf story (and a certain explosive quote)

August 2, 2017

Of the 7,424 words in Alan Shipnuck’s deep dive into President Trump’s ties to golf in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, seven words have caused a media frenzy:

That White House is a real dump.   

According to Shipnuck’s reporting, Trump uttered that line to several members of his Bedminster, N.J., club before playing a round of golf there recently. A White House spokesperson denies this ever happened, but in a podcast published on GOLF.com Wednesday, Shipnuck explained his reporting; joining Shipnuck on the podcast was his SI colleague Michael Bamberger, who also contributed reporting to the piece. Below is a transcribed excerpt of that part of the conversation, which begins around the 3:10 mark.

To listen to the entire podcast, in which the writers also discuss what it’s like to play golf with Trump, click here.  

MICHAEL BAMBERGER: Alan, let me just ask you one question right off the top here because I’m being asked about it and whatever you say will be helpful to me as well. I got a call the other day…it was kind of a hectic day and I got an email on my phone that said, “‘Call me. It’s urgent.’ Blah, blah, blah.” I read it quickly and it said [from] Hicks.   

Well, I figured it was [NBC broadcaster] Dan Hicks. I figured he must have been mentioned in the story. There must have been some sort of problem, so I called back and got a young woman’s voice. I said, “Oh, hi. It’s Michael Bamberger. Is your dad around?” I was confused, because I thought I was calling Dan Hicks. Ms. Hicks said, “No, you haven’t called Dan Hicks. You’ve called Hope Hicks,” who is one of President Trump’s longtime advisors and spokespeople. Anyway, she was calling to complain about two words in the story that are getting a lot of attention where Donald Trump is quoted as saying “The White House is a real dump.” Ms. Hicks told me that that was a “lie and that Sports Illustrated is not in the business of publishing lies.”

I know it’s not but maybe, Alan, you can fill in the listenership about how that quote got into the magazine and what it means.

ALAN SHIPNUCK: Yeah, I had a conversation with Ms. Hicks as well, which was quite enlightening — the confrontational and rude tone of the phone call. They definitely don’t waste any time trying to be charming or friendly, these people in the White House communications department. She tried the same line on me, “That’s a lie and needs to be retracted.” I explained to her: It’s not a lie. The president said this in front of eight or nine members and staffers at [Trump] Bedminster. It was his first visit to the club after he had been residing in the White House. It was a moment of candor. Someone who was a part of that conversation relayed it to me. I found this person to be an extremely credible source on any number of topics.   

The week of the U.S. Women’s Open [in July], I heard the same story told by two or three different other sources. This is certainly a moment that has already passed into legend at Trump Bedminster. It might be inconvenient for her boss and she might wish he didn’t say it, but it’s not a lie. It was a little insight into how the Trump media operation works coming out of the White House. As a courtesy to the office of the president, we did put in the digital version a parenthetical statement that says, “a White House spokesperson denies this incident ever took place.” I forget the exact wording. Of course it did take place but we were just being nice by offering in their two cents. I got a similar nasty phone call. It’s a little insight into how the modern media works. This is a highly-nuanced, deeply reported, 7,000-word story and there’s been a lot of play about one sentence in it.

BAMBERGER: I was just going to say very quickly that it’s a very illustrative story because it deals with a lot of things that relate to Trump. Trump has a sense of humor; he’s got a sort of wise-guy, New York sense of humor. He doesn’t really think the White House is a dump. The White house is not a dump. He’s comparing it to the gilded greatness of Bedminster, which is his idea of beauty. He’s sort of trying to be funny, but whether he’s trying to be funny or not, he’s the President of the United States and people have such passionate feelings about the White House and the presidency. It’s almost like he doesn’t realize that everything he says now gets seen through a completely different prism. That’s why two words like that, which would normally just be “Trump being Trump” now takes on a completely different meaning and results with the conversations that you and I had with Ms. Hicks.   

SHIPNUCK: Well, it’s also an insight into [how] he’s at his most unguarded and he feels most at home when he’s at his golf clubs. Those are his people. That’s why I think he escapes to them every chance he gets because he feels like he can just be himself, and it’s mostly accommodated by those people around him. But of course, now, some of those people like to talk to reporters and these things leak out. I don’t think he would have said that in any other setting really, but you know, he feels like, ahh, he can take a deep breath and he’s really at home now. He’s at Trump Bedminster and he staying at his cottage by the pool and he’s around his cronies.  

It also gives you insight into why he loves to go to his golf clubs because it’s where he feels he can be himself. It’s always been that way. Bedminster is particularly important to him. It’s sort of the crown jewel in his collection [of courses]. It’s fairly close to New York City, his home base. There was a passage in the story that we actually took out just for space, but it’s kind of the social hub for Melania and Barron. That’s where they have a lot of their friends. Of all the places where he’s just going to be one of the boys, Trump Bedminster is really the spot.   

You can listen to the entire podcast below. Subscribe to the GOLF.com Podcast on iTunes by clicking here, or on Soundcloud by clicking here: