Donald Trump is a uniquely media-obsessed president, to the point where he’s enlisted various cable news personalities as top policy and political advisers, even when it comes to sensitive matters like grisly war crimes. He’ll fume endlessly about various TV pundits and anchors who he feels have been too mean to him, and earlier this year he and his lawyer threatened frivolously to sue CNN after the channel made him mad.
His media fixations are so consuming, in fact, that they often involve outlets with limited readership and have extended well into his late-in-life career as leader of the free world.
One quintessential example of this is the president’s preoccupation with the pages and glossy photo spreads of Washington Life, a D.C. luxury and culture magazine that remains unknown to most Americans, especially those living outside the nation’s capital.
But not to President Trump!
According to John Arundel, a longtime associate publisher of Washington Life who previously reported for such outlets as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the 45th President of the United States has a long memory when it comes to Washington Life Magazine, which publishes 10 issues per year and boasts a circulation of roughly 50,000. Arundel says he first met and started getting to know Trump roughly three decades ago, when the publisher was serving as a news assistant at the Times.
Arundel ran into Trump again just as the latter was wrapping up his first year in office. “It was December 29, 2017, the Saturday before New Year’s Eve, at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach; he arrived in a light motorcade,” Arundel recounted to The Daily Beast. “We walked in and then there he was, in the golf club… and we began talking.”
Trump had stopped in for lunch and had ordered some hamburgers with his small entourage and golfing buddies. Arundel, who was there as a guest of a club member, introduced the president to his kids, including his teen son William, to whom Trump said, “William, I want you to know that your father works at the most important magazine in Washington.” The publisher happened to be holding a “Holiday 2017” edition of Washington Life, which featured Fox News host Bret Baier on the cover, to which Trump pointed and said, according to Arundel, “That’s a great photo of Bret, I played golf with him [the other day].”
The publisher asked the president if he’d seen that Trump had made the cover of Washington Life’s January/February 2017 issue, for the story, “EXCLUSIVE: Spheres of Influence in Trumpland.”
Without missing a beat, the president griped, “Yes, I know, I’ve seen every one of them. But you keep on using the same [photo] you took on the golf course,” according to Arundel.
Apparently, Trump had noticed that the photograph of him—wearing a pink tie, suited up, done up in makeup—used on the cover of the magazine’s 2017 inauguration issue wasn’t from the presidential transition. It wasn’t even taken during the 2016 Trump campaign. The picture was seven years old, and the president wasn’t thrilled.
The reason Trump may have been unhappy is because the 2010 shoot that had produced the photo used on that Washington Life cover had left a lingering bad taste in his mouth.
Back then, Trump, via his executive assistant and confidante Rhona Graff, reached out to Arundel, asking if he would like to come spend a few hours with him for a magazine feature. The then reality TV star also agreed to a photo shoot at his Virginia golf property outside of Washington, D.C., where Arundel and the photographer were instructed by Trump’s staff to be there promptly at 9 a.m.
Trump, recalled Arundel, was flown in via chopper.
“When the helicopter dropped down, he came out and was alone, pancaked with makeup already,” Arundel said. “He then said to us, ‘Hi, I’m Donald Trump,’ which was funny because his name was on the helicopter, we could figure it out.”
As the shoot got underway near the property’s clubhouse, Trump began trying to micromanage the situation. He asked to review the photos, and whenever he saw one he didn’t like or that he thought made him look insufficiently handsome, he’d tell the photographer to delete “this photo and that photo,” the Washington Life executive noted.
“Our photographer kept asking him to do his ‘You’re Fired!’ line from The Apprentice, and at one point Trump got bored with that, so he started saying, ‘You’re fucking fired!’ while grinning.”
In the formal interview they conducted that day, Arundel and Trump riffed on President Barack Obama, China and trade, and how Trump’s children were vastly inferior to him at golf. Trump and Arundel parted ways on good terms. The interview and photos, for a piece titled, “Access Pollywood: Tee Time with The Donald,” soon found their way into the October 2010 issue—though not exactly where the future president and New York celebrity had keenly desired.
“The owners [ultimately] decided not to make him the cover,” said Arundel. Instead, Trump was relegated to a two-page spread. “He was upset about it.”
Soon after the issue was published, Arundel says that he received a heated phone call from Trump’s assistant, stating: “Mr. Trump is very disappointed in you. He’s very disappointed that he gave you five hours, and you didn’t put him on the cover.”
“That’s the day I learned that Donald Trump liked to collect magazine covers like a lepidopterist would collect a rare and wondrous moth,” Arundel told The Daily Beast on Tuesday, reflecting on the moment.
A lot has happened to Trump since then. And yet, the 2010 photoshoot and the subsequent use of it on the 2017 Washington Life magazine cover still rankle him. A former senior administration official says that they’d heard Trump privately grouse about the age-old matter “as recently as [late 2018],” when it came up seemingly out of the blue during a broader conversation touching on media, politics, and the D.C. elite.
Washington Life, for its part, isn’t taking its eye off of the Trumps, either. For the 2019 “SOCIAL LIST” edition, the cover was graced by none other than the president’s daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka, for another “EXCLUSIVE,” this time of “IVANKA TRUMP AT [A] KUWAITI EMBASSY DINNER HONORING KAREN PENCE.”