Forbes Senior Editor Richard Stern meets with Donald Trump to get a quote for a cover story he’s working on with contributor John Connolly. Trump explodes when he finds out the story is called “Is Trump Broke?” and says he’s in debt.
Stern and Connolly have a solid story. The reporters also have a leaked document from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission that shows the total debt of all of Trump’s properties. They want to report that Trump’s true net worth is estimated to be less than zero.
Trump threatens to sue the company and, later in the week, says he’ll accuse publisher Malcolm Forbes of bringing two male companions — under the legal drinking age — to the Plaza Hotel bar if the story is published. He promises to tell everyone that the story is a hit piece for kicking Forbes and his guests out of the bar. (Malcolm Forbes died months earlier.)
A gay news magazine had outed Malcolm Forbes shortly after his death that February, though the claim was not widely circulated; Trump possessed a much louder megaphone with which to humiliate the Forbes family.The Washington Post
The company folds to Trump’s pressure. Forbes‘ top editor, Jim Michaels, forces Stern and Connolly to “jigger the numbers” and report that Trump is worth at least $500 million. The finished piece is published on May 14 with a new title: “How Much Is Donald Really Worth Now?”
But that’s not how this story ends.
Even then, Trump was not satisfied with his victory. Connolly and Stern’s story interrupted the mogul’s narrative around the opening of the world’s largest casino. Trump retaliated by making last-minute changes to the text of his August 1990 book, “Surviving at the Top,” to recount the alleged bar spat and say that Malcolm Forbes “lived openly as a homosexual . . . but expected the media and his famous friends to cover for him.” After editors removed him from the annual Forbes 400 in late September (estimating that his net worth by that time had fallen below the $260 million cut-off), Trump elaborated on his accusation in a Los Angeles Times op-ed headlined “Forbes Carried Out Personal Vendetta in Print.” Trump wrote that, after the supposed bar incident, Malcolm Forbes “called and screamed at me, saying that I’d treated him shabbily, embarrassed him publicly — and that he would get even with me,” Trump wrote. “It was only a few weeks later that I got word that Forbes magazine was planning a cover story on me.”