Starting in the 1970s, there was no more dedicated muckraker than the gruff, relentless investigative reporter Wayne Barrett (July 11, 1945-January 19, 2017), a self-described “country boy from Lynchburg, Virginia” and graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, who evolved from founding a teen Republican group to becoming an impassioned leftist. Fellow journalists regarded him as a role model, and even some politicians grudgingly acknowledged his skills and integrity.
His many scoops ranged from the criminal past of Rudolph Giuliani’s father to the many votes missed by then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. Barrett was, in the words of The New York Times, “the unrivaled master of long, dense articles about the unsavory side of New York’s political culture.”
Few reporters knew Donald Trump as well as did Barrett, who began covering the budding real-estate developer in the late 1970s. In 1990, after repeated efforts for an interview, he slipped past security at a Trump birthday party in Atlantic City, N.J., but was quickly handcuffed and arrested for trespassing. Chained to the wall in an Atlantic City holding pen for hours that night by cops moonlighting as Trump security, Barrett wrote, “I began to get the point: Trump had decided not to cooperate with this book.”
Barrett’s subsequent “Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls” (1992) uncovered Trump’s ties to mob figures and other unsavory characters, including Roy Cohn; investigated claims of bias against prospective black tenants in Trump buildings; and prompted gaming officials in New Jersey to probe various Trump associations. A new edition (published last year as “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, The Reinvention”) also covered Trump’s legal threats against the journalist.
In a farewell Village Voice column in 2010, Barrett wrote, “I tell the young people still drawn to this duty that it is the most honorable one in America, and that I have never met a corrupt journalist.”