A $25 Million Settlement Just Tanked Right-Wing Media’s Fraudulent Defense Of Trump University

President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.

Trump Settles Trump University Fraud Case For $25 Million

New York Times: “Donald Trump Agrees To Pay $25 Million In Trump University Settlement.” The New York attorney general announced November 18 that Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle a series of lawsuits alleging employees at his for-profit education scheme, Trump University, used “high-pressure sales tactics and employed unqualified instructors” to scam students, according to the New York Times. The Times called the settlement offer “a remarkable concession from a real estate mogul who derides legal settlements and has mocked fellow businessmen who agree to them”:

Donald J. Trump has reversed course and agreed to pay $25 million to settle a series of lawsuits stemming from his defunct for-profit education venture, Trump University, finally putting to rest fraud allegations by former students, which have dogged him for years and hampered his presidential campaign.

The settlement was announced by the New York attorney general on Friday, just 10 days before one of the cases, a federal class-action lawsuit in San Diego, was set to be heard by a jury. The deal, if approved, averts a potentially embarrassing and highly unusual predicament: a president-elect on trial, and possibly even taking the stand in his own defense, while scrambling to build his incoming administration.

It was a remarkable concession from a real estate mogul who derides legal settlements and has mocked fellow businessmen who agree to them.

But the allegations in the case were highly unpleasant for Mr. Trump: Students paid up to $35,000 in tuition for a programs that, according to the testimony of former Trump University employees, used high-pressure sales tactics and employed unqualified instructors.

The agreement wraps together the outstanding Trump University litigation, including two federal class-action cases in San Diego, and a separate lawsuit by Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. The complaints alleged that students were cheated out of thousands of dollars in tuition through deceptive claims about what they would learn and high-pressure sales tactics. [The New York Times, 11/18/16]

Prior To Trump’s Settlement Offer, Right-Wing Media Guarded Trump University From Critics

Fox News Enabled Trump To Spread Lies About Trump University. As news of pending fraud allegations spread, Fox News hosted Trump repeatedly and allowed him to whitewash claims about Trump University. Fox hosts allowed Trump to claim Trump University has a “98 percent approval” rating. [Media Matters, 6/1/16]

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson: It's “Open To Debate” Whether Trump University Is “More Of A Scam Than, Say, Princeton.” Fox News personality Tucker Carlson attempted to downplay allegations that Trump University deceived students and asked if Trump University is “much more of a scam than, say, Princeton” and calling the issue “open to debate.” Carlson told anchor Bret Baier that students knew that Trump University “isn’t wholly legitimate” when they were “going in at the beginning”:

BRET BAIER (HOST): Does this have legs, Tucker, and what about this whole dust up?

TUCKER CARLSON: Well, I mean, of course Trump University isn't wholly legitimate. Would you send your kids there? I don't think there's a single person who thinks “Trump U., I hope my children graduate from Trump U.” People knew that going in at the beginning, they know it now. By the way, is it much more of a scam than, say, Princeton? I don't know. That's open to debate. But yeah, sure. Will it change the mind of a single voter? Is there any person who said “Oh, I might vote Trump, oh Trump U. wasn't on the level? That's it, I'm voting for Hillary. Probably not. We've seen for the past year Trump getting a pass on these issues. People knowing who he is and they're supporting him anyway for reasons that have nothing to do with the details of his biography. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/1/16]

Fox Host Martha MacCallum Helped Eric Trump Dismiss Fraud Allegations. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum helped guide Eric Trump through his defense of Trump University’s fraud allegations, telling him “the good” of Trump University “outweighs the bad” and “any time you have a business, you're going to have some customers, and even some employees, who are disgruntled or dissatisfied”:

MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): Let's take a look at something else. This is a quote from somebody who worked for Trump University. I know this is a legal matter and it's being handled in the courts, but in terms of a political matter, take a look at this quote. Because I guarantee you, you are going to see and hear this on Hillary Clinton commercials going forward. “I believe Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” This comes from a person who worked for Trump University.

ERIC TRUMP: You know, Trump University had a 98 percent approval rating. 98 percent, meaning at the end of taking the courses, people graded the university and they wrote a little report card about it. A 98 percent approval rating. We actually posted that on a website so, you have people that come back and buyers' remorse or whatever it is. You have people that come back after grading it an A-plus, I loved it, I learned so much for it, I brought this into my own personal life, it helped me develop as a person, it helped me start my first business, etcetera, etcetera. And then they come back and say that, so you know, I think we're going to win that case. I know we're going to win that case. We have every single one of those report cards, it just undermines quotes like that. I mean, the university did a great job. It did a great thing. It was highly, highly respected.

MACCALLUM: The good outweighs the bad essentially. That any time you have a business, you're going to have some customers, and even some employees, who are disgruntled or dissatisfied.

TRUMP: There's probably people that go to Harvard and say, listen I went to Harvard and I got a great education and I can't find a job, or I didn't become the success that I could have been. Sure, I mean you probably have that at every major university around the world. I mean, Trump University had a 98 percent approval rating, and I think that wins the day. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/2/16]

Fox Host Suggests Allegedly Fraudulent Trump University Tactics Were Just “Good Marketing.” Fox News co-host Jedediah Bila questioned whether these allegedly fraudulent practices were really just “aggressive sales tactics,”  which some would call “good marketing.” Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed, listing “flattering words” and “the right music in the background” as the main offenses, and asking “what the heck is wrong with that?” :

JEDEDIAH BILA (CO-HOST): New details in lawsuit that could impact Donald Trump's campaign. So-called playbooks for selling people on Trump University unsealed yesterday when testimony by some former managers of the for-profit school was also revealed. Those former Trump employees describing aggressive sales tactics they say they were told to use, such as, urging financially-strapped customers to find the money, choosing words of flattery that are most persuasive, and picking specific music for the gatherings. But Trump's lawyers say the complaints come from a small number of students and that the vast majority were satisfied with their experience. A statement from the Trump organization says, quote, the courts order unsealing documents has no bearing on the merits of Trump University's case. Much of the unsealed evidence including declarations and surveys from former Trump University students demonstrates the high level of satisfaction from students and that Trump University taught valuable real estate information. Judge, I got to come to you, what do you think of this from a legal perspective? Is this going to impact him? You're talking about aggressive sales tactics. In some circles they refer to that as good marketing. What is the line here for that?

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: I do not know the merits of the case against him. I know that there is a group of his former students, if they were students, who paid a lot of money and felt they didn't get their money's worth and they have sued and if you add up all their demands it comes up to about 40 million bucks, a lot of money for anybody. I also know some of them are suing him personally, that he is not protected by the corporate shield. I assume that Trump University was a corporation. But what we just saw, what you just summarized, asked people to go out and find the money, talked to them using flattering words, play the right music in the background, what the heck is wrong with that? I can't see that as violating any standard of salesmanship. Look, this isn't Princeton University where you are trying to get in there, or Harvard. It's a school that has to sell itself and show what it has available and that's the job of these salespeople who as far as I can see used techniques that were quite mainstream.

BILA: Yeah, I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story? When I read some of this, I worked in marketing before, a lot of it just read like sales tactics that weren't necessarily corrupt or anything. It was just aggressive sales tactics is not a crime.

MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about. And I think people do hear that, but like any line of attack, especially when it comes from the Clintons, it opens up coming back on them. For example, a lot of good work that was done by The New York Times and Charles Ortel that was pulled out recently, we saw that Bill Clinton got $16 million from Laureate University, which is another for-profit university which makes Trump University look like a bodega on the corner. They're guilty of the same thing. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/1/16]

Right-Wing Also Helped Trump Smear Judge Overseeing His Trump University Lawsuit

Fox’s O’Reilly: Judge Should “Recuse Himself” Due To Association With Latino Lawyer Group. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said Judge Curiel “should recuse himself” to “eliminate any doubt as to the motivation in court rulings” because Curiel belonged to a Hispanic Bar Association group that “does advocacy work on behalf of Latinos.” From the June 6 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor:

BILL O'REILLY (HOST): Although appointed by Barack Obama, Judge Curiel is no raging liberal. In fact, he is a tough guy. At one point a Mexican drug cartel threatened to assassinate him because of his anti-drug trafficking stance. However, the judge belongs to a group called San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, which does advocacy work on behalf of Latinos. It's not associated with the radical La Raza group, but confusion is understandable.

Because of that, Mr. Trump apparently believes the judge may be biased against him, as it is well-known the candidate has taken a strong stand against illegal immigration, include building a border wall.

Summing up, the Trump U. case is certainly political to some extent, and it's a very high profile situation. Because of that, Talking Points believes the judge should recuse himself. Not because he did anything wrong, he didn't, but to eliminate any doubt as to the motivation in court rulings.

There are plenty of federal judges that could immediately step in. It is valid that some may see any recusal as caving to intimidation. But stark justice in a case this important, trumps, pardon the pun, any theoretical argument. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 6/6/16]

Fox’s Hannity: Not “A Stretch” For Trump To Think Judge May Not Be “Favorable Towards” Him. Fox News host Sean Hannity said “I don't think that's a stretch” for Trump to allege Curiel may “not be favorable towards” him because Curiel was connected to a lawyers' group that had the Spanish words “La Raza” in it’s name and reportedly did work on behalf of undocumented immigrants. From the June 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:

CALLER: Well I just wanted to say that I agree with you that Trump does have a way of getting the message out in very small words. He'll say that this judge was a Mexican, but he meant all of that other stuff that you talk about. The thing that's going on I believe right now is that the minorities are just taking this to the extreme. Anytime that their, you got their minorities, I sit here, whatever, is mentioned, they want to take offense. Am I supposed to go down and say, “Hi, I'm a white man?” Or are you supposed to know what I mean?

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): No, I just think that if a -- why is a judge connected to a lawyers' group called “the race?” Why is that website help illegal immigrants and why would it be a stretch to say a lawyers' group that has “the race” in its title and email links to help illegal immigrants, that they might not be favorable towards Donald Trump, who is very well known on his position about illegal immigration? I don't think that's a stretch.

CALLER: Yeah, I don't think it's a stretch at all. And I think that Trump is exactly right that there could be a conflict of interest here and --

HANNITY: But I think he was inarticulate in how he made his argument. I think he should have made his argument going through the details as I have.

CALLER: Well then they're going to use soundbites. And they're just going to say, “OK, he said this.”

HANNITY: It has nothing to do with the fact that the judge has Mexican parents, it has to do with the judge’s position and the judge’s relationship to this potentially radical group, and the judge’s appointments of lawyers from a law firm that give heavily to the Clintons. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 6/6/16]

Breitbart News: Trump Not “Unreasonable” To Think Judge Might Be “Biased Against” Him. Breitbart News claimed that Trump was not being “unreasonable” “to suggest that a judge belonging to a group pledging to advance Latino interests might be biased against” him due to his policy positions. From a June 6 article:

Trump’s suggestion that a Hispanic judge may treat him unfairly because of Trump’s border security proposals, such as the wall, challenges the claim that liberal judges engaged in identity politics are never biased against non-liberals. And while Democrats were enraged by Trump’s challenge, Trump struck fear into the hearts of establishment Republicans not accustomed to challenging the politically correct code to which they have previously surrendered.

[…]

But what exactly had Trump done wrong? How was it unreasonable to suggest that a judge belonging to a group pledging to advance Latino interests might be biased against the man who wants to build the wall that hinders the interests of Latino politicians?

[…]

Judge Curiel’s integrity is not being questioned by Trump just because of his Hispanic heritage. Trump is merely asserting that a person’s heritage does not foreclose a proper inquiry into their political activism and potential biases; he is suggesting that Curiel – a man who supports awarding an illegal alien a scholarship – might not view favorably a man who wants to deport the said scholarship recipient. [Breitbart News, 6/6/16]

Alex Jones: Judge Is “The Equivalent Of A Hispanic Grand Dragon.” Radio host Alex Jones claimed the judge “is worse than what Trump's saying” and said Trump needs to “go further” than claiming that the judge’s “loyalty is to Mexico.” Jones also called Curiel “the equivalent of a Hispanic grand dragon.” From the June 4 edition of Genesis Communication Networks’ The Alex Jones Show:

ALEX JONES (HOST): Today, we are going to look at this judge who has been ruling basically against [Donald] Trump and doing unprecedented things in the Trump University case. And I'll be honest with you, I've kind of ignored Trump University to a certain extent -- I've done some research. But after Trump came out and said this guy is a Mexican, and by Mexican his loyalty is to Mexico. And so, I did some research and found out wow, Trump needs to go further here. This guy is the head lawyer over a lawyer group based in California, that for decades has been promoting, basically, race-based brainwashing.

Now, I don't like the Ku Klux Klan, but MEChA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán] and La Raza and organizations like this ... these guys basically operate just like the Klan. They say for those inside our race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing. La Raza means “the race,” so I see Trump say this about this judge, and I think well you're just saying because he's Mexican in his heritage that he ruled against you. Has Trump gone too far? And I go look it up, and the guy is worse than what Trump's saying. And that's the problem, Trump will just throw something out that's true, but then I guess with the soundbites not get into the whole background of it. So, we're going to talk about this judge a little bit right now, but I'll tell you it's a fair headline to say that this judge is the equivalent of a Hispanic grand dragon.

[...]

I just hope Trump unloads on him, like this Daily Caller article “Judge Presiding Over Trump University Case Is A Member Of La Raza.” And again, that means “the race.” People say, well, that's okay because Hispanics can say we’re a racial group, but whites if you say we're in a racial group that's bad. No, when people organize politically and say “we're only for our group,” classically liberal views are that's dangerous and bad, a la Adolf Hitler. Roger Stone, what do you have to say?

ROGER STONE: Well, Alex, I think first of all that it's important to establish that the judge is not only a Mexican radical. He's also a Hillary Clinton contributor. [Genesis Communication Networks, The Alex Jones Show, 6/4/16]