Frequent consumers of mainstream news may recall that Citizen Donald Trump traveled to Liberty University back in January to deliver one of his fire-from-the-hip speeches in his White House campaign. This was the Two Corinthians speech. It was all the rage in the news biz.
You may also recall that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., delivered a long, long, long introduction for Trump that left little if any doubt who he -- as opposed to his university -- would be endorsing in this race.
One of the major themes in this Falwell speech was that Trump the man is radically different than Trump the media figure. Falwell said this other Trump has hidden, even secret, virtues that would appeal to many Christian believers who might be turned off by his brash, super-confident, Playboy role model public image. In particular, Trump was reported to be a great family man who took his faith seriously and was quite generous to those in need.
One version of these Falwell's remarks -- as repeated on Fox News -- can be found at the end of a Washington Post essay -- "Missing from Trump’s list of charitable giving: His own personal cash" -- that is creating quite a bit of buzz.
“His limousine broke down one time, a couple stopped and helped him. He paid off their mortgage a few days later. These are all things that you never hear about Donald Trump,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Fox News’s “Hannity” in January. ...
In a telephone interview, Falwell, who has endorsed Trump, was asked: Did you ever ask Trump if that story was true?
“I never did,” Falwell said. “But, Trey, didn’t you search that on Google?”
“I didn’t,” his son Trey said. “But somebody did.”
“It was in some publication in 1995,” the elder Falwell concluded. “But I forget which publication.”
This is, in the Post piece, offered as another example of a popular American folk legend -- the tale of the "Grateful Millionaire."
However, the team behind this news feature -- I totally applaud this -- is much more interested in knowing what shows up in the actual documents generated by Trump's charitable donations in recent years. This is, to use the Watergate mantra, a classic case of "follow the money" reporting.
With one exception.
Since the first day of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has said that he gave more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.
To back up that claim, Trump’s campaign compiled a list of his contributions -- 4,844 of them, filling 93 pages.
But, in that massive list, one thing was missing. Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.
Instead, according to a Washington Post analysis, many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.
Let me stress that this is an important and deeply researched piece. It's totally valid and I look forward to seeing the same critical lens used on the other candidates, including the Wall Street links of one Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But pause for a moment: Why did Falwell need to stress that it was acceptable for Christians to applaud Trump?
Well, there's an obvious reason: The story of "cultural evangelicals" flocking onto the Trump bandwagon has been one of the biggest news stories of this election year. In fact, it has received way more ink than it deserved.
But if Trump's faith and appeal to believers is so interesting, where is the material in this piece that focuses on an obvious topic? What about Trump's giving to churches and church causes?
With that in mind, let's return to the Post text:
The largest items on the list were not cash gifts but land-conservation agreements to forgo development rights on property Trump owns.
Trump’s campaign also counted a parcel of land that he’d given to New York state -- although that was in 2006, not within the past five years.
In addition, many of the gifts on the list came from the charity that bears his name, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which didn’t receive a personal check from Trump from 2009 through 2014, according to the most recent public tax filings. Its work is largely funded by others, although Trump decides where the gifts go.
Some beneficiaries on the list are not charities at all: They included clients, other businesses and tennis superstar Serena Williams.
Did I miss something in this long story? Hey Post editors: What happens when, while following the Trump money, one enters religious sanctuaries? What are the facts there? Are we done with the whole Trump courts the evangelicals thing?