David Dayen: Click-Bait Law Enforcement as Schneiderman Ignores Systemic Wall Street Fraud, Sues Trump University

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger, now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen

The pitch-perfect parody of the year goes to The Onion for their editorial from CNN.com’s managing editor (whose actual name was used in the story), “Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning.”

Over the years, CNN.com has become a news website that many people turn to for top-notch reporting. Every day it is visited by millions of people, all of whom rely on “The Worldwide Leader in News”—that’s our slogan—for the most crucial, up-to-date information on current events. So, you may ask, why was this morning’s top story, a spot usually given to the most important foreign or domestic news of the day, headlined “Miley Cyrus Did What???” and accompanied by the subhead “Twerks, stuns at VMAs”?

It’s a good question. And the answer is pretty simple. It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.

It goes on from there, basically defining the phenomenon of click-bait, where websites run deliberately titillating stories with little or no redeeming value in a desperate stab for attention.

I think Saturday brought us the first-ever click-bait lawsuit, filed by our friend, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Despite the inexhaustible amount of evidence affirming that the Wall Street crime spree continues unreformed and unabated, despite enough major, multi-billion-dollar scandals to keep any self-respecting law enforcement office busy for the next decade, Schneiderman has retreated to the frankly pathetic, Chuck Schumer-like approach of jumping on any headline-ready activity that’s bound to get his name in lights. If he takes down someone who represents the “villain” character on the progressive media sideshow circuit, all the better. And so by suing Trump University, Schneiderman achieved click-bait nirvana, earning himself lots of plaudits from those not paying enough attention to know how much the New York AG has truly failed the cause of justice.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says many of the 5,000 students who paid up to $35,000 thought they would at least meet Trump but instead all they got was their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of “The Apprentice” TV star.

“Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm,” Schneiderman said. “Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.” […]

Schneiderman is suing the program, Trump as the university chairman, and the former president of the university in a case to be handled in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He accuses them of engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law. The $40 million he seeks is mostly to pay restitution to consumers.

Look, for-profit colleges are a legitimate issue, and I would be shocked if Trump University (which isn’t a licensed university at all, just a garden-variety financial services industry educational scam) wasn’t useless. And with 5,000 students involved, it’s something that ought to be looked into, although Phoenix University and Kaplan and plenty other actual for-profit colleges are in on this racket, at much higher levels. (And honestly, if you’re paying $35,000 to go to something called Trump University… I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consumer protections, but the words caveat and emptor do leap to mind.)

But Schneiderman’s motives are just too obvious here – suing a high-profile adversary that will inevitably lead to a lot of TV appearances where he gets to play the role of the “good guy” against a raving lunatic. It wasn’t so long ago that Schneiderman’s foes were supposed to be the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, and the fraud cases exponentially higher in volume and cost. But he already got what he could out of those – prime-time adoration, I mean, not actual penalties – and so it’s on to the cartoonish Trump, an easy whipping boy served up to make it look like justice is being properly meted out.

Shady organizations do this kind of faux-university thing ALL THE TIME, by the way. Just read Helaine Olen’s Pound Foolish. They ply you with a chicken dinner and scare the heck out of you about your financial future, and get you to buy into a seminar that will tell you how to fix everything, only to upsell you at that seminar again and again, while you get nothing of value for your money. The AG’s office could go to every Holiday Inn dining room in the state of New York on an average Wednesday night and bust one of these little scams. The reason you do it to Trump University is because he’s Donald Trump.

And lookie here, Schneiderman once again got what he wanted, a juicy prime-time segment on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC program (two segments, actually).

Schneiderman, batting away an accusation from Trump that he was framed up by Obama, boasted to Hayes, “I have more important things to talk to the President about than Donald Trump.” Um, what exactly would that be? You ended your demands for actual accountability for the largest consumer fraud in American history over 18 months ago. Since then you’ve co-chaired a task force which has done next to nothing, the biggest headlines coming from a case that someone in your office wrote while a private litigator working for Ambac years earlier. You whined about servicers engaging in the exact same conduct for which you let them off the hook the first time, knowing full well that you signed a settlement allowing them to continue to steal a non-trivial amount of homes (as long as they fell below “threshold error rates”). At one point you had the opportunity, and the power, to actually extract a cost for breaking the nation’s private property system and ruining the lives of millions of homeowners. You punted, and now you get into slap fights with Donald Trump on cable news.

So what was the chat with the Prez about? What tie should I wear on my next talking head appearance?

To his credit, Hayes asked Schneiderman to respond to the notion that “Donald Trump is famously a birther and right-wing troll, and this is just an easy bit of point-scoring from the New York Attorney General, there’s other bigger fish to fry.” Schneiderman defensively responded “we are frying other bigger fish,” claiming that TRUMP’S reaction was getting this all the attention. Come on, you know exactly what kind of reaction you’re going to get when you sue Donald Trump. It’s tailor-made to generate clicks.

You don’t have to be indifferent to the suffering of a gullible Trump University attendee to know that Schneiderman sidestepped his responsibilities to protect everyone in his state to take on a series of small fish that will get him some much-needed attention. He and Trump are made for one another on the narcissism scale.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to Salon.com. He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. nonclassical

    ..interestingly expensive-difficult to find these days-it was standard fare in 70’s-80’s classrooms:



    “Subliminal Seduction”; “How advertising influences decisions by consumers, and how advertising agencies go about determining how to frame their advertising…

    or, one might view Adam Curtis’ inimitable “The Century of Self”:


  2. Observer

    This may be Trump’s way of getting the AG office to “look over here” while his other business as usual transactions continue unopposed.

    And/or he thinks he can capitalize on the “attention.”

  3. just me

    Too funny!

    Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says many of the 5,000 students who paid up to $35,000 thought they would at least meet Trump but instead all they got was their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of “The Apprentice” TV star.

    A ways back here the idea came up of a posable Eric Holder Inaction Figure. Maybe Eric Schneiderman too. Laughing at the thought of Posing Eric inaction figure vs. Posing Donald life-size cardboard cutout. Watch out for blow dryers.

  4. craazyman

    “(And honestly, if you’re paying $35,000 to go to something called Trump University… I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consumer protections, but the words caveat and emptor do leap to mind.)”

    faaaaaak, I’d say the words “Charles Darwin” come to mind.

    I wonder how many gene mutations were Hail Mary’s, the gene just says “faak it” and throws a long bomb to score a 10-bagger on all the other genes and lay around and not work. Or else get paid to so something useful, like work in a strip club drinking Budweiser like my boy there.

    You’d have to ask the genes I guess, but nobody has thought of that. It’s a hard life when 10,000 genes have the same idea you have. How do you compete? I guess you don’t. You just say “faaaak this.” And go for it at Trump U. It might work, who knows?

    1. craazyboy

      Yeah craazyman. Miss Mobius and her twin sister Esha Print say The Donald is a rotten tipper too. Esha thinks she could get more money off his cardboard cutout.

      BTW: The girls wear some really tight genes when they get off work. Never knew genes could look so hot!

    2. petridish

      “I’d say the words ‘Charles Darwin’ come to mind.”


      Thinnin’ the herd and all that.

  5. Conscience of a Consrvative

    Going after Donald Trump vs JP Morgan are mutually exclusive and independent actions. There’s nothing wrong with gong after a high profile shady “school” and the actions here should speak for themselves.

    The issue about letting Wall Street off easy for fraud is an entirely different subject matter and one that has not been sufficiently addressed.

  6. TC

    Bravo! (Although I must, and did, confess my guilt promoting a “click bait” piece last night.)

    More to the point, though, these cheap, spineless, fee junkie imitators masquerading as public servants really need calling out at every appropriate moment. Top dog yesterday, though, was not Schneiderman. Rather, it was Secretary of State Skull & Bones in his defense of al Qaeda in Syria with all the Goebbels-esque of an Islamic Emir.

  7. Strangely Enough

    When your general posture towards white collar crime sprees has been rather supine, you have to at least make it look like you’re doing something.

    Schneiderman has learned well from Obama.

    1. Phil Perspective

      Schneiderman has it better. When has Obama, or his DOJ, gone after Rusty Limpballs or the Koch Brothers? Rusty is an obvious target since he’s a known drug user and more.

  8. RepubAnon

    It’s similar to the Martha Stewart insider trading prosecution: find someone famous that people love to hate, and go after them while ignoring the major criminals.

  9. ChrisPacific

    The fact that Trump has to do his own stealing brands him as small fry. If you’re a big fish, the government does your stealing for you.

    1. Ms G

      Exactamundo. And why else would Donald Trump be looking at the business end of a Schneiderman prosecution except that he is, precisely, small fry with rich buzz potential (for Schneiderman).

      I suppose the authorities take it for granted that the “general public” is primarily a bunch of idiots who will tweak in any direction they’re prodded. No other explanation.

  10. NotTimothyGeithner

    Usually, I tend not to buy claims of Democrats pursuing justice given the last few years, but Trump has been bailed out in the past.

    Given the relatively small nature of Trump University, wouldn’t Trump be the kind of guy who would attract media attention if he decided to spill the goods on other people? I don’t think Trump would go down without a fight, and Trump would bring his own circus.

    I don’t expect Comcast/MSNBC to follow him, but I’m not certain about Fox’s loyalties. Are they corporate or Murdoch? I’m not certain if Murdoch isn’t a little unhinged much like Newt Gingrich’s sugar daddy who funded his campaign despite the obviously poor investment.

    Prosecuting Trump might be fun.

  11. Kokuanani

    ***although Phoenix University and Kaplan and plenty other actual for-profit colleges ***

    [Clutches pearls]: “Kaplan?? KAPLAN??? But that would mean going after our Dear Friends at the Washington Post!!!!”

    Can’t have THAT happening!!!

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