Vanity Fair reporter on Trump’s response: ‘I was kind of shocked’

December 19, 2016
Photo by Michael Vadon

Choking down “flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings” and dealing with bathrooms that “transport diners to the experience of desperately searching for toilet paper at a Venezuelan grocery store” were uncomfortable enough. But Vanity Fair reporter Tina Nguyen feared a more severe round of indigestion after her Wells-ian skewering of the Trump Grill attracted the Twitter ire of the president-elect. 

Nguyen’s piece, which was posted to Vanity Fair’s website last Wednesday, characterizes both the restaurant and its namesake as “a cheap version of rich.” The response from Donald Trump came at 5 a.m. Thursday, when the president-elect tweeted about Vanity Fair (“Way down, big trouble, dead!”) and its “no talent” editor in chief, Graydon Carter. 

Astute Twitterati quickly connected the outburst to Nguyen’s review, and the writer was alerted to the coming deluge of attention by one of her editors. “Emotionally, I was kind of shocked,” Nguyen tells CJR. “I was expecting that piece to get some pick-up, but I didn’t think it was going to get the attention of the man who is going to be the most powerful person in the world in about five weeks.”

Along with the shock, Nguyen also expressed some level of fear. “Rationally, I was worried I would be doxxed,” she says, referring to the practice of publishing people’s private information with malicious intent. Trump supporters have already doxxed dozens of journalists they viewed as anti-Trump.

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In a set of actions that other media outlets would be wise to study, the Vanity Fair public relations team quickly contacted Nguyen. “They kept an eye out for anyone who tried to release my address or my phone number or even tried to call me through the Condé [Nast] switchboard,” she says.They were on top of their game, so big credit to them.”

Carter, the Vanity Fair editor, has a long-running feud with Trump dating to the former’s days at Spy Magazine, where he coined the phrase “short-fingered vulgarian” to describe the real estate mogul who served as society page catnip. In 2013, Trump issued his own review of Carter’s restaurant, The Waverly Inn: “worst food in city [sic].” So it should come as no surprise that Carter delighted in getting under Trump’s skin.

“He was pretty happy with it,” Nguyen said of Carter’s reaction to her piece. She declined to give details about his feedback, but noted that “it was very flattering, and I still don’t quite know how to process it.” Trump’s criticism has been good for Vanity Fair’s bottom line, too. In the day after the president-elect posted his tweet, the magazine reported signing up 13,000 new subscribers, the best single-day number in Condé Nast’s history.

Nguyen says the threats she feared have not materialized, and she has received congratulations from around the industry. “It feels like far too strong praise for someone who has strong opinions about burgers and eating eyeballs,” Nguyen says. “But if it takes something as absurd as that and something as straightforward as saying, ‘Look Donald Trump, I just don’t like your cocktails,’ then I give Vanity Fair the credit for allowing me to write something like that, and supporting it even when a very scary man tweeted his displeasure toward it.” 

Related: Eight steps reporters should take before Trump assumes office

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.