The Stern Thing
[Update: 9/30/17: TrumpOnStern.com kindly pointed out we missed two Stern shows. Donald Trump appeared on November 9, 1995 for 22 minutes and January 20, 1994 for at least 8 minutes (the audio is not complete). The post below reflects the data without those two shows included.]
Be careful what you wish for. It could screw up your month.
So… the Howard Stern / Donald Trump interviews. It’s been a bit of an obsession of ours. But not for the reasons you might think.
There have been some articles written before the election about Howard Stern, primarily by Andrew Kaczynski and Nate McDermott at Buzzfeed and later at CNN, Virginia Heffernan at Politico, David Fahrenhold at The Washington Post and others, including Mother Jones and The Atlantic.
If you’ve listened to Howard Stern before, you know you can find something salacious without a great deal of effort, and the interviews with Donald Trump were no exception.
However, the stories (with the exception of Heffernan’s excellent piece) didn’t address what we thought were two key points.
- Howard Stern is an excellent interviewer. Guests can spend two hours or longer speaking with Stern. His staff preps him well and they are impeccably researched, and move from making out with girls to port security in Dubai effortlessly. Howard Stern gets people to speak about things that, in any other context, they would never discuss.
- Based on our research, no one has spent more time interviewing Donald Trump publicly than Howard Stern, both in terms of the length of the interviews, the number, and over a larger period of time.
We wanted that record for our database. It’s a gaping hole.
But therein lies the problem. Howard Stern has done, conservatively more than 8,000 shows since the 1980s, and that number is probably low. Based on the normal length, that’s at least 30,000 hours of audio and likely a minimum of 50,000,000 words. And there’s no definitive record. If Stern has the list, it hasn’t been shared.
We’ve found snippets and pieces before. But, per our mission, we want to ensure that anything in our database is the full transcript, versus an excerpt. As such, we were interested in the full record of conversations between Donald Trump and Howard Stern from the 1990s forward. To make sure we had it all, we wanted the whole show to check.
Our research indicated he was on the show dozens of times, but not the details, exact dates, etc. We reached out to people who operate fan sites, particularly marksfriggin.com, and on the Internet, particularly via Reddit. Stern fans are known for collecting recordings of old shows, so we were hoping to find the full recordings,
We were insulted in ways both creative and thorough, but kept trying. In short, we struck out. By the spring, we had shifted our focus to building out the features on the site.
Out of the blue, early in the morning September 5th, about 3 1/2 months after we had moved on, we received an email with a Dropbox link from an anonymous Yahoo account. We looked and to our surprise, it was several dozen MP3s with the entire show, end-to-end, which allowed us to verify we were capturing the entire interview. We copied the MP3s and quickly emailed back to ask a couple of clarifying questions. We were not-so-politely told to leave them alone.
Between the files and extensive research on marksfriggin.com and other sites, we were able to verify 35 unique interviews, beginning May 8, 1993 on Howard Stern’s E! interview show, through August 25, 2015. There were other MP3s, but they contained Stern talking about Trump, or a time when Trump was supposed to dial in but couldn’t, or in one case, a re-run. We filtered those out.
So we got to work, transcribing, proofreading, cross-checking. This is harder than it sounds. Our transcription robots are good. But the show is fast paced (235 words per minute by our measure), filled with crosstalk, music and other sound effects in the background, noise. It mixes clean audio with phone audio. It’s the greatest hits list of “things that mess with algorithms.”
Combine that with a mixed bag of recording methods, and our robot was none too happy with us. So it involved a lot more manual work than we like.
The transcripts are complete but we’ll be working them towards perfection for some time. But they’re just about there, and married to the audio, and run through our usual battery of audio, text and voice analysis. (And please, when in doubt, listen to the audio).
But after investing more than two weeks, there’s just too much to do. We’ll keep tweaking in our spare time, but there’s only so many hours of the day before you start writing your blog posts at 3:45 am. Just sayin’.
Yeah Yeah Yeah. Whatcha Got?
Donald Trump’s time on Howard Stern totals 15 hours, 8 minutes and 52 seconds, with 104,357 words spoken by Donald Trump. This is 21% longer than his first book, “The Art of the Deal” (86,575 words). Hell, it’s almost half as long as the Frost / Nixon Interviews.
Based on our records, this is far more time Trump has spent in an interview than any other journalist or media personality, including Morning Joe, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Larry King, Don Imus… any of them. This is in terms of the number of interviews, the length, the time period.
Trump has spent far more time, over a far longer period of time, speaking in greater depth with Howard Stern than any other interviewer. No one has spent more time interviewing Donald Trump in a public setting than Howard Stern, and in particular spanning more than two decades. Having these interviews in our database provides a crucial perspective.
We stopped counting after more than 500 unique questions and answers. Yes, lots of questions about sex, positions, his views on women, and things you don’t find in any other interviews (AIDS, Chlamydia, group sex, groping in public… our robot keyworded a lot of new things… we chose not to teach our AI some things. It leads to scary things). But also, lots on North Korea, Iraq, infrastructure and taxation. The Port of Dubai security was a real question. And it was answered.
Some of the stories Trump told repeat themselves across multiple years. He discusses a great deal about his personal life. And most of the interviews had a specific hook: boxing matches Trump was promoting, new books, The Apprentice and, toward the end of the series, a great deal more about politics.
We also had to develop a custom taxonomy and classification. A good many of the questions and answers are, in Stern’s style, leading. For example, an oft-quoted excerpt from a 42-minute interview had the following segment:
Donald Trump: My daughter is beautiful, Ivanka. She…
Howard Stern: By the way, your daughter.
Donald Trump: She’s beautiful.
Howard Stern: Can I say this? A piece of ass.
Donald Trump: Yeah.
He didn’t say his daughter was “a piece of ass.” However, he did not argue the point.
This follows a pattern throughout the interviews of Stern making a statement as a question and Trump either confirming or denying the statement without repeating it. Trump first explicitly stated he wouldn’t answer a question on September 23, 2004, his 20th interview with Stern. As the interviews evolved closer to 2015, the rate of objections increased.
The interviews begin on May 8, 1993, before Tiffany and Barron were born, Eric was 9, Ivanka was 12 and Don Jr. 16. He had just divorced his first wife, Ivana, and was dating Marla Maples. The last interview was on August 25, 2015, two months after he announced his 2016 presidential run. He and Melania had been married a decade, his children were married and he had starred in two famous television shows.
So Is This Everything?
We are almost sure we have them all. Daily records of Stern’s show prior to 1997 are difficult to find. Is it possible we missed one? Absolutely. But we’re pretty sure we’ve got them all. If we’re wrong, we’d love to know the dates and get to work transcribing.
Also, please check the audio. We think we did a good job tagging who is speaking. But when in doubt, hit play. And if we’re wrong, let us know so we can fix it.
You can find all the transcripts here:
They’re also in the general search, of course.
The audio files can be found on SoundCloud, or you can download them all here.