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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: The Trump story we need, and won't get, in Howard Stern's book

Jeff Simon

Howard Stern's third book – and his first in 20 years – is coming out May 14. It will be called "Howard Stern Comes Again" and it already has a cement toehold on the best-seller list. Significant advance sales have been reported and only a fool would doubt it.

Not only will the "shock jock's" book be one of the year's biggest bestsellers, I'm betting right now that it also be – the way I figure it – one of the year's biggest disappointments.

The book, he says, will be full of Stern interviews with celebrities and will tell the story of his career and orphan's adoption by Sirius Satellite radio, as if anyone gave a knob.

Please understand: I'm all for Stern reprinting in book form his most outrageous, informative and highly charged interviews. The not-so-secret fact about Stern inside the media world is that he is one of the best interviewers alive. A remarkable oddity is that his willingness to be adolescent and obnoxious allows him to be extraordinary. He can ask questions his listeners actually want answers to; sometimes he asks questions that drop their jaws.

That's all well and good, but that's just Howard Stern business as usual. That's not the book Stern owes America. That one would include a long and completely revealing memoir of both his friendship with Donald Trump and his feelings about the president, expressed with all the fire, flavor and "shock" that he's capable of.

It may well be that no one in America is more capable of turning Trump's public behavior around than Stern. Stern and his radio show were one of Trump's major inventors – he and Mark Burnett, who invented the TV "tycoon" Trump for "The Apprentice." Add Roy Cohn along with the New York tabloid press and Vanity Fair magazine, and you have the cabal that transformed a real estate megalomaniac addicted to seeing his name in gold into a figure of both prominence and importance.

Trump was on Stern's radio show 39 times between 1993 and 2015. You can get transcripts of the interviews from Sirius and Stern's show, but they are not available online, where they should be.

In February 2017 – when Trump was just getting used to living in the White House – Stern actually said, "I personally wish he had never run. I told him that because I actually think this is something that is going to be detrimental to his mental health, because he wants to be liked, he wants to be loved, he wants people to cheer for him."

Consider that in lieu of the next 2-plus years of the Trump presidency – especially where we are now.

Every word of what Stern writes about him will undoubtedly be important to Trump – more so I think than what Sean Hannity whispers into his ear over brunch or the Fox morning show TV people say.

Trump, we know, is a morning media devotee. Stern's show became like a second home for him. Ever since he moved to the White House, his morning (and late-night) tweets have become a morning media show of their own. He can be his own Howard Stern. He can say outrageous and absurd things and later take them back. He can give phantom interviews, in other words, to a Howard Stern that isn't there.

In the process of doing so, America has been confronted with its first "shock president." Or, to put it even more accurately, America has had to discover how close to impossible it is for the country at large to live comfortably with a "shock president."

A book where a thoroughly mature Stern opened up completely on the subject of Trump could actually benefit Trump.

I just don't think it's going to happen. While publisher Simon and Schuster, in its hype, is saying the book will reveal "a closely guarded secret he's been keeping for some time," place your bets. My money's on some boldface bit of Stern autobiography or health secret.

What it will not be, I'd bet, is anything significant about that vastly more important subject, Donald Trump, whose presidency is like no other that has been imagined before. That is where a 560-page Stern book (yes, 560 pages) could allow Stern – a standard New York Clinton voter underneath all the "shocks" and former FCC troublemaking – to finish the job he unwittingly started.

Few books need hyping less than this one. Yes, of course, Stern will be making talk show rounds to sell it, but its potential readership is already huge and built-in.

What that readership needed was more information about a man who is bending American history to the breaking point.

When David Letterman began his Netflix talk show, Stern had a chance to talk, with total frankness, with his old friend and supporter Letterman about their frequent mutual guest Trump before he became the "leader of the free world." Letterman, I'd bet, would have been up for anything Stern wanted to say.

What he wound up saying to Letterman was shockingly bland and inane – a bunch of hooey about the president's former willingness to talk dirty and grungy, as if that were any sort of secret in 21st century America.

Completely missing was what Stern, at the age of 65, now thinks about the raunchy superannuated boys club he put on the air with so much success years ago and what it revealed of a guest who, incredibly, became the most powerful man in the world.

Stern's 560 pages will, no doubt, sell the bejabbers out of books. It will, doubtlessly, entertain hugely and be satisfactorily revealing.

But where it could give American history information it desperately needs, I'm betting the farm that it will – despite all those pages – be completely silent.

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