In private, Mr. Trump's mood is often sullen and erratic, his associates say. He veers from barking at members of his staff to grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts during the primaries and suggesting he should not have heeded their calls for change. He broods about his souring relationship with the news media, calling Mr. Manafort several times a day to talk about specific stories.
I almost expected to see a note in brackets addressing Donald Trump's allegedly needy relationship with his campaign chairman Paul Manafort along the lines of: "[Editor's note: Donald, you gonna go cry to Paul about this story too, ya big baby?]"
At any rate, Trump at least partially took the bait. In the wake of the story by Alexander Burns and Nick Corasaniti, which painted the candidate as "beyond coaching" by his advisers and "more volatile and prone to provocation" than ever, The Donald took to Twitter for a Sunday morning mutipart rant:
The failing @nytimes talks about anonymous sources and meetings that never happened. Their reporting is fiction. The media protects Hillary!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
The failing @nytimes, which never spoke to me, keeps saying that I am saying to advisers that I will change. False, I am who I am-never said— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn't put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
It is not "freedom of the press" when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
It's worth noting that Trump could have been reacting not only to the front-page story, but to two other Section A reports as well: "A Congressman Slighted Immigrants, Then Embraced Them. Now He Runs From Trump" and "Mike Pence May Break With Donald Trump, Again, Over Tax Returns,"
Not to mention an anti-Trump pile-on in the op-ed pages: a Times editorial board piece titled "Donald Trump Courts the Gun Zealots," Nicholas Kristof's "Donald Trump Is Making America Meaner," and especially Ross Douthat's "A Playboy for President," which places Trumpism in the context of Hugh Hefner's Playboy-at-its-peak reimagining of American manhood:
Much of what seems strange and reactionary about Trump is tied to what was normal to a certain kind of Sinatra and Mad Men-era man -- the casual sexism, the odd mix of sleaziness and formality, even the insult-comic style. ... Like Trumpism, Hefnerian values have prospered in the blue-collar vacuum created by religion's retreat, community's unraveling.
Then finally, among men who were promised pliant centerfolds and ended up single with only high-speed internet to comfort them, the men's sexual revolution has curdled into a toxic subculture, resentful of female empowerment in all its forms. This is where you find Trump's strongest (and, yes, strangest) fans. He's become the Daddy Alpha for every alpha-aspiring beta male, whose mix of moral liberation and misogyny keeps the Ring-a-Ding-Ding dream alive.
It's worth noting that Ross Douthat is the Times' official conservative voice (having taken over for Bill Kristol in 2009).
Did Donald Trump end up calling Paul Manafort "several times" yesterday to talk about any of these stories or other stories elsewhere in the media? Who knows.
But today, perhaps, Mr. Manafort was the one doing the calling, given this morning's New York Times, which has a blockbuster story headlined "Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Trump Aide" in the same front-page, top-left position. It reports on Paul Manafort's previous gig as a consultant for Ukraine's ruling party and indications that he was the recipient of $12.7 million in cash payments, according to Ukraine's new National Anti-Corruption Bureau -- allegedly "part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials."
No tweets yet from Donald Trump declaring the story to be "fiction" and "completely false!" -- but stay tuned.
Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.