Some readers may recall a February 15, 2017 post titled, “The Old Switcheroo,” in which I chronicled the role NBC played in positioning Donald Trump’s run for president. From the “Too Little, Too Late,” department, many news outlets have devoted their reporting during this final week of 2018 on the unhinged behavior of the oval office occupant. How hypocritical can one be to talk about Trump revising history, when the media is equally guilty?
For example, MSNBC shared the news first reported by McClatchy News that a mobile phone belonging to Michael Cohen connected to a cell tower near Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen claims he has never been to Prague, which is one piece of information Trump’s defenders have used to discredit the Christopher Steele dossier. (NOTE: Both Cohen and his attorney Lanny Davis continue to deny he was in Prague, but there is a theory the phone, bought in Cohen’s name, may have been given to another campaign official to use while in the Czech Republic. The New York Post previously reported the FBI seized as many as 16 phones during its raid of Cohen’s office, home and hotel room. We may soon know if this theory holds water, as Cohen yesterday tweeted, “#Mueller knows everything.”)
While every detail in the Steele dossier has not been corroborated, neither have they been discredited. Yet, neither NBC nor Chuck Todd, in particular, issued a mea culpa for his accusation that Buzzfeed News, which published the dossier, was trafficking in fake news. In a January 17, 2016 interview with Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, Todd said:
I know this was not your intent. I’ve known you a long time, but you just published fake news. You made a knowing decision to put out an untruth.
I Googled, “Chuck Todd Apologizes to Ben Smith” before writing the above paragraphs. Crickets.
Now the team that brought you “The Apprentice” is trying to revise history. The January 7, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine carries a story titled, “How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success.” While Patrick Radden Keefe’s reporting focuses on how the show’s producer Burnett decided to add Trump to his growing stable of reality television programs, he interviewed several members of the show’s production crew. A video editor Jonathan Braun, who worked on the show’s first six seasons, summed it up this way.
Most of us knew he was a fake. He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.
As I read the article, I learned something of more value. “The Apprentice” saga explains Trump’s approach to policy-making and why it will fail. During Keefe’s interviews with Burnett, the producer “boasted that, for each televised hour, his crew shot as many as three hundred hours of footage.” In other words, it’s all in the post-production editing.
Does this sound familiar? Burnett conceded Trump would often make unexpected, spur of the moment decisions that made little or no sense. The editors would go back to the hours of video and piece together a story line which somehow justified the decision.
If you recall, during the presidential campaign, especially following release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, questions arose whether “Apprentice” outtakes contained equally damning exhibits of Trump’s character and behavior. (NOTE: The raw video now belongs to MGM which purchased rights to the show. MGM claims they cannot release the video because of contractual restrictions.) And there lies the rub. Since announcing he would run for president, there are hours and hours of Trump on video. Except this time, he does not have the luxury of controlling their use or editing.
For example, MSNBC compiled a montage of campaign video related to the border wall. Over and over again he told his supporters Mexico would pay for it, “every penny of it.” Last night, Chris Hayes played this video for Michael Burgess, a Republican congressman from Texas, who claimed Trump was not reneging on a campaign promise by asking U.S. taxpayers to cover the cost. Burgess reverted to the latest falsehood that the costs would be captured on “month by month installments” as a result of the renegotiated NAFTA provisions.
Congressman Burgess may not get it, but an overwhelming majority of Americans do. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted December 21-25, shows only 35 percent support building the wall (Trump’s base), but only 25 percent supported Trump shutting down the government to get his way. And how will Trump respond? Again, “The Apprentice” experience provides some guidance.
During the show’s first season (2003-2004), the Nielsen rating for the treasured 18-49 age group was 10.1, which translated into an impressive 20 million plus viewers. But as we have learned over the past three years, Trump does not wear well over time. Within four years, his ratings dropped to 3.1 with an audience of 7.5 million. So much for the master deal-maker tutoring potential proteges. Pivot to “Celebrity Apprentice,” returning to the days when Trump was more likely to be covered by the tabloids than Fortune magazine. When Trump doesn’t get his wall, when he becomes mired in lower ratings, get ready for the next pivot. But from his experience on television, he should know he will NEVER regain his lost audience. He should, but my money is on he won’t and will point the finger at everyone but himself (maybe even Arnold Schwarzennegger.)
For what it’s worth.