The Corner

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump’s Pre-Presidential Media Dominance

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

This morning, Ross Douthat contends that the recriminations and criticism of Facebook and other social-media networks is letting television news off the hook for the way it assisted Donald Trump’s rise.

Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius. Forget unhappy blue collar heartlanders; forget white nationalists and birthers: The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice,” who bought the fake news that his television program and its network sponsors gladly sold them.

Beyond The Apprentice, it’s worth remembering that for most of the Bush and Obama presidencies, Donald Trump was a regular featured guest on news programs and not touted as a partisan Republican, hate-monger, or ranting fool. NBC’s Today show regularly had him on to promote The Apprentice and let him vent about whatever else was on his mind. CNN’s Larry King would regularly have him on and ask about the news of the day, like what the U.S. government should be doing about Somali pirates — as if Trump was some sort of naval-warfare expert. On Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked him how he would negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown. He was a frequent guest of Regis Philbin. Barbara Walters declared him one of her “most fascinating” people of 2011, alongside Kim Kardashian.

Even publications like the Guardian did quasi-admiring can-you-believe-this-character profiles. Rolling Stone was happy to interview him. The smallest bits of news from Trump-world generated positive coverage in the biggest publications: In 2010, the New York Times’ advertising section did a profile of Melania unveiling, “a line of jewelry and watches bearing her name and available exclusively through QVC, the home shopping network, and its Web site.”

Not even the Birther theories made Donald Trump persona non grata on these programs; it just made him more interesting and unpredictable and good for ratings.

By autumn 2016, the argument from Democrats and their allies in the media was that Donald Trump represented a menace to democracy and American values — a not-so-subtle xenophobe and racist, a demagogue, full of authoritarian instincts and petty vendettas, ignorant and erratic. But television had never before invited white supremacists to host Saturday Night Live, welcomed raging demagogues to laugh with Jimmy Fallon on the couch of The Tonight Show, or invited authoritarians to 30 Rock to do softball interviews on morning shows. Donald Trump, megalomaniacal threat to democracy? He gave directions to Kevin in Home Alone 2! . He did cameos in The Little Rascals and Bobby Brown music videos! Trump had enjoyed the pop-culture and big-media seal of approval for decades!

Television’s coverage of Donald Trump from the 1980s to early 2015 portrayed Trump as a phenomenal business success, endlessly knowledgeable and fascinating, insightful, shrewd, entertaining, and funny — a larger-than-life character. Why are so many baffled that Trump managed to turn that image into a path to the presidency?

Most Popular

Elections

Bernie’s Houses

Mike Bloomberg scored a hit -- a palpable hit -- in the debate this week when he pointed back at Bernie Sanders and said: “What a wonderful country we have, the best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Many conservatives laughed and cheered and wondered why Bernie ... Read More
Elections

Bernie’s Houses

Mike Bloomberg scored a hit -- a palpable hit -- in the debate this week when he pointed back at Bernie Sanders and said: “What a wonderful country we have, the best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Many conservatives laughed and cheered and wondered why Bernie ... Read More
U.S.

Women’s Sports Should Be Women’s Sports

Transgender sports policies make a mockery of women’s competition. Just look at the state of Connecticut. At the 2018 state open for women’s track and field, two young men identifying as transgender took first and second place in the 100m race. Their participation not only deprived young women of their ... Read More
U.S.

Women’s Sports Should Be Women’s Sports

Transgender sports policies make a mockery of women’s competition. Just look at the state of Connecticut. At the 2018 state open for women’s track and field, two young men identifying as transgender took first and second place in the 100m race. Their participation not only deprived young women of their ... Read More

Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars

He who follows Freedom, let him leave his homeland, and risk his life. — Adam Mickiewicz, Polish poet, 1832 Last week my wife Hope and I traveled to Boca Chica, Texas, to meet with Elon Musk. While we talked inside the SpaceX onsite headquarters, a mariachi band played outside, providing entertainment for ... Read More

Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars

He who follows Freedom, let him leave his homeland, and risk his life. — Adam Mickiewicz, Polish poet, 1832 Last week my wife Hope and I traveled to Boca Chica, Texas, to meet with Elon Musk. While we talked inside the SpaceX onsite headquarters, a mariachi band played outside, providing entertainment for ... Read More

Escape from Wuhan

The onset of the crisis in Wuhan startled me like a jump scare in a horror movie. You’ve seen the kind I mean. The audience is led to believe that the monster, psycho killer—or what have you—pursuing the intended victim is still distant. Then whatever it is stands up from behind, leaps out in front, bursts ... Read More

Escape from Wuhan

The onset of the crisis in Wuhan startled me like a jump scare in a horror movie. You’ve seen the kind I mean. The audience is led to believe that the monster, psycho killer—or what have you—pursuing the intended victim is still distant. Then whatever it is stands up from behind, leaps out in front, bursts ... Read More
Science & Tech

A Transhumanist Runs for President

Every now and then, our electoral system produces one of those quintessentially American characters who coopt the energy of the presidential voting cycle to become national celebrities or elevate an obscure social movement into greater popular visibility. In the current cycle, New Age guru Marianne Williamson, ... Read More
Science & Tech

A Transhumanist Runs for President

Every now and then, our electoral system produces one of those quintessentially American characters who coopt the energy of the presidential voting cycle to become national celebrities or elevate an obscure social movement into greater popular visibility. In the current cycle, New Age guru Marianne Williamson, ... Read More