When Donald Trump flirted with a 2012 presidential run, I argued that starring on The Apprentice had helped him to build a brand that any politician would envy: decisive, averse to bullshit, impossible to swindle, and guided in all decisions by common sense. Kevin Drum has similar thoughts about the billionaire’s appeal in the 2016 primary. After describing The Celebrity Apprentice to his readers, Drum urged them to reflect on how the hit show made Trump look to millions of NBC viewers:
He is running things. He sets the tasks. The competitors all call him ‘Mr. Trump’ and treat him obsequiously. He gives orders and famous people accept them without quibble. At the end of the show, he asks tough questions and demands accountability. He is smooth and unruffled while the team members are tense and tongue-tied. Finally, having given everything the five minutes of due diligence it needs, he takes charge and fires someone. And on the season finale, he picks a big winner and in the process raises lots of money for charity. Do you see how precisely this squares with so many people's view of the presidency?
The president is the guy running things. He tells people what to do. He commands respect simply by virtue of his personality and rock-solid principles. When things go wrong, he doesn't waste time. He gets to the bottom of the problem in minutes using little more than common sense, and then fires the person responsible. And in the end, it's all for a good cause.
That's a president.
As Drum goes on to note, “Obviously this is all a fake. The show is deliberately set up to make Trump look authoritative and decisive. But a lot of people just don't see it that way.”
In fairness, Trump has actually had success running a large business organization. At the same time, calling The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice “reality TV” has given millions of voters a misleading impression about a man now seeking the White House. And that’s why NBC News ought to be busy right now. Its employees owe Americans an exclusive news story that only their network can provide.
In the interest of giving the public as accurate an understanding as possible of a leading presidential candidate, NBC’s news division should upload all of the raw footage from The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice to the web. Let voters see what Trump was really like while the show was being filmed, for better or worse; let them judge if the hours that they spent with the billionaire left an accurate impression or constituted a false portrayal of someone less presidential than he seemed.
We’re all poring over Hillary Clinton’s email. Why not scrutinize this too? If NBC News had exclusive access to hours of video featuring Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or Jeb Bush on the job surely they would mine it for newsworthy moments. If Trump is legally entitled to block the release of the footage and exercises that option, that, too, would be telling. But maybe he won’t mind extra publicity.
Has he ever?
“Dear Donald,” a network executive could write him, “we decided to release all the file footage we have from taping The Apprentice––you’re so damned handsome that we felt bad depriving the public of these scenes, and the ratings will be huge, as you know.”
NBC should make this happen. The footage is newsworthy, it’s in their possession, and the network has an official obligation to serve our informational needs.
If this isn’t “must-see TV” what is?