The mainstream media is getting a lot of flack for not doing enough to stop Donald Trump's rise to the cusp of having all the power, and deservedly so. In fact, I'm going to that exact thing here today. But rather than focus on the news as a whole, I want to focus on one outlet in particular: NBC. I'm singling them out because it's not just that they haven't done enough to stop the potential threat that is Donald Trump's impending presidency -- it's that they're actively endorsing it, all while pretending they cut ties well over a year ago with the man they helped make a star. We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Jeff May and vaguely funny person Dan Ewen. It's also what I'm talking about in this column here today. Up first, let's talk history.
5NBC's History With Trump Can't Be Ignored
For starters, before you laugh off the notion that NBC might have a vested interest in helping Trump take the White House, please take into account that they, more than any other person or institution, are responsible for Trump becoming the celebrity that he is today. Yes, people knew the name before Trump and NBC's joint reality show venture The Apprentice aired, but he was still a personality that existed mostly on the weird outer fringes of the celebrity spectrum. We barely even knew he had weird hair until that show started.
Joining the NBC lineup made Trump and his larger-than-life persona palatable for mainstream audiences. They were the first to make the Trump brand seem normal, and their relationship lasted for more than a decade. During that time, the network's coverage of Trump was overwhelmingly favorable, even when the news surrounding him wasn't. A Media Research Center study found that, of 335 total NBC stories about Trump, only 15 covered his business failings.
I refuse to believe this actually existed.
They also found multiple instances of NBC reporting on Trump without disclosing their financial relationship, which is highly unethical. This was especially true of the few articles that covered Trump's businesses in a negative fashion. You can probably chalk that up to the fact that they had a vested interest in presenting Trump as one of the greatest business minds of all time. The show he starred in hinged on that reputation, and it's one NBC pushed tirelessly while promoting The Apprentice. In one especially over-the-top example, during a 2005 appearance on Today, Trump walked out on a red carpet as "The Imperial March" from Star Wars blared in the background ...
What were we saying about comparisons to Nazis?
... and Al Roker introduced him as "the galactic king of the universe, Donald Trump." So you'll understand why that same Media Research Center study referred to NBC's coverage of Trump as bordering on "cult-like" on several occasions. Not that the relationship was a one-way street or anything. For all intents and purposes, The Apprentice was mostly a really long commercial for the various entities and properties held by the Trump empire. He made them a lot of money, they made him a television star (and also a lot of money). You could even argue that he's been the biggest star on that network for a lot of years now. It's not like NBC has been killing it since the turn of the millennium. They've had a few amazing and memorable shows, but even then, people didn't always bother watching them.
Come back, Tracy Morgan.
Trump has been one of the most consistently present personalities at NBC for a long time now. At least, he was until the network very publicly severed their ties with him after he called Mexican immigrants rapists early in his campaign. For his part, The Donald claims they're just mad because they wanted two more season of The Apprentice and he wanted to run for office instead. Either way, by all public appearances, the relationship between Trump and NBC ended that day. But did it?
4They Fight, They Make Up
Donald Trump and NBC have had some fairly high-profile disputes over the past year or so, starting back when they cut ties over the eventual Republican nominee's insane "Mexicans are rapists" remarks. NBC issued a public statement at the time, and their criticism was withering:
Fine, I guess they didn't go that hard on him, but still, they did break up. Good thing, too, because we sure wouldn't want one of the major networks in this country having financial ties to a presidential candidate. Except if you look at the various public dust-ups the Trump campaign has had with his former partners, a weird pattern starts to emerge. Basically, whenever NBC publicly speaks out against Trump, he or someone speaking on his behalf makes a high-profile appearance on the network.
Case in point, do you remember what followed NBC and Trump's first fight? He got to host goddamn Saturday Night Live.
It wasn't immediately after, but who was expecting it to happen at all after the two parted ways in such a public and ugly (and sometimes litigious) manner? Certainly not the parade of Hispanic lawmakers who demanded an apology from NBC for letting a bigot host one of the network's longest-running and most beloved shows. They didn't get that apology. They got a meeting, but it was a meeting with representatives from NBC News. They said the decision was made by the entertainment side of the business, and they therefore couldn't apologize or speak on it at all. Helpful!
A few months later, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt was asked if he thought the episode's high ratings were worth having Trump on the show. His reply: "I think it was." He went on to add this:
Let the "Rodrigo Duterte for SNL host" petitions begin!
Speaking of Greenblatt, he was back on the "Trump is bad" train last month in a private Facebook post that somehow became public. A few weeks later, Trump was the beneficiary of that clusterfuck of a "Presidential Forum" on NBC. Matt Lauer was the moderator and, while he repeatedly challenged Clinton, even going so far as to talk over her a few times, when it came to Trump, he kept it clean. His most noteworthy concession involved letting Trump slide on an obvious lie about how he was always against the war in Iraq. There was plenty of criticism afterwards, but by then, the damage was done, and Trump got to add another notch on his bedpost, assuming that's how he tracks all the times NBC has made him look good. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether NBC and Trump truly dislike each other, or if they just have to pretend to fight so things look fair and balanced.
Even Trump's long-running feud with Chuck Todd, host of NBC's Sunday news show Meet The Press, seems more like a series of planned confrontations meant to drum up ratings for an already booked but not yet announced future appearance on the show. The two traded words in June of last year, and Trump was on the show a few weeks later. Same story with any of their other, more recent disagreements. They fight, and then Trump appears on the show.
Of course, this is NBC we're talking about. They're the same people who brought you MSNBC, quite possibly the single most liberal-leaning news channel of them all. If they're going to show any bias at all in their interviews, it will definitely be in favor of Hillary Clinton, right? Nah.