December 13, 2017

Mediator: Donald Trump the Showman, Now Caught in the Klieg Lights

Mr. Bush — the former governor, that is — approached his campaign as if it would be operating in a normal political news environment, where at least some of the focus would be on economic and educational proposals, foreign policy plans and those words that were once so revered in Republican politics, “values” and “character.”

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

But Mr. Trump came at it with a new philosophy: Give them a big, messy show with a regular stream of action, and they will come with their cameras and won’t turn them off. Jeb Bush and his college affordability plan never stood a chance.

By then it was a proven formula for Mr. Trump.

He reached the highest level of electoral politics not through legislative or executive accomplishment but through a series of video moments that showcased a can’t-look-away personality as much as anything he achieved in business.

Those moments span more than three decades, and the trail they leave on YouTube follows the media’s evolution to its current discombobulated state.

We first see Mr. Trump discussing the presidency in an interview with the gossip writer Rona Barrett in 1980, just as he was becoming an item of fascination in New York.

As Ms. Barrett recounted in an interview with The Washington Post this year, she asked him about the presidency for no other reason than that he began complaining about the state of the world, lamenting that other nations were taking advantage of the United States. (He said he had no interest in running.)

Oprah Winfrey followed with the same question in 1988, after Mr. Trump published his smash hit book “The Art of the Deal” and became an outspoken critic of the trade deficit. When she asked Mr. Trump if he would run, he told her, “Probably not, but I wouldn’t rule it out.” It was daytime television, and it all seemed like good fun.

But then, that same year, he was suddenly talking about it at the Republican convention on CNN, with Larry King, who was, in his way, an open door in the wall that had separated entertainment and news. A decade later, during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, it was Rowland Evans and Robert Novak on CNN raising the P-word (president) with him as he defended Mr. Clinton.

All the while, Mr. Trump was making regular visits to the studio of the radio talk show host Howard Stern, where he shared views of women such as, “A person who is flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.” (Mr. Trump recently said such commentary was being offered “for the purpose of entertainment,” apparently as he promoted the beauty pageants he owned with CBS at the time.)

So it was not surprising that such a deep well of incredulity rose up when Mr. Trump emerged as a candidate for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination in 1999. “Is it Campaign 2000 or ‘Entertainment Tonight’?” Howard Kurtz, then the host of “Reliable Sources” on CNN, asked in reference to the media attention to Mr. Trump. Still, Mr. Trump made it all the way to the political proving ground of Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press,” before his bid fell apart a few months later.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Yet as we know now, nothing did more to set up Mr. Trump for 2016 presidential politics than his own TV show, “The Apprentice,” which became a hit during its first season, in 2004. Its huge ratings success made Mr. Trump an even more coveted guest on entertainment shows, like “Access Hollywood” and “Late Show With David Letterman,” and mainstream news programs, which were ever more desperate for ratings and, therefore, ever more willing to embrace celebrities.

Mr. Trump always made it worth their while. He had a willingness to talk about whatever an interviewer threw at him, which is how a one-on-one session with Wolf Blitzer in 2007 came to be dominated by Mr. Trump’s views of the Iraq War (“a disaster” that called for an immediate withdrawal) and his critique of President George W. Bush’s leadership.

He had no policy expertise and was not a historian, but he offered something more compelling for news producers: ratings, which is the only thing that can explain all the coverage he later received for his news conferences questioning President Obama’s citizenship.

Mr. Trump took two other clear lessons away from “The Apprentice”: Television audiences will reward anything that at least looks like authenticity. And the best way to hold an audience is to give it a steady stream of drama, with compelling plotlines that continually surprise.

Those two precepts have consistently seemed to animate Mr. Trump’s campaign, which has sustained various plotlines. There’s always the A plot, based on his own performance. Then there’s a rotating set of B, C, and D plots — be it his ugly war with Ted Cruz, his running feud with the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly or the whodunit surrounding the lifted passages in the convention speech given by his wife, Melania Trump.

It wasn’t always pretty, and as Mr. Trump told me a few months ago in an interview, he did not set out to produce negative story lines. Nonetheless, his robust menu of content crowded out the message of his Republican opponents’ and, for a time, that of Hillary Clinton’s. It worked well for him.

But as the general election campaign has ground on, his copious video and audio content has buried him. In effect, it has become the equivalent of a senator’s voting record.

His video moments have come to be used against him. In August, for instance, the CNN host Don Lemon asked Mr. Trump how he could he say President Obama and Mrs. Clinton caused the creation of ISIS by prematurely withdrawing from Iraq in 2011, when he had told Mr. Blitzer in 2007 — on tape — that the United States should “get out” right then?

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

If he thinks Mr. Clinton was “a disaster” with women, why was it that he told Evans and Novak in 1997, “I think Bill Clinton is terrific”? What about Mr. Trump’s comments about women on Howard Stern’s show?

Of course, his banter with Billy Bush during his “Access Hollywood” appearance is far worse. The Washington Post was the first to expose the tape because an “Access Hollywood” report was delayed, pushing back one that NBC News was preparing to run immediately afterward. Over the weekend, some political commentators wondered why NBC News didn’t take the lead anyway.

But what’s the difference? It all leads to the same place. The question for Mr. Trump is whether that place is the end of the road.

Continue reading the main story

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/business/media/donald-trump-the-showman-now-caught-in-the-klieg-lights.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind