That one word has polarized the media as everyone tries to figure out how a self-proclaimed “outsider” billionaire became the presumptive GOP nominee.
Pundits were eager to note the nearly $2 billion Trump got in “earned media” from news organizations. But that’s a recent number and counts several different outlets. The untold origin story of Trump is how NBC partnered with him and helped turn a prominent New York real estate magnate into a man they referred to as “the ultimate businessman” and a political “power broker.”
Trump has been a celebrity for decades – appearing in everything from the "Home Alone" sequel to "Zoolander." The Internet Movie Database even lists him as an uncredited guest on "The Jeffersons" way back in 1985. But nowhere has The Donald reigned supreme like he has at NBC.
The network had two partnerships with Trump — his hit reality TV show "The Apprentice" and Miss Universe, which also included Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. NBC produced hundreds of segments promoting the shows. It even brought on Trump to fire its interns on a mock show called "The Intern."
NBC News’s "Today" was especially bad and turned into more of a public relations operation than news program. "Today" gave Trump a literal red-carpet welcome before a Nov. 10, 2005, interview. The Donald entered to the theme “The Imperial March,” from "Star Wars." Weatherman Al Roker gave Trump an introduction that would set the tone for years of NBC coverage:
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all have [of] course heard of Darth Vader, you’ve seen the storm troopers. Well, this is the intergalactic king of the universe ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump, of course of 'The Apprentice.'”
"Today" spent an entire segment on May 29, 2005, Trump National golf course in Westchester County, New York. "Weekend Today" anchor Campbell Brown called Trump’s golf courses “phenomenal.” She followed with a description that any PR agent would adore. “His name is synonymous with living large … He’s conquered New York real estate, taken television by storm … he’s the dean of his own university, and he’s even a big-time player in the world of golf,” Brown hyped. She also told Lester Holt, who now helms NBC Nightly News, that “regular golfers” call his golf courses “fantastic!”
From 2004-2015, NBC did more than 300 stories about Trump, nearly all promoting one of the partnerships. The network barely mentioned any of the downsides of Trump’s business ventures.
In all, NBC gave his business or his success 21 times more coverage than his failures.
NBC reported a tiny bit on Trump’s pitfalls with Trump University, Atlantic City casinos, and lawsuits filed by his condo buyers, but neglected several other negative stories. And, surprise, surprise, the network forgot to mention its partnerships in nearly all of the negative stories.
The supposed news network even promoted Trump’s future presidential campaign – long before anyone took it seriously. "Access Hollywood" anchor Billy Bush took Trump to the polls way back in 2004 and described him as, “The next President of the United States.” Bush even urged a man to, “Write him in.”
In 2012, "Today" host Matt Lauer asked multiple "Apprentice" contestants whether they would support him four years before he actually ran. Lauer even asked a gathering of contestants whether they thought Trump would make a good president. Everyone raised their hands in agreement.
Is all of this ethical? Of course not. The Society of Professional Journalists says, “Journalists should: Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” Partnering with a major newsmaker, celebrating him for more than a decade and downplaying business ties when he had problems hardly meets that standard. Or any standard.
Trump was far more honest about NBC’s motives than the network was. During an interview promoting his book, "Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again," The Donald summarized the situation nicely: “You happen to like me because I have a very successful show on your network.”
Media Research Center staff writer Sam Dorman contributed to this piece.