In the flurry of news on his tax returns, his troubled healthcare plan and his suspicion that his phones were bugged, it was easy to miss one of President Trump’s most startling comments Wednesday night on Fox News.
Trump was griping about the coverage he gets on every major television network except right-leaning Fox News, and he singled out NBC as a prime offender. After all the money that NBC made on his reality-TV franchise, Trump suggested, it owed him more favorable coverage of his presidency.
“I made a fortune for NBC with ‘The Apprentice,’” he told Fox anchor Tucker Carlson. “I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time. And I was on for 14 seasons. And you see what happened when I’m not on. You saw what happened to the show was a disaster. I was very good to NBC, and they are despicable — they’re despicable in their coverage.”
What do NBC’s profits on “The Apprentice” have to do with the way its journalists cover Trump?
Why would he see any relationship between the former and the latter?
Should NBC show the president gratitude by shaping its reporting more to his liking?
“It’s pretty astonishing, this idea of a quid pro quo,” said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN America, a group that seeks to protect free expression for writers around the world.
Trump’s remarks, she said, were revealing about how he views the motives of TV networks and other major news outlets.
“No one’s saying they’re above commerce,” she said. “But that notion that this is a commercial relationship between a president and a media organization that entitles him to favorable coverage — he’s so open about it.”
An NBC spokesman declined to comment.
Trump’s hostility toward the mainstream media exceeds that of any modern president. Even President Nixon, who loathed much of the press, stopped short of calling ABC, CBS, NBC and the New York Times “the enemy of the American people,” as Trump has.
No president but Trump has routinely accused reporters of making things up to harm him, a firing offense under boilerplate ethics codes of American newsrooms.
NBC’s reporting has long annoyed Trump. On Twitter, he has called its star Trump campaign correspondent Katy Tur an incompetent and dishonest “3rd rate reporter” who should be fired. (She now anchors a daytime news show on MSNBC.)
Among many other complaints, Trump objected to NBC’s coverage of his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. When the Obama administration expelled Russian diplomats as punishment for Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, Trump called Putin “very smart” for declining to retaliate.
“Russians are playing @CNN and @NBCNews for such fools — funny to watch, they don’t have a clue!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “@FoxNews totally gets it!”
Edward Wasserman, the dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, said the idea that NBC’s profits on “The Apprentice” should influence its coverage of Trump was ridiculous.
Wasserman also criticized Trump’s broader efforts to discredit news organizations that report aggressively on his administration and his business entanglements. “It’s an attempt to neutralize the influence of the news media when they publish things that reflect unfavorably on him,” he said.
To Nossel, the main thing missing from Trump’s perception of the press is any sense that it provides a public service in a democracy by presenting “facts and interpretation that help us understand what government is doing [and] reach conscientious decisions as voters and citizens.”