The media quote of the week comes to us from NBC chief Bob Greenblatt, who said at this past weekend's Television Critics Association conference: "We talked him out of running for president. Wasn't that good enough?"
The "he" Greenblatt is talking about is Donald Trump -- pompous buffoon, national punchline and incessant self-promoting fabulist -- and the quote comes from a question Greenblatt fielded about whether he and NBC had ever asked Trump to tone down his powerfully stupid political bluster and if the ongoing embarrassment Trump is causing himself might put his job with the network at risk. Greenblatt defends Trump's right to say what he wants but goes on to say that "if he becomes somehow hurtful and says or does things that cross a line, we would figure out what to do with that." This leaves you wondering, considering all the vitriolic nonsense and relentless attempts to bully the President of the United States that Trump has been responsible for and has actually reveled in over the past couple of years, exactly what would cross the line in Greenblatt's eyes. I'm guessing he'd have to gut a peacock and personally call Greenblatt a wicked Jew who controls the media on a live finale episode of Celebrity Apprentice to finally get kicked off the air.
For a while now I've grappled with the problem of Donald Trump and how I feel about the fact that he still has a job with NBC. Anyone who's read my stuff regularly knows that I tend to fiercely defend media figures from attacks by those who claim to be offended by the things they say. With the rise of social media, it's tough to argue that there isn't an "outrage machine" in place in our culture, a standard cycle that ramps up every time someone says or does something that offends someone else. It works like this: the offended party or parties take to Twitter or Facebook or whatever and shout their indignation into the ether; like-minded types immediately get all offended as well and hop on the bandwagon and begin an honest-to-God public outcry; the whole thing gets amplified by a thousand and it all ultimately turns into a deafening cry for the person guilty of being offensive's livelihood and the immediate decision to declare that person a cultural pariah. We've seen it over and over again over the past few years.
So how to reconcile my belief in defending the ability of someone to piss a few people off without being completely thrown to the wolves with the fact that I really would love to see Donald Trump relegated to spouting crap only on Twitter and deprived of a forum to push his ridiculous brand on NBC? Well, as it turns out I don't really need to rationalize my belief that Trump should be canned by NBC because the fact is that there really are quite a few differences between Trump's role at NBC and, say, that of Tracy Morgan, who you'll remember faced public outrage and demands for his NBC job following a really crude anti-gay crack at a comedy show of his a couple of years back.
First of all, whereas most people who face the wrath of a segment of the public for saying something obnoxious can at least make the claim that their comments are independent of the persona they adopt for television, movies, etc. Trump is his persona -- the Trump character is his brand and it's what NBC bought and promotes 100 percent. Trump can't divorce himself from his obscene opinions in the name of keeping his NBC gig because he doesn't have to; that self-congratulatory blowhard character is who he is and it's what NBC is paying for. Trump's show is, after all, a reality show -- it's not art. Trump isn't playing someone else on TV -- he's just being himself.
Add to that something else that should damn Trump in the eyes of the peacock: he's inextricably tied himself to NBC on his overworked Twitter feed, again that same feed he regularly uses to attack his enemies with all kinds of childish accusations and spout rambling, conspiratorial nonsense questioning the legality of Barack Obama's presidency. In addition to the relentless stream of embarrassing insanity that comes from Trump's manicured fingers, there's a whole lot of Trump shamelessly plugging NBC and his show, which he's delusionally claimed in the past to be NBC's number one series (it isn't and never was for longer than maybe a week). Trump isn't simply an actor on an NBC show -- he's made himself part of the promotion for it and for the network as a whole, offering up his sage wisdom on everything from how NBC should be programmed to its internal politics. This makes him far more than just a guy whose occasional off-cam rants might be cause for a little concern at 30 Rock; it makes him a serious potential liability.
When Lawrence O'Donnell first began viciously attacking Donald Trump on his nightly MSNBC show during Trump's utterly horseshit pretend dabbling with a run for president a couple of years ago, I wondered why NBC let him get away with it -- until I remembered that to NBC cross-promotion is king and any publicity is good publicity. The execs at the network probably ate up the fact that one of their own was beating up on another one of their own because that kind of infighting gets people talking. O'Donnell gets free publicity; Trump gets free publicity; NBC gets free publicity; everybody wins. But then O'Donnell did something truly extraordinary and something legitimately ballsy and dangerous: he began attacking NBC itself, accusing it of being complicit in the hoax that was Trump's threat to run for president. O'Donnell understood that NBC entertainment had known from the very beginning that Trump wasn't going to run because it had signed him for another season of Celebrity Apprentice -- and by withholding that information from the NBC news department it was basically engaging in indefensible corporate malfeasance and covering up information that was hamstringing its own network.
Which brings us nicely back to Greenblatt's quote about supposedly convincing Trump not to run for president. First of all, that's crap. As Lawrence O'Donnell said over and over again during the period in which he mercilessly chided Trump for being entirely full of shit, Trump is a phony billionaire and in fact can't afford to lose his gig with NBC. But the fact that Greenblatt is willing to admit his network had anything at all to do with the trajectory Trump's supposed presidential aspirations took proves all the more why Trump isn't your average host of a crappy reality show. He's had much more influence than that both at NBC and within our popular culture over the past few years. If Bob Greenblatt actually feels like it's OK to say that NBC talked Donald Trump out of running for the most powerful office in the world then the relationship between NBC and Trump truly is unholy.
When all is said and done, the reality is that only low ratings will kill Trump at NBC. That's the best we can hope for. But make no mistake: NBC should fire Trump. He's an embarrassment to the network not simply because of the things he consistently says but because of the myriad ways in ways in which he ties those things -- the lunatic conspiracy theories, the ignorant political rants, the self-parodic attacks against his perceived enemies -- directly to NBC.
Besides, Trump shouldn't really have a problem losing his job at NBC -- he's a "billionaire" after all, right? Of course, if he does lose his weekly forum what will he really be able to say he does anymore?