You’re Hired! How NBC Spent 11 Years Making Trump a Household Name, Building Foundation for His Campaign

May 10th, 2016 9:44 AM

Donald Trump’s rise as a presidential candidate has prompted many political observers to blame TV outlets for giving him historic amounts of free air time. While it’s true the media have overwhelmingly focused on Trump in their coverage during the current election cycle, there is another media phenomenon at play. NBC has spent more than a decade building his brand as a successful businessman of almost mythic proportion.

The network’s coverage of Trump was overwhelmingly and consistently positive. MRC Business found only 15 stories (out of 335) on Trump’s business failures, and 320 stories promoting him as a businessman, his businesses and his shows. The vast majority of stories were about the network’s show The Apprentice, which featured Trump.

During the period of 2004-2015, NBC had two partnerships with The Donald -- his hit reality TV show and Miss Universe, which also included Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. NBC News’s Today served as a de facto PR machine for The Apprentice and its star. Today anchors interviewed fired contestants, presented Trump as “the ultimate businessman,” and even “fired” NBC interns on a mock Apprentice called The Intern. Today also made Trump into a career savior after his “divine intervention,” as host Matt Lauer put it, allowed a scandal-plagued Miss USA to retain her crown.

NBC’s relationship with Trump was mutually beneficial, and fraught with ethical problems. Even when the network covered The Donald’s business shortcomings, NBC failed to disclose its business partnerships with him. NBC also outright advertised (complete with prices) his and his daughter Ivanka’s businesses, and engaged in activities that jeopardized its credibility as an impartial news organization. For example, NBC donated more than $500,000 to Trump’s foundation, and filmed episodes of Today from Trump venues.

Before the 2012 presidential election, NBC boosted Trump as a presidential candidate and depicted him as a political “power broker.” 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 Donald Trump.” After a man asked Trump about running for president, Bush shouted, “Write him in,” and later asked a poll worker how many people were writing-in Trump on their ballots. Bush even told a man that while his vote was just “one vote,” Trump’s vote was “giant.” MRC Business studied NBC coverage of Trump from 2004-2015, and found:

  • 21 Times More Positive Stories about Trump’s Business Success: NBC had a financial incentive to further Trump’s image as a successful businessman, and it did just that. The network’s coverage of Trump was consistently positive, with only 15 stories (out of 335) on Trump’s business failures. The remaining 320 stories promoted him or his business ventures.

  • Failures to Disclose Business Relationships in Stories on Trump’s Empire: In 13 out of 15 negative stories on Trump, the network failed to disclose that it partnered with Trump on Miss Universe and The Apprentice. Although NBC disclosed its partnership with Trump in several stories about the Miss Universe pageants, the network failed to disclose its relationships with him in nearly all stories critical of his businesses. The Society of Professional Journalists warns:  “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,” and tells journalists, “Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”

  • NBC Furthering Trump’s Political Presence: Before the 2012 election, NBC personalities depicted Trump as a political “power broker.” Chris Matthews, host of The Chris Matthews Show, nominated Trump for the “chutzpah award” after he pressured President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate. Access Hollywood anchor Billy Bush even said Trump was the “next President of the United States” in 2004. During a 2011 interview on his presidential ambitions, Trump even told Today anchor Matt Lauer, “You happen to like me because I have a very successful show on your network.”

Read the MRC Business Special Report: You're Hired! How NBC Spent 11 Years Making Trump a Household Name, Building Foundation for His Campaign.