Culture

Unearthed 2004 Trump Op-Ed Recalls Early Days of Reality TV Craze

Love him or not, President Trump gets the ratings. He gets the magazine and newspaper subscription renewals. Trump gets the clicks. It’s been that way for two summers now, and everyone providing journalistic content knows it.

In terms of television news, those who like the president watch Fox News. They know that even though Fox allows for a representative sample of Trump critique, most any presidential appearance or speech will preempt anything else that is happening. No FNC media personality — not even Brit Hume — is un-bump-able when there’s a fresh sighting of Trump to splash across the screen.

Fair and balanced? How about a 52 percent to 48 percent positive to negative rating of Trump coverage at Fox, as complied in a Harvard study and reported in this month’s Limbaugh Letter? Even though the conservative mother ship has dropped the F&B slogan, the ethic lives on.

On most days, however, especially in prime time, it feels more like 81.3 percent warm and fuzzy, and that’s the way we like it. For Trump loyalists, should the Fox ratio flip, there’s nowhere else to go. The only recourse will be to turn off the television, but nobody wants that.

Conversely, the Trump haters have lots of choices. CNN’s Trump positive to negative coverage ratio was 7 percent to 93 percent. Their viewers, and the viewers of MSNBC and every other major news outlet, tune in for the bashing, the vitriol, and the ongoing attempt at de-legitimization. Deep down, the more intelligent pundits among them, like Dennis Kucinich, know that what’s on display in the alt-left mainstream press is an unhinged and inexorable descent into ideological irrelevance and electoral impotence.

Let’s talk angles. Trump, as candidate and president, has been come at from every journalistic angle, real, fake, and somewhere in between. Rest assured there is an inexhaustible supply. To indulge in a bit of Dan Rather-esque metaphor, the Trump story has more angles than a rhombicosidodecahedron viewed through the prism of author Tom Wolfe’s Ken Kesey-inspired Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.   

It was in search of just such an angle that I recently ventured into the graveyard of my old hard copy press clippings.

I remembered that at some point in the distant past I had written and published an op-ed featuring Donald Trump. I couldn’t remember the headline, the date, or whatever the hell it was that I wrote. I only remembered that it was the featured editorial in the Portland Tribune, the flagship paper of Pamplin Media, which owns and operates a stable of community newspapers hereabouts, and that it had featured an outsize image of the man of the hour, the decade, and this summer, Donald Trump.

Flinching at the scurry of what might have been a brown recluse spider, I pulled the musty clippings out of an attic closet. There, stacked with old advertorials, neighborhood association reports, and coverage of municipal water line squabbles, I found my first Trump story, dated August 31, 2004: “Reality is Terribly Overrated.”

It turns out that reality television was my topic that summer long ago. I had written and forgotten a hit piece on the programming phenomenon that was sweeping the sweeps and causing a fundamental transformation of Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland.”

Though dated, I chose my targets well:

“It’s as if Puck, the prototype jerk in MTV’s The Real World, presaged a whole generation of insipid realists.”

I had no use for Survivor:

“The idea of young people scratching, clawing, and bickering at the edges of civilization is just a little too real.

Reality dating…not:

“Inhumanity is all over the headlines; I don’t need to see more of it on Elimi-date.

Back then, nothing was too banal to qualify for a show:

“I enjoy dining out, but was relieved to see The Restaurant get shut down faster than a freedom fry stand in Paris.”

It was the pull quote, in bold print (thank you, long lost editor), that really captured my gist:

“Andy Warhol promised everyone fifteen minutes of fame, but I don’t think he meant that legions of the self-obsessed should get theirs all at once.”

I was obviously underwhelmed with the reality television craze that was overtaking my boob tube. But the borderline amazing thing is that while trashing an entire TV genre, I managed to conclude by saying nice things about the reality king himself:

“Donald Trump brought new gravitas to reality television with The Apprentice, another show I’ve not seen.  But I’ve heard the tag line, ‘You’re fired,’ a succinct catchphrase that might spare us from this onslaught of egalitarian junk. Would that it be delivered en masse.”

Thirteen years later, reality has prevailed. Along the way, I even found a couple of reality shows that I liked enough to never miss. Ice Road Truckers, and, you guessed it, Celebrity Apprentice.

Now the master of reality is sitting in the Oval Office.  He owns the ratings, the subscription renewals, the clicks, and the angles. Who knew?

Because of President Trump’s promises, the ones he’s kept and the ones he has yet to fulfill, I’ve come around to not only accepting Trumpian reality, but embracing it. Six months in, I’m optimistic about the direction Trump is taking the country, and more than satisfied with his accomplishments.

The president’s speech in Poland on his European trip was a watershed moment. Somehow, seeing people from another country getting it, getting the appeal of Trump, strengthened my resolve to stay in his corner.

With a little luck and some help from his fellow Republicans, he’ll be keeping it real for the next seven and a half years.