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The Role TV Played In The Election And Presidency Of Trump

A sign advertising the television show "The Apprentice" hangs at Trump Towers April 15, 2004 in New York City.  (Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
A sign advertising the television show "The Apprentice" hangs at Trump Towers April 15, 2004 in New York City. (Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

With David Folkenflik

Populism alone didn’t propel Donald Trump to the White House. The transformation of television played its part. A top TV critic makes the case.


James Poniewozik, chief television critic for The New York Times. Author of “Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.” (@poniewozik)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “Audience of One” by James Poniewozik

Reprinted from Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. Copyright (c) 2019 by James Poniewozik. Used with permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

New York Times: “Opinion: The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV” — “On Sept. 1, with a Category 5 hurricane off the Atlantic coast, an angry wind was issuing from the direction of President Trump’s Twitter account. The apparent emergency: Debra Messing, the co-star of ‘Will & Grace,’ had tweeted that ‘the public has a right to know’ who is attending a Beverly Hills fund-raiser for Mr. Trump’s re-election.

“‘I have not forgotten that when it was announced that I was going to do The Apprentice, and when it then became a big hit, Helping NBC’s failed lineup greatly, @DebraMessing came up to me at an Upfront & profusely thanked me, even calling me “Sir,” ‘ wrote the 45th president of the United States.

“It was a classic Trumpian ragetweet: aggrieved over a minor slight, possibly prompted by a Fox News segment, unverifiable — he has a long history of questionable tales involving someone calling him ‘Sir’ — and nostalgic for his primetime-TV heyday. (By Thursday he was lashing Ms. Messing again, as Hurricane Dorian was lashing the Carolinas.)

“This sort of outburst, almost three years into his presidency, has kept people puzzling over who the ‘real’ Mr. Trump is and how he actually thinks. Should we take him, to quote the famous precept of Trumpology, literally or seriously? Are his attacks impulsive tantrums or strategic distractions from his other woes? Is he playing 3-D chess or Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots?”

NPR: “‘Audience Of One’ Aims To Show How TV Shaped Donald Trump — And Led To His Rise” — “Dwight Eisenhower ‘became president by winning the war in the European theater,’ writes James Poniewozik in his new book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. ‘Donald Trump became president by winning the 9 p.m. time slot on NBC.’

“But Trump isn’t just on TV, according to Poniewozik. He is TV. Over the course of his life, Trump ‘achieved symbiosis with the medium,’ he argues. ‘Its impulses were his impulses; its appetites were his appetites; its mentality was his mentality.’

“Poniewozik does not, of course, mean all TV. Trump is not Gilmore Girls. Trump is not the Great British Bake Off or Friday Night Lights or Frasier or Glee, or any kind of TV show grounded in a presumption of empathy for other people. Poniewozik makes the convincing case that the more Darwinian genres of TV — reality, sports, cable news — have legible, internally coherent moral teachings and ideologies, and that these both shaped Trump and helped create the cultural conditions for his rise.”

CNN Business: “How Trump’s TV obsession has defined his time in the White House” — “New York Times chief television critic James Poniewozik asserts that Donald Trump’s evolution as a ‘TV character’ was a critical aspect of his ascent to the presidency.

“In his new book, ‘Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television and the Fracturing of America,’ Poniewozik also examines Trump’s TV obsession and how it has affected his time in the White House.

“‘He in very many ways used television to become president, but then TV kind of became the president, because what he was seeing on TV set his agenda and controlled his mood and determined the world that the rest of us would live in,’ Poniewozik told Brian Stelter on this week’s ‘Reliable Sources’ podcast.

“Trump’s recent fixation with the coverage of his false claims about Hurricane Dorian and Alabama are just the latest example of this Trump-TV feedback loop.”

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on

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