Is the White House a Reality TV Show?

The New York Times

Over the weekend, President Trump was accused by a Republican senator of running the White House like a “reality show.” In the 48 hours that followed, this is how the president rebutted the characterization.

He called out the offending senator for being short and sounding like “a fool.” He challenged his secretary of state to an I.Q. contest and insisted he would win. He celebrated the downfall of a critic who was suspended from her job. And his first wife and third wife waged a public war of words over who was really his first lady.

Mr. Trump’s West Wing has always seemed to be the crossroads between cutthroat politics and television drama, presided over by a seasoned showman who has made a career of keeping the audience engaged and coming back for more. Obsessed by ratings and always on the hunt for new story lines, Mr. Trump leaves the characters on edge, none of them ever really certain whether they might soon be voted off the island.

“Absolutely, I see those techniques playing out,” said Laurie Ouellette, a communications professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied reality television extensively. “Reality TV is known for its humiliation tactics and its aggressive showmanship and also the idea that either you’re in or you’re out, with momentum building to the final decision on who stays and who goes.”

Among those on the in-or-out bubble in this week’s episode was Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the frustrated Republican who described — and derided — the conversion of the White House into a virtual set for “The Apprentice” and, for good measure, expressed concern in a weekend interview with The New York Times that the president could stumble the country into a nuclear war.

Mr. Trump, who hosted “The Apprentice” on NBC for 14 seasons, dismissed Mr. Corker on Tuesday by mocking his height and suggesting he had somehow been conned. “The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”

In labeling Mr. Corker “liddle,” the president was evidently returning to a theme. He considered Mr. Corker for secretary of state during the transition after last year’s election but was reported to have told associates that Mr. Corker, at 5-foot-7, was too short to be the nation’s top diplomat. Instead, Mr. Trump picked Rex W. Tillerson, who is several inches taller but whose own relationship with the president has deteriorated to the point that he was said to have called Mr. Trump a “moron.”

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