Donald Trump's decision to stay on as executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice when it returns to the air in January bothers me less than his other business dealings since Election Day. I don't imagine he's going to do much actual work on the show, if he does any at all -- I assume, despite Kellyanne Conway's assertion that it's "doubtful" he'll continue to earn revenue from the show, that he's doing this for the money, either because grabbing at cash is such a conditioned reflex he can't stop or because, as Josh Marshall suggests, he's either so in hock to creditors that he can't afford not to take the money or he's subject to creditors' demands for steady, reliable cash flow.
I'm supposed to be concerned that this puts pressure on NBC to be gentle with Trump -- but I think the threat is exaggerated by some Trump critics. What's the worst Trump can do if NBC displeases him? Ask the hands-on executive producer, Mark Barnett, to pull the show from the network? NBC has already kept The Apprentice off the air for two years, so it can't be a make-or-break program for NBC's bottom line. NBC also dumped Trump's Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants after his racist entry into the presidential race in 2015. So I don't see Trump having a massive amount of leverage over NBC in this situation. I'll change my mind if NBC orders Saturday Night Live to stop airing Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation or compels the news division to fire or reassign Katy Tur, to name two NBC employees who've angered the president-elect. But that's not happening so far. I don't think he's more likely to threaten NBC than he is to threaten any other news organization (which is the problem -- he believes he can blackmail even media companies that aren't in business with him).
I'm much more concerned about the way he's been using his position to make money. Foreign diplomats now feel pressure to stay at his hotels. Indian business partners met with Trump just after the transition started. Ivanka sat in with her father when he met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, at a time when she was just wrapping up a deal with a Japanese firm. This all seems much worse that the Apprentice situation. But it's the latter that made the public sit up and take notice.
I hope it draws attention to Trump's other, shadier dealings. But I worry that what the public will focus on is the idea that Trump might spend time actually working on the show instead of doing his main job. Conway clearly feels that we'll be mollified if she puts that question to rest, which she's attempted to do in classic GOP fashion:
Kellyanne Conway on Friday defended President-elect Donald Trump's decision to remain an executive producer on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" even as he takes office, arguing that "presidents have a right to do things in their spare time."...
"Were we so concerned about the hours and hours and hours spent on the golf course of the current president? I mean presidents have a right to do things in their spare time, in their leisure time," Conway argued.
(By the way, that's going to be the GOP's standard excuse for every Trump failure attributable to inattention, of which there'll be a lot -- hey, Obama played a lot of golf.)
The problem isn't the time involved -- I strongly doubt that he's a hands-on co-executive producer. The problem is that he's telling the world (literally) that Trump Inc. is open for business and that if you want to stay in the U.S. government's good graces, you'll do what's in the Trump empire's best interests. If this draws attention to that, great. But it's hardly Trump's worst conflict of interest.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog