By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
During the next two weeks, we’ll be Trumped to death by NBC and the rest of the media. The Donald will host Saturday Night Livethis weekend. His latest tribute to his ego, How To Get Rich, is on Amazon.com’s best-selling books list. Dateline plans roughly two hours of stories about The Apprenticeand claims business schools are using the show as a teaching tool. (But this reality program is hardly true to life; how many employees whose necks are on the chopping block are brave enough to talk back to the boss?) The series’ finale will air live on April 15 — ironically, IRS filing day for everyone else — replete with what is supposed to be a surprise appearance by Spider-Man. (In a masterful stroke of summer movie promotion by Sony Pictures, Tobey Maguire shows up in character, only to be met by Trump’s newly trademarked phrase, “You’re fired!”) Already, there’s chatter about casting Apprentice 2. And idiots like me keep writing articles that serve only to feed Trump’s insatiable publicity maw.
What’s alarming about all this is that we’re watching a totally trumped-up infomercial. While much of the media criticism has focused on Trump’s God-awful orange weave and gilded tackiness, why hasn’t there been universal outrage that the basis for the series is a big, fat lie? After his long absence from anybody’s roster of successful businessmen, NBC is taking great pains to make us believe it’s good to be Donald Trump again. But recent reporting shows that his gambling empire is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy — again — with revenue and profits slumping and casino holdings drowning in $2 billion in bond debt. And just Tuesday, a letter to the board of directors from auditors for Ernst & Young was made public as part of the filing of the company’s annual report saying that, barring a bailout, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts may not be able “to continue as a going concern.” A lot of investors big and small may get screwed, but not The Donald, who is a 50/50 owner with producer Mark Burnett of what is now going to be The Apprenticefranchise.
NBC isn’t at all embarrassed about this misrepresentation since the end justifies the means: The Apprentice has improved entertainment programmer, and now president, Jeff Zucker’s Thursday-night ratings by 39 percent since it launched on January 8. Nor are viewers bugged by it. Witness this recent letter to The New York Times: “I work for a top investment banking firm, on the trading floor, and when promos for The Apprentice appear there is an audible roar of enthusiasm and applause. The mood on ‘the street’ is a lust to recapture the boom. Everybody loves Kwame, the baby-faced Wall Street banker who, in an early episode, ripped off little kids by pretending to be a football hero. The Apprentice is not about old-fashioned ethics and self-made success — it’s as much about the joy of the swindle as it is about the honest deal.”
Corporate America’s ethos of greed is good again. Lying about it is even better.
It’s the ultimate irony, really, considering the recent history of chairmen, CEOs and COOs cheating to make Wall Street and Main Street think everything’s right with their companies when the truth is everything’s wrong. How inevitable that the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Tyco International trial has a Trump connection: Jurors asked Monday for all exhibits related to 1 Central Park West, Donald Trump’s monument to acquisitive excess, because former chief financial officer Mark Swartz put down deposits on apartments there that the company later wrote off as expenses.
In fact, there’s no better proof of this celebration of mendacity, besides the fact that Ken Lay is still a free man, than the daily perp walk to and from the courthouse by Swartz and his compadre in crime, Tyco chief L. Dennis Kozlowski. They wear broad smiles — as do their high-maintenance wives — instead of hanging their heads in shame for just being accused of having looted the company out of $600 million spent on luxury homes, pricey art, diamond jewelry, planes and yachts. (Not to mention that videotaped, $2 million birthday party for Kozlowski’s wifey-poo on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia where an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David featured mounds of caviar and shellfish at its feet and dispensed expensive vodka from its penis.) And if that recalcitrant juror, Granny Blueblood, gets them off with a mistrial, will anyone be shocked if Fox hires them to host an Apprenticeclone produced by L.A.’s own felon-turned-philanthropist Michael Milken?
Even people who at first refused to view The Apprentice just on the basis of a well-deserved dislike of The Donald eventually started watching, won over by the water-cooler talk about the contestants’ unethical business antics. Which is why Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the associate dean of the Yale School of Management, told Newsweek recently: “This show is vulgar. It’s deception, trickery and sex peddling. The lesson is that leadership selection is developed in a process akin to musical chairs at a Hooters restaurant.” Give these conniving corporate pups a $250,000 Trump organization job? The vast majority of us wouldn’t even trust them to walk our dogs. Now it turns out that the only one of the five finalists to demonstrate even a modicum of conscience during the series is also all about the money. On Tuesday, a press release from the Newport Beach–based Berman Investment Group boasted that Nick Warnock has ordered the firm’s how-to-get-rich manual: I Got Here. You Can Too! A Master’s Course in Becoming a Millionaire.