You’re Hired! How NBC Spent 11 Years Making Trump a Household Name, Building Foundation for His Campaign

Network Gave Billionaire Businessman 21 Times More Positive Coverage When They Were Partners

Today Becomes a Megaphone for The Apprentice and Miss USA

NBC amplified Trump’s public presence by giving two of its joint business ventures with him, The Apprentice and Miss USA, extensive coverage.

The advent of Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, was mutually beneficial for The Donald and NBC. Starting in 2004, Today acted as a de facto PR machine for Trump and the show, and made giving standalone interviews to fired contestants who praised their TV boss routine for the morning show. Anchors also periodically gave long interviews to Trump about the show and its successor, Celebrity Apprentice.

Today even created a mock Apprentice called The Intern, and invited Trump on for one of the ceremonial firings. Just before Trump's Intern cameo on Feb. 26, 2004, Today host Matt Lauer introduced him as “the ultimate businessman” who would “help make Today the best conference room ever.”

Having its anchors act like Donald Trump apparently wasn’t enough for Today, however, because then-anchor Katie Couric dressed as Donald Trump for Halloween on Oct. 29, 2004.

During that episode, Today brought Apprentice judges Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross on to mimic the reality show. After Kepcher and Ross talked down to the Donald, Couric delivered Trump’s signature line: “You’re Fired!”

NBC’s Apprentice obsession was greatest in 2004, however, when Trump remarked, “I feel we’re sort of here a lot” before an April 15, interview about the show. Couric went so far as to describe who would win The Apprentice as “the burning question of our time” on April 14. She then promoted an NBC poll, asking viewers to vote on their chosen Apprentice winner.

All the hype seemed to annoy Couric on April 16, when she asked in reference to the show’s finale, “And can you believe we are discussing this so extensively?”

In addition to its Apprentice partnership, NBC and Trump co-owned the Miss Universe organization. Miss Universe was the umbrella organization for the Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe pageants. Similar to its Apprentice coverage, Today interviewed multiple Miss USA and Miss Universe contestants who praised Trump.

After the media exposed Miss USA Tara Conner’s party-hard lifestyle, Trump allowed her to retain her crown on the condition that she would enter rehab. Today painted the story as a fairy tale, with Vieira describing Conner as “Weeping Beauty,” an apparent reference to the story Sleeping Beauty, on Dec. 20, 2006.

Today didn’t have a Disney prince to save Conner, but they did have the prince of an inherited empire. Gregory and Lauer furthered Vieira’s fantastical framing of the Miss USA controversy when they described Trump as a hero who rescued Conner from her impending demise.

“You can’t make this stuff up. You’ve got a beauty queen, late night partying in New York, and ‘The Donald’ coming to save the day. It’s amazing,” Gregory said during the Dec. 20, 2006, episode of Today. Lauer similarly commented that Trump “came to Conner’s rescue” on Jan. 29, 2007.

And before Lauer touted Trump’s “divine intervention” in the situation, he described Trump’s decision as “one of the most famous second chances in recent memory.” That comment came before the first of two interviews with Conner on the Feb. 1, 2007, episode of Today.

On April 16, 2004, Couric said that NBC was “really milking this thing,” in reference to The Apprentice finale. The same could easily be said about the Miss USA story as well.  

In the same episode that Gregory said Trump saved the day, Today hosted psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow for a segment on second chances and forgiveness. One day earlier, Gregory announced the results of an NBC poll asking whether or not Conner should have been forced to resign.