Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel got laughs a week ago by suggesting that producer Mark Burnett of “The Apprentice” was responsible – or to blame – for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The claim is no joking matter in the enlightening two-hour “Frontline” documentary, “The Choice 2016.”
The program offers biographies of Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WNED-TV, the night after their first debate airs.
Near the end of “The Choice,” it illustrates how Trump used the lengthy run of “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” as a springboard to his candidacy.
The NBC reality show success wiped away the memory of Trump’s business failures that resulted in investors losing billions in shares of his casinos while he reaped millions. It is suggested that Trump’s response was that the losers should have done a better job vetting the investment.
The PBS program is close to a case of extreme vetting of both nominees. It tries to be fair by going back and forth between the biographies of each.
It is damning at times to both. But Clinton seems to be a more sympathetic figure in the dueling portraits because beyond her support of ousting Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, many of her poor choices – regarding secrecy, lack of transparency and defense of a philandering husband – primarily caused her to suffer.
Trump’s mistakes, the show argues, cost everyone else to suffer. The man his opponents have labeled a “con man” is described as a great salesman, “the P.T. Barnum of the 21st Century.”
As Trump’s real-estate empire approached bankruptcy, narrator Will Lyman notes, Trump survived because banks he owed billions concluded that “he was too big to fail.”
One prominent banker concluded “it doesn’t seem like he took an economics or accounting course in college.”
Burnett isn’t the only reason for the emergence of Trump.
The decline in newspaper readership also may have something to do with the Trump phenomenon, as voters haven’t read the investigative pieces by the New York Times, the Washington Post and other papers that have illustrated who he is rather than the myth about his business genius that supporters want to believe.
“The Choice” essentially summarizes many of those stories, but unfortunately it is on PBS, and may not reach the less-educated white voters who have embraced Trump. To use a favorite word in Trump’s Twitter arsenal: “Sad.”
Featuring interviews with friends, former classmates, advisers, biographers, journalists, bankers and political insiders, “The Choice” should be must-see TV for every voter every four years.
It has an attention-getting and timely opening that shows President Obama cracking jokes at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner aimed at Trump for promoting the false idea that the president wasn’t born in America.
According to those who know Trump, he was seething and humiliated, which led to a decision to run for the presidency so he could fantasize about someday taking the keys to the Oval Office from the president.
The life stories of the nominees show the influence of their family lives and the people who mentored or inspired them.
Trump’s father, Fred, sent him to a military school because of his misbehavior. One author notes that Trump has acknowledged “he is essentially the same person he was in the first grade.”
Donald’s father had his son listen to the Gospel of Success from Norman Vincent Peale and taught his trouble-making son that “life is a competition” and “you don’t matter if you lose.”
Donald’s adult behavior also was influenced by notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, best known for working with the disgraced Communist witch-hunt senator, Joe McCarthy. In Cohn’s view, “you punch me, I‘ll punch you.” Trump also learned from Cohn that “you never say you make a mistake and you should declare victory if you lose.”
The Trumps used that philosophy by declaring victory after settling a housing discrimination case that Lyman notes had “damning evidence” against them.
Declaring victory and lying is a philosophy Trump has embraced throughout the campaign. And to the astonishment of Clinton supporters, he still is viewed as more honest than she is in polls.
Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter on Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” that referred to Trump’s philosophy as “truthful hyperbole.” Schwartz conceded it makes no sense. That’s unless, of course, it inspires laughter as Trump’s claim that Trump Tower had 68 floors when it only had 58 surely does.
“The Choice” does give Trump credit for hiring women for key roles in his organization, with one saying that he told her “a good woman is better than 10 good men. A good woman would work harder.”
That would seem to describe Clinton, who is shown to have a tenuous relationship with the truth when it involves her husband Bill’s sexual escapades because, it is suggested, she realized she needed to defend him to get what and where she wanted to be.
While Trump relied on the notorious Cohn for advice and lived the life of a playboy, Clinton was influenced early in her life by a progressive minister who took her and a friend to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. She also told a fib to go to the violent 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
While Trump fiddled in his youth, Clinton burned over where the country was going. Inspired by her mother, Clinton received national attention and was named “a voice of her generation” after her commencement speech at Wellesley College.
She illustrated her penchant for secrecy by not revealing for 30 years that she failed a law bar exam, which led her to Arkansas with Bill, the eventual governor and president. Her friends weren’t thrilled that she had to transform into the good political wife and hide her own professional ambitions.
She also was convinced by notorious political operative Dick Morris to be a traditional first lady during her husband’s presidential re-election campaign after her health care campaign flopped, partly because her committee planned it in secrecy.
There is that word again.
By that time, she came to the realization “that there is something about me that people don’t like.”
That is the likely reason recent swing state polls scare Democrats. By program’s end, it isn’t truthful hyperbole to visualize Clinton reprising the words of Jon Lovitz, as Michael Dukakis, responding to the nonsense spoken by Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush in a 1988 “Saturday Night Live” debate sketch: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”