Trump to remain an executive producer of "Celebrity Apprentice"

Hey, nothing wrong with a man working a second job to earn a little extra cash on the side.

Obama gets royalties from his books, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” Sales of both exploded when he ran for and won the presidency. If he can passively collect income from a project his political success helped promote, why can’t Trump?

Donald Trump will remain an exec producer on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which is returning Jan. 2 after a two-year hiatus with new host Arnold Schwarzenegger…

The larger issue for MGM, NBC, and the White House is the payment that Trump will receive for the series. It’s unclear what his per-episode fee is, but it is likely to be in the low five-figures, at minimum. NBC has ordered eight episodes of “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump’s fees will be paid through MGM, the production entity on the show, not NBC. MGM declined to comment on the financial terms of Trump’s deal…

Trump is also a profit participant on the “Apprentice” franchise, which has been sold as a format in various markets around the world since 2004.

That’s from Variety, which seems to think this is a done deal. Kellyanne Conway was asked about it on CNN this morning and was more cautious:

“He’s a very transparent guy. Everyone can see what he’s doing,” she said. “And the fact is that he’s conferring with all types of experts to tell him what he’s allowed to do and not to do as the president of the United States, and if this is one of the approved activities, perhaps he’ll consider staying on.”

One question is how active Trump plans to be in producing or promoting the show. If he’s not commenting publicly about it and is simply receiving a check for his stake, that would be the least objectionable arrangement. (Apart from him selling his stake before he takes office, that is.) If he starts cutting promos for the show or takes to leaning on NBC or Mark Burnett to do things a certain way, that’s different. Then he’d be using the office to serve his own private ends, knowing that NBC would think twice before refusing him. He’s no longer in the same power relationship with his partners as he was before the election, as there’s really no such thing as an “arm’s-length transaction” when you’re the president. One media columnist, in fact, wondered whether Trump’s “Apprentice” leverage will force NBC to listen extra carefully the next time he criticizes a show like “Saturday Night Live.” If he wants Alec Baldwin to stop impersonating him, will NBC have to bow to that demand? It’s a tiny, tiny thing in the grand scheme, but you don’t want media companies making decisions to suit the president’s whims.

On top of all that, if he takes an active role, he’s going to be attacked viciously by critics for not devoting his full attention to the presidency. Conway was asked about that this morning and spun it by noting that Obama found plenty of time for golf over the last eight years. Right, but Obama wasn’t saddled with the same degree of public skepticism that Trump is about whether he’s fit for office. There are stories circulating today that Trump is skipping most of his intelligence briefings; there were stories circulating weeks ago that Trump seemed surprised to learn just how broad the scope of the president’s job is. He’s not in a position right now to let anything, let alone a TV show, distract him from getting up to speed on his new duties. Every snag his administration hits in the first year will be viewed through that lens, fairly or not. The more extraneous business he takes on, the easier the criticism will be to make.

There are perils in being in business with NBC too. A liberal writer made this point last night:

Any sort of favorable rulings by the FCC for NBC, even if they’re justifiable on the merits, will be attacked by Democrats as cronyism by the Trump administration, which will be folded into the broader narrative about conflicts of interest and corruption. The biggest conflict of interest, though, is actually on NBC’s part, not Trump’s: Their entertainment division is going to be in business with the president while their news division attempts to cover him “objectively.” Will Lester Holt and Matt Lauer have to preface every story on Trump with a “full disclosure” statement noting that Trump is an executive producer on “Celebrity Apprentice”? You would think it’d be worth NBC’s while to avoid that by trying to buy him out. Trump won’t want to sell, but maybe those ethics “experts” with whom Conway claims he’s conferring will twist his arm. He … is conferring with ethics experts, isn’t he?

One other potential pitfall here. A foreign media organization or a foreign government with its own state media that’s seeking Trump’s favor could try to butter him up by making a deal to bring “Celebrity Apprentice” to their home country, knowing that the president would appreciate the interest — and the extra revenue — in his pet project. They could do something similar with Obama by buying up copies of his books, but as far as I’m aware, book royalties are far less lucrative than TV syndication deals. Then again, given the Trump family’s web of global real-estate interests, there’ll be so many other ways to impress Trump by throwing money at his businesses that it’d be silly to do something as visible as picking up an NBC show for international broadcast. Ironically, the outsized risk of pay-to-play via Trump’s other projects probably means we don’t need to worry much about the risk from “Apprentice.” Here’s Conway wrestling with all of this on CNN.