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Notebook Lifestyle

Trumping the Kardashians

(Krieg Barrie)


Trumping the Kardashians

A movie reviewer in the Rose Garden

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was a surprise. His victory over the Kardashians is a shocker.

The Trump administration is sucking so much air out of the tabloid room that previous heavyweights are gasping. When the Kardashians’ eponymous show returned to E! Entertainment for its 13th season in March, it was to dramatically lower ratings. As the season progressed, Keeping Up with the Kardashians ratings continued to plummet, prompting the Huffington Post to wonder, “Can the Kardashians Survive in the Trump Era?”

Possibly not, given that cable news seems to have picked up many of the viewers the Kardashians lost. Whereas E! saw a dip in ratings in 2016, CNN saw a 77 percent jump and MSNBC grew by 87 percent. Fox News, already a powerhouse, finished the year as the most watched of any cable channel, a first for the network. That could be dismissed as an election year upswing, but it has largely continued during 2017.

During this summer Fox and MSNBC continued to trade positions as the most-watched channel in all of cable during prime-time hours. Perhaps the worst bellwether for the K clan was a headline in the London Daily Mail’s gossip section: “Women want to look like Ivanka Trump not the Kardashians, plastic surgeons claim.”

Tabloids and entertainment outlets wouldn’t bother covering (or inventing) minor Trump administration squabbles, let alone hard news like Cabinet appointments, unless they knew it would draw eyeballs and sell advertising.

Rush Limbaugh said President Trump’s unprecedented Twitter attacks on his own attorney general had to be a reality-style ruse: “Folks, there has to be more to this than what we’re seeing because what we’re seeing doesn’t make any sense. … Donald Trump is the news from the time in the morning when you get up till you go to bed. … I don’t think Trump is off his rocker. … I think Trump is a masterful user/manipulator of the media.”

Eric Dezenhall, a celebrity PR expert who worked in the White House communications office under Ronald Reagan, does not buy that theory about Trump: “I don’t think he’s scheming, I think this is just what he does.” He called Trump “hardwired” to ask “Where’s the camera? The story arc is When’s my next magazine cover?”

‘I don’t think he’s scheming, I think this is just what he does.’ —Eric Dezenhall, PR expert


I had a chance earlier this summer to have a front-row seat (OK, more like 12th-row seat) to the hottest live show in D.C. on the day in June after the James Comey hearing, when everyone who could get a press pass wanted to hear what Trump would say. The Newsweek, Fox, and other national reporters clustered in small groups sipping White House–provided lemonade. Their low murmuring was punctuated by brief brays of laughter. “Oh Lordy, I hope there’s tapes,” one chuckled, repeating Comey’s most memorable line from the day before. “One of us has to press him about that, right?” another responded.


Susan Walsh/AP

President Trump and Romania’s President Iohannis speak at a news conference in the Rose Garden. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Then, without much ceremony, Trump and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis took their podiums, and the press conference began. As Iohannis wrapped up his prepared remarks, Trump, wearing a sour expression (though the glaring sun may have caused that), started surveying the audience. His lips pursed out with the characteristic pugnacity captured so well by Alec Baldwin. In person, he looked a lot of things—bigger, slouchier, squintier. What he didn’t look was in any way frightened.

The instant the remarks concluded, hands shot up and the press corps leaned forward. In that moment I expected to see Trump brace for impact, but his posture relaxed. He started to poke fun: “Come on, Dave,” he teased the reporter from The Washington Times who took a couple of seconds to phrase the first question.

Trump looked almost as though he were relishing the sparring match with these press members eager to interrogate him. “Look at those hands up there, President,” he joked to the other head of state. “Do you have this in Romania too? If I could only sell that.” Turning back to the media, “Should I take one of the killer networks who treat me so badly as fake news? Should I do that?” He pointed to a man who started to speak, but Trump interrupted: “Be fair, Jon, remember how nice you used to be before I ran?”

Before the end, he and Iohannis, who smiled and laughed and appeared for all the world to be delighted with Trump, seemed to be sharing an unspoken inside joke about the audience before them. Trump is certainly more entertaining than the average president, and as he recently admitted when addressing his Joe Arpaio pardon, he knows how to maneuver for great ratings. If the presidency were just a reality show, not only would it be a hit, I and others could sit back and enjoy the entertainment.