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"Audience of One:" James Poniewozik on TV and the Rise of Donald Trump

Liveright Publishing Corp/W.W. Norton & Co.

Today on Midday, as the U.S. House of Representatives continues its impeachment inquiry, a conversation about the subject of that inquiry, President Donald Trump: what shaped his political rise, and how he has singularly shaped American culture. 

Tom's guest for the hour is James Poniewozik, the chief television critic for the New York Times.  He was previously the television critic for Time magazine and the media columnist for Salon.

His new book is called Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.Poniewozik chronicles how TV shaped Donald Trump’s modus operandi in his early years as a celebrity New York real estate mogul, and how Trump has used TV to reinforce and advance his brand on his long, improbable journey to the US presidency.

For example, one of Mr. Trump’s default justifications for saying things that are often complete fabrications is to make the claim that “many people are saying it.”  As Poniewozik points out in his book, the roots of this strategy can be found in the game show, Family FeudMr. Poniewozik cites former New Yorker writer George W. S. Trow who observed how surreal the logic of that show is.  Contestants guess not what’s true, but what most people think is true. 

Trump is a master of convincing people that they are not alone in considering to be true, things that are demonstrably false.  And his mastery has been honed on and through, television.  His 2016 campaign, as well as his current campaign for President, rely heavily on social media, but as we see in Audience of One, it’s TV that has always been at the heart of Mr. Trump’s outreach.

Credit Photograph by Mark Roussel
James Poniewozik is chief media critic at the New York Times

James Poniewozik, who lives in Brooklyn, joins us today from the studios of public radio station KQED in San Francisco.

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Rob is a contributing producer for Midday.