The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Donald Trump bows out of presidential race; comics everywhere are crushed

May 16, 2011 | 11:39 am

Donald trump Oh boy, it's going to be fun to watch Lawrence O'Donnell Monday night on MSNBC, now that the news has surfaced that Donald Trump has -- as O'Donnell predicted from the very start -- pulled the plug on his 2012 presidential bid, disappointing both die-hard conspiracy theorists and thousands of nightclub comedians, who've been getting lots of mileage out of Trump jokes for the past few months. But it was O'Donnell who emerged as Trump's most vociferous critic, blasting away at his crackpot claims that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

Trump, as you remember, said he'd dispatched a team of investigators to unravel some deep, dark plot to keep Americans from discovering that Obama had been born outside the country. O'Donnell not only bashed Trump, but he wailed away at NBC, which broadcasts Trump's popular "Celebrity Apprentice" show, for playing dumb about the obvious -- that the network all along had planned to renew Trump's show, which would make it impossible for him to also run for president.

"NBC has created a monster who is using his NBC fame to spew hatred reeking with racist overtones and undertones," O'Donnell said on his show a few weeks ago. "Those NBC executives should not be allowed to survive another day of involuntary entanglement in the Trump hatred campaign."

Trump's campaign was dead in the water the minute Obama released his long-form birth certificate.  While Trump had initially earned strong poll numbers among likely Republican voters, his numbers plunged after Obama lanced the birth boil. According to Politico, in a recent poll, 71% of registered voters surveyed nationwide said there was not "any chance" Trump could win the presidential election.

I suspect most people felt that way from the very start, but that didn't stop the national media from treating Trump like Woody Allen at Cannes, hanging on his every word and behaving as if he were a plausible presidential contender when, in fact, he was simply another over-the-hill gasbag, engaging in a canny demonstration of media manipulation. The sad truth is that the media are ridiculously easy to manipulate, whether you're a TV personality, a hot-headed sports icon, a blowhard documentary filmmaker or a quasi-presidential candidate. Once you capture the public's fascination with shameless spectacle, you can ride a wave of attention all the way to the bank.

When Trump is finished with his TV career, he should teach a class in "101 Ways to Bamboozle the Press." It would be a treat to see a master at work.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Donald Trump, waving to a crowd at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Nashua, N.H. Credit: Jim Cole / Associated Press