Mark Burnett, the Apprentice producer who transformed Donald Trump from a sleazy racist businessman into a sleazy racist TV star, released an indignant statement on Wednesday, insisting that he is “NOT ‘Pro-Trump.’ ” “Further, my wife and I reject the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign,” Burnett wrote.
It’s puzzling, then, that an adamant anti-misogynist would hire another man who’s been accused of groping, sexually harassing, and assaulting women to headline the next season of his marquee TV series. After Trump bowed out of the Apprentice and its celebrity edition last year to pursue the presidency, Burnett hired Arnold Schwarzenegger to take over. That’s former California Gov. Schwarzenegger, whose alleged abuse and humiliation allegedly spanned at least three decades.
Like Trump’s accusers, several of the women who came out against Schwarzenegger said he touched their private parts without their consent. One said he tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator, and another said he forced her onto his lap. Many of the women said his sexual assaults occurred in the workplace—on movie sets or in studio offices. Schwarzenegger admitted that some of the allegations were true, apologized, and characterized his assaults as times when he “behaved badly.” When he was elected to the governorship, he said he had experts visit the office to discuss sexual harassment “because laws are so strict now,” such that “any kind of a comment you make to a woman now about her clothes or about this or that could be misinterpreted … and open the door to a lawsuit.” He said he didn’t want he or his staff to “fall into that trap.”
With Schwarzenegger at the bow and Burnett at the helm, it’s easy to imagine the former governor’s Celebrity Apprentice season, which airs starting in January, as a haven for the kind of harassment Burnett willfully overlooked during Trump’s 11 years on the show. On the set of The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, Trump reportedly:
- mocked deaf actress Marlee Matlin’s voice and called her “retarded”;
- asked people if they’d “fuck” female cast members who were in the room listening. “I’d fuck her,” he’d reportedly say;
- persistently harassed one camerawoman, saying he liked her butt and that the only woman more attractive than her was Ivanka, according to eight crew members;
- told a control room that a cast member had bigger breasts during casting. “Maybe she had her period then,” he reportedly said while he knew he was mic’ed;
- said the n-word.
This is just what’s been reported so far, without the surely damaging footage Burnett refuses to release. There’s no way Burnett could spend more than a decade producing the show and never hear anything about the way Trump mistreats women, people of color, and people with disabilities. Trump was making Burnett tons of money; he just didn’t care. It’s only now that conventional wisdom has turned against Trump, and Burnett is taking some heat for enabling him, that he’s decided to condemn the candidate for his misogyny.
Burnett’s 11-year support for Trump and his decision to hire Schwarzenegger, an admitted serial sexual harasser, says more about his opinions of powerful men abusing women than any statement ever could. His mention of his wife, a woman, in his four-sentence anti-Trump statement is a transparent attempt to imbue his lip service to decency with any measure of credibility.
If Burnett wants us to believe that he despises Trump’s misogyny as much as the rest of us, there’s a simple way he could prove it: releasing the damning Apprentice outtakes that almost certainly exist. “Does a man who profited so greatly building up the mythos of a white supremacist strongman and alleged sexual predator have any special responsibility to prevent the monster he helped create from becoming the most powerful person on the planet?” asked Slate’s Matthew Dessem on Thursday. I believe he does. Burnett claims he’d be in legal trouble if he tried; one TV executive said everyone who worked on the show had to sign an agreement that would force them to pay a $5 million fine if they leaked any footage. Even if Burnett faced a bigger fine, it would likely be dwarfed by the millions he’s gained from the amplified legend of Trump that’s landed a monster just a state or two away from the presidency. You can’t put a price on saving the world from a woman-abusing, white supremacist despot.