"It’s always been obvious that hosting The Apprentice was crucial to the president’s eventual political fortunes. But as a Times investigation into more than two decades of his tax data details, the NBC reality show was also the better part of his actual fortune," says James Poniewozik. "More than a decade after a business-near-death experience in which Mr. Trump’s debts collapsed on him, The Apprentice and its associated licensing deals earned him $427.4 million (which he would then largely sink into unprofitable businesses)...The series, in which Mr. Trump starred from 2004 until 2015, when he announced his campaign, was based on a carefully constructed, stage-managed pretense: that Mr. Trump was already on top of the world. That’s where you see Mr. Trump in the show’s very first image. At least, he’s on top of Manhattan, soaring above the skyline in a helicopter with his name on the side. The greatest asset that Mr. Trump brought to the job was the ability, cultivated since the 1980s, to look like a fabulously wealthy man — complete with flashy props — even when this image, in reality, bobbed on an ocean of red ink." Poniewozik adds: "Mark Burnett, the producer of Survivor, knew how to create visceral TV rich with image and symbol. For The Apprentice he cast Mr. Trump, by then a fixture of New York tabloids and sitcom cameos. Mr. Burnett knew that a reality show about business doesn’t need an actual, boring business success. It needs someone who can perform the facsimile of success on camera. That had, for years, been Mr. Trump’s job. Reality TV fans are a more skeptical lot than they get credit for. They are among the first to say that 'reality TV' is an oxymoron; they look out for artifice, for deceptive editing, for reality stars who are playing it up for the cameras. But the invaluable gift that The Apprentice gave Mr. Trump was to make his camera-burnished wealth the premise of the show. Contestants were competing to work for him, and that prize had to be worthwhile for the show to have any drama. If The Apprentice was Survivor in the business world, then the Trump Organization was the island. You were not invited to question whether that island was merely a truckload of play sand." ALSO: Fox News' "hard news" anchors are basically helping push conspiracy theories against The New York Times' bombshell Trump tax story.