I was right there with you, watching that disaster unfold on the Rachel Maddow show last night. Not to brag, but I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t going to live up to the hype even before the show started:
Will it be Watergate or Al Capone’s vault? #TrumpTaxes https://t.co/VcJSXefzY0
— Berthold Gambrel (@BertholdGambrel) March 14, 2017
In general, if something is truly-earth shattering news, they will tell you about it right away, not tease it out with a countdown clock. That’s why election night coverage isn’t: “You’ll be shocked when you see who won the Presidency! Details at 11.”
David Cay Johnston, the journalist who says he received the tax forms in the mail, allowed that it was possible that Trump himself might have leaked them. However, the fact that Trump has tweeted angrily about it afterwards has led people to think that he probably didn’t leak them after all:
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, “went to his mailbox” and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
People, in my opinion, are way too gullible. The wording of Trump’s tweet is highly suspicious. For one thing, he phrases it in the form of a question–he doesn’t say it didn’t happen; he just asks if people believe it.
Now, I admit: I myself am a bit skeptical of Johnston’s story. He says he got a package in the mail that contained these tax returns. Apparently, he doesn’t know who sent it to him or how they obtained it. Which would raise questions as to its veracity, except that the White House almost immediately verified it last night!
Either Johnston is an idiot who didn’t think it was worth looking into why he got the President’s tax returns in the mail–very unlikely, since he’s a Pulitzer-winning journalist–or he’s lying to protect a source.
So, Trump (a) knew immediately that it really was his 2005 1040 form and (b) questioned Johnston’s story as to how he got it. This strongly suggests that Trump knows perfectly well how Johnston got it–which in turn suggests that some agent acting on orders from Trump gave it to him.
As Johnston himself admitted, the tax forms are actually favorable to Trump. They prove he did pay taxes for at least that one year, and show little evidence of nefarious dealings.
The end result is that Rachel Maddow got humiliated. (I’m sorry; I usually like Maddow’s work a lot, but she really screwed up here.) More importantly, though, Trump can now use this episode as an excuse to brush off all further questions about his taxes. Journalists won’t ask about it because they don’t want to screw up like Maddow did.
And what’s worse is that if anyone does somehow get hold of more of his taxes, people will be less inclined to pay attention to it. “It’s another publicity stunt,” they’ll say.
It’s true: I’ve always found the whole Trump-won’t-release-his-taxes story to be a bit overhyped. Yes, it was bad and a violation of historical precedent that he didn’t release them. But, on the list of “things that are bad and violate historical precedent” that Trump has done, it’s far from the worst.
And then there’s fact that there can’t be anything that damning in them. They are taxes. They go to the Federal government. Logically, Trump is not going to put down anything illegal that he might be doing in his taxes.
As a thought experiment, let’s say the absolute worst conspiracy theories about Trump are true, and he’s actually colluding with the Russian government. He’s not going to put that in his taxes. There is no box that asks “Are you a spy for Russia?” on tax forms.
Furthermore, any circumstantial evidence that would suggest illegal activity by Trump, he would also not put in his taxes. If someone is already willing to commit crimes, he’s not going to hesitate to commit tax fraud to cover them up.
I’m not saying Trump has done any of this, but even if he has, there won’t be hard evidence of it in his taxes. At best, there might be circumstantial evidence, which Trump can dismiss with a simple “FAKE NEWS. Sad!” tweet.
Great discussion. I thought that whole thing last night was kind of ridiculous. That was the big reveal? That he actually paid his taxes one year? I like Maddow a lot, but that was all build-up with little show.
Yep; and I’m concerned that Maddow damaged her (and a lot of other journalists’) credibility with it.
I completely disagree about Rachel Maddow. I think having a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who specializes in financial reporting talk about why are all the other pages missing, and that it’s the people who are on the boards of the businesses he owns and to whom he owes money or has had business dealings with, that those people are the smoking gun. I paraphrased poorly but I hope you know what part of her show I’m referencing. I didn’t feel that she lost credibility. I felt the opposite.
I see your point, and I don’t really disagree. My problem wasn’t so much the content of the show itself as it was all the advance hype and buildup it was getting.
I think the analysis was quite fine, but the way that MSNBC marketed it–making people expect they were going to get the full Trump returns, and instead all they got was a (very well-argued) case that Trump is probably guilty of something big.
Part of it might be my personal bias–since I am already 99% sure Trump is guilty of something very big, I was hoping to see absolute proof, rather than just more very strong evidence pointing in that direction.
Yes, I see what you mean. We know for a fact that he had business dealings with Russians in the early 90’s. And I believe that a tenant in Trump Tower is the Republic of China. But I don’t have those facts and figures in front of me. But anyone who has lived through the Cold War or studied history knows how scary sidling up to Russia is. I think it is those dealings that the journalist was referring to that would be the smoking gun if we could get ahold of his complete taxes. As to the hype, it seems that every news item from every channel is BREAKING NEWS. It’s like watching Nancy Grace constantly. BREAKING NEWS – THE COMMERCIAL BREAK IS OVER.
Exactly. Cable news hypes everything for all it’s worth–and often, quite a lot more.
In that regard, it’s easy to see why Trump watches and responds to cable news so much. Both he and the news networks like to get excited and make a big dramatic fuss over everything. They are made for each other, in many ways.
You should tweet that Trump is just like cable news. He’d have a heart attack.
Unfortunately, Rachel tends to hype and tease her stories a lot. I’m a big fan of hers as well, but that aspect of her show gets on my nerves sometimes. Maybe it’s just what being a professional cable news host is about.
I think it is part of the job. The fact that cable news is driven by the need for ratings is a major problem. It’s part of what enabled the rise of Trump–he got good ratings, forcing the networks to cover him, thus getting his message out, thus making him get even higher ratings… etc.
Agreed. I blame some of the cable networks who now hate him so much — especially CNN — for Trump’s rise. They enjoyed covering him when he was a hilarious high ratings joke…he’s not such a joke anymore.