What did Rachel Maddow do to Upset So Many People with Trump’s Tax Return?

Last night on her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow and her guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, revealed the front two pages of President Trump’s 2005 tax return.  The reveal had been promoted on the network and via social media for about 90 minutes or so. Here are the two tweets Maddow sent out in advance:

The show started, as The Rachel Maddow Show (TRMS) almost always does, with a 20-minute-long A-block, or first segment, that I refer to as story time. During these 20 minutes, she gave a condensed history of the controversy over President Trump’s finances and his failure to release his tax returns. This included extensive information about the president’s possible relationships with a range of Russian oligarchs in connection to his massive real estate business.

Following that segment, Maddow and Johnston reviewed the two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return that Johnston recently received in the mail.  Johnston chose to reveal the documents on Maddow’s show because he had had a good experience on her show recently discussing reporting he had done on Trump and the Russians.

The facts revealed were not earth shattering.  The two pages of the 1040 tax form showed that Trump had made $150 million and paid $38 million in federal taxes.  But there were none of the really interesting supporting forms that would show where the president earned that income.

Despite the fact that the president called the story “FAKE NEWS,” he did not dispute that the pages were his tax return from 2005.

In addition to all the missing forms, the other big question was where did the 1040 pages come from? Both Maddow and Johnston speculated that Trump or a surrogate might have been the source.  As the Washington Post points out, the fact that the forms said “Client Copy” on them, suggests that it came from Trump rather than from the government.

By the time Maddow got to the part of her show where she revealed the tax returns, the White House had already done a wide scale release of the key numbers, taking any scoop away from Maddow.

Criticism of how Maddow handled her show Tuesday night was widespread. The conservative advocacy website MRCTV posted a long list of tweets critical of Maddow under the headline

Twitter Just SHREDDED Rachel Maddow
Over Trump Tax Return ‘Story’

And the entertainment blog The Wrap had the following:

Twitter Switches to Mockery After
Maddow’s Trump Tax Reveal Lacks Bombshells

Journalism think tank The Poynter Institute was more measured in their response, noting:

As the world watches, Rachel Maddow
slow-plays Trump tax return scoop

To which I would say – Fair enough.


While the scoop was not all that it could have been it did do several things:

  • It gave us all a first look at the president’s finances. Every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has released his or her tax returns … other than President Trump.
  • It shows that Trump may have been lying about the total size of his wealth.  He had claimed that he had a net worth of as much as $10 billion.  As Trump critic Kurt Eichenwald tweeted, Trump’s income was way too low for someone with that level of assets.
  • Although Trump paid a perfectly respectable level of taxes in 2005, if the tax policy that he is advocating now were in place (which does away with the alternative minimum tax) he would have owed very little.

As for the complaints about how Maddow handled the story – Her show has always been about context. For the last couple of weeks she has been ignoring the president’s tweets and only looking at his actions. In addition, the trademark of her show is the extended first segment that sets her topic for the evening in context. She has never been about shouting out breaking news.

I typically listen to her show’s audio podcast the following day and feel like I miss very little by waiting half a day before checking in on it.

If you want the fast paced shouting that is typical on nighttime cable news, there’s plenty of places  you can go for it. As for me, I’ll taken my news with a bit of context.

(BTW, while I’m mostly defending Maddow here, that doesn’t mean I’m always in her corner.  When the whole Chris Christie “Bridgegate” scandal was breaking, I stopped listening to Maddow’s show for a couple of weeks because I just couldn’t take any more talk on the topic.)

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2 Responses to What did Rachel Maddow do to Upset So Many People with Trump’s Tax Return?

  1. Steven Richard Turner says:

    Rachel is the Spider and The Donald is the Big Fat Bug. Rachel is patient as one with a long game would be. Eventually, the grooming of the BFB will come to fruition and it will enter Rachel’s Web. Time, is on her side.

  2. Pingback: And now you know… the rest of the story | Living in a Media World

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