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.

But…

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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If a news story punches all your buttons – it probably isn’t so…

You know how you’ve always been warned about being careful when something seems too good to be true? That’s never more the case than when you see a story online and say to yourself, “YES! This is exactly how I thought it would be…”

Take for example the following story from the Seattle Tribune:

BREAKING: Trump’s Android Device Believed To Be Source Of Recent White House Leaks

If you’ve recently seen the hashtag – #DitchTheDevice trending on social media, it’s because, according to several private intelligence reports, the source of the multiple recent leaks within the White House is President Trump’s unsecured Android device.

Throughout the past several weeks President Trump and his administration have expressed extreme frustration over the multiple leaks provided to members of the press from inside the White House.

The recent leaks range from information regarding his executive orders (before he issued them), fighting and chaos among White House staffers, classified conversations with foreign leaders (specifically Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull & Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto), White House staffers conducting meetings in the dark because they can’t figure out how the lights work, and President Trump wandering the White House in his bathrobe.

I’ve seen the story show up repeatedly on social media today, posted by people who dislike President Trump and love the thought that the leaks from his administration are coming from hackers who had compromised his Android smartphone (a phone that at least initially had not been secured by the Secret Service).

As soon as I read it, I figured the story had to be some kind of fabrication. First of all, the kinds of documents that were necessary for the leaks that had come from the Trump administration are not the kind that would be likely to be stored on a smartphone by a guy who is not particularly tech savvy. (This is not a criticism of Trump – merely a statement of fact.  He does not use either a computer or a particularly modern smartphone.)

The story also smelled because it was a little too pat – it had too much of a feel of schadenfreude about it.  “Wouldn’t it be so appropriate if Trump were being done in by the phone he uses to send out all those early morning tweets?” When a news story you find online matches all your wildest dreams…

So I did what I always do when I want to check out a suspect news site, I look for information about the site.  At the Seattle Tribune it was on the Disclaimer page, as clear as day:

Disclaimer

The Seattle Tribune is a news and entertainment satire web publication. The Seattle Tribune may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within The Seattle Tribune are fictional and presumably satirical news – with the exception of our ‘list style’ articles that include relevant sources. The content published on The Seattle Tribune is intended to be entertainment and is often intended to generate thought and discussion among its readers. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental. Advice given is NOT to be construed as professional. If you are in need of professional help, please consult a professional. The Seattle Tribune is not intended for children under the age of 18.

Now, that’s not a completely honest statement.  The story about President Trump and his phone was not funny in a satirical way – it was clearly “fake news,” complete with links to real stories.  It was designed to attract readers drawn to an appealing story, so that those people would see the ads on Tribune’s pages, and hopefully click on them.

To go a bit further with this, there are stories that could come out of hacked phones – such as the ones written by reporters at the British tabloid News of the World who hacked into the phone of a young woman who had been kidnapped and then murdered.

So when you are thinking about posting links to stories on Facebook that make you angry or self-satisfied – why not look for reputable stories from reliable news sources instead of leaping to the click-baitie made-up stories. For example, the well-informed Trump critic could have chosen from the following real stories this morning:

And while these stories do not have the delicious sense of self-righteous indignation that the one from the Seattle Tribune did, they have the advantage of being true.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

  • Why does cancer suck so bad?
    So many reasons, but one is that it took journalist Brenda Buttner from us at all-too-young of an age. Buttner was best known as a Fox Business reporter, but I knew of her because she was responsible for the greatest motorcycle magazine story ever. Here’s the story behind the story: Hunter S. Thompson – Going Gonzo. And here’s a link to the actual HST story that made Buttner a legend – Song of the Sausage Creature. If you watch the tribute to her in the title link, you will get an idea of what Buttner brought to journalism. (Note – She’s probably the only person ever to work for a motorcycle magazine who had been a Rhodes Scholar!)

    Journalist Brenda Buttner with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The essay “Song of the Sausage Creature” that Buttner got from HST is one of the greatest pieces of motorcycle writing ever published.

 

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Washington Post adopts new nameplate slogan – Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

I’m not sure how long it’s been up, but I noticed it this morning. And I think it’s the most distinctive newspaper motto since the New York Times adopted “All the news that’s fit to print.”

The new motto has been getting a lot of coverage lately, getting mentioned over at the progressive Mother Jones and by the Washington insider news outlet Politico.

CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Twitter that the slogan had been seen on the WaPo’s Snapchat page as of last Friday, and that Post owner Jeff Bezos used the phrase at an event last year.

Post spokeswoman Kris Moratti told CNN:

“This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission. We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year. We started with our newest readers on Snapchat, and plan to roll it out on our other platforms in the coming weeks.”

The phrase has been in play at the Post  Bob Woodward speechfor some time now – with it showing up in a speech at Columbia Journalism School from Oct. 23, 2012.

As a side note, the new slogan has brought this scene from the first Star Wars prequel – The Phantom Menace in a number of tweets:

 

Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

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A History of Fake Quotes – Lincoln, de Tocqueville & Alcott

Fake quotes, especially fake Abraham Lincoln quotes, are a popular thing online. Just this week, the Republican National Committee got caught out with one in a tweet celebrating Lincoln’s birthday that read:

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

Hmmff, doesn’t even sound like Lincoln – probably because, as the NY Times reports, it likely came from a 1947 advertisement for a book on aging.

The problem of online fake quotes is certainly not limited to fans of our 16th president, however, as I pointed out in a commentary I wrote for the late Charleston Daily Mail back in February of 2007.  Here’s the story, along with a few updates:

America is Great Because Lincoln Hanged Congressmen: Quotes That Aren’t Quotes

By Ralph E. Hanson
February 2007
Charleston Daily Mail

There’s been a popular quote by President Abraham Lincoln making the rounds lately. It goes something like this:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

There’s only one thing wrong with it as a quote: Lincoln didn’t say it — either directly or indirectly.

As was pointed out last August by FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “consumer advocate” web site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the quote actually comes from an article written by conservative scholar J. Michael Waller published in the now defunct magazine Insight. Waller claims that the quote marks around the opening statement in his article were inserted by a confused copy editor.

Despite the debunking last summer, the quote has found new life on the Internet, in a recent column from the Washington Times, and in a speech by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) supporting the “surge” of troops in Iraq. Seems that there’s a lot of folks who are amused by the thought of executing anyone who disagrees with the president.

Of course, the Lincoln comment isn’t the only faux 19th century quote that’s made the round in recent years. Alexis de Tocqueville was a young French aristocrat who toured the United States starting in 1831. He wrote about his experiences in the two-volume book Democracy in America; a book that’s become the definitive source of inspirational quotes about America.

In fact, comments about the book and de Tocqueville were so prevalent on C-SPAN in the 1990s, that founder Brian Lamb had the public affairs network spend more than a year following de Tocqueville’s travels around the country. (Update: I just did a search on C-SPAN’s website and found more than 1,200 references to de Tocqueville.)

But there was one de Tocqueville quote that kept showing up again and again in political speeches:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

(Update: Here’s a link to a speech by Jack Kemp where he gives the faux de Tocqueville quote at about the 9 minute point.  At the time I checked, however, the audio was echoing on this recording.)

Dr. John J. Pitney, Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, had his students try to locate the source of this commonly used quote. The only problem was that it never showed up in any of de Tocqueville’s books or letters.

It turns out, Pitney writes in The Weekly Standard, that the quote comes from a 1952 speech written for President Eisenhower. The writer most likely drew the quote from a 1941 book on religion and the American dream. (Eisenhower, by the way, attributed the quote not to de Tocqueville but rather to a “wise philosopher who came to this country.”)

The quote has since been used in one form or another by presidents and presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Phil Gramm. (Update: Told you this wasn’t a partisan thing – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents!)

Neither of these manufactured quotes is as much fun, however, as the one that got Pennsylvania-born writer Edward Abbey fired as the editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary journal.

On the cover of the magazine he printed the Voltaire quote “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” but he attributed it to Louisa May Alcott.

(Update: I was myself guilty of perpetrating a small bit of false quoting here.  I had read that the “entrails” quote was from Voltaire, but if he said it, he was likely quoting from 18th century philosopher Denis Diderot.)

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Media News Keeps Changing – PewDiePie and Playboy

One of the challenges of writing a media literacy/intro to mass comm textbook is keeping it up to date.  Even with new editions coming every two years, current events have a way of   changing the media world we live in at a rapid pace. I give you two examples from this week.

Felix Kjellberg/PewDiePie

An example of a PewDiePie video. NSFW language and talk.

Playboy and Naked Ladies

  • How It Was: In October of 2015, Playboy magazine announced that it was no longer be the place for the lads to go for photos of fully naked ladies. This was not, apparently, because Playboy was newly respectful of women; rather, the magazine was working to rebrand itself to fit in better in the world of PG-13ish social media.
  • How it is: In November of 2017, Playboy announced that it was returning to publishing photos of nude women.  Though they wouldn’t be quite as nude as they had been in the past. Cooper Hefner, the magazine’s creative officer and son of the magazine’s founder, tweeted Monday, “I’ll be the first to admit the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake.” The New York Post reports, “The new issue displays breasts and butts, but not full frontal nudity that had typified the earlier incarnation before the switch with the March issue a full year earlier.” So now you know.

 

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Live Stream Opens up Appeals Court Hearing on on Trump’s Travel Ban

By today (Friday afternoon), the big news is that the 9th District Appeals Court did not strike down the court-ordered stay on President Trump’s executive order banning then entrance of traveller from seven Muslim-majority countries and limiting entrance to the US for most refugees.

But to me, the almost as big story was that people all around the U.S. (heck, around the world!) could listen in on the hearing using a live stream of the audio sent out over YouTube and rebroadcast on many television and radio news outlets.

Interested in the hearing? You can listen in with the above stream.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that more than 136,000 people listened to the YouTube feed at its peak, and that many more people heard it on Facebook, news web sites, and news channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

While this is not really cameras in the courtroom, as there were no cameras, it is an example of how citizens can get access to our courts without having to try to be there in person. Given that most of the televised trials are those of sensational crime, it is excellent to see hearings (and hopefully trials) of national importance being made more available.

 

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Women’s Magazines Covering Politics

Journalist Lily Herman had a great Tweetstorm the other day pointing out the big contributions that women’s magazines have been making to political journalism lately.  Without comment, here are her tweets with links.  Lots of good reporting here.  (And a great example of the new media secret – All media are social.)

 

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Politics, Lady Gaga & the Super Bowl Halftime Show

A couple of weeks ago I put up a post that considered the intriguing, if extraordinarily unlikely, possibility of Lady Gaga singing a protest song by 60s & 70s folksinger Phil Ochs during her Super Bowl halftime show. However much fun that could have been, it did not, of course, happen. There are many reasons why, but perhaps the most important one was that no one associated with Fox Sports and the NFL would let it happen.

But that didn’t stop speculation that Lady Gaga might “do something” during the show.  What that might be, from a Janet Jackson reveal to a Meryl Streep/Golden Globes speech, was never quite clear.  In any event, Fox Sports ran both the pre-game show with the women from the musical “Hamilton” singing “America the Beautiful” and Lady Gaga’s halftime show with a 5-second delay so that any political or overly sexy message could be blocked.

Hamilton cast members sing “America the Beautiful.”

But Lady Gaga managed to get a political message in anyway that no one could reasonably censor – heck, people who might have been offended may not even have realized it was there.

Official video of Lady Gaga’s halftime show, complete with three commercial breaks….

The whole message was delivered in the pre-recorded section of the show where Lady Gaga was up on top of the stadium with a host of light-carrying drones.

In it, the star sang an excerpt of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” followed by a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and concluded with the last couple of lines of the Pledge of Allegiance. So, where’s the message?

Let’s start with a little history.  Woody Guthrie was the dustbowl singer/songwiter (and Arlo’s dad) who travelled around the country singing protest songs and advocating for workers. According to NPR, he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” as his response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song Guthrie reportedly disliked because he heard Kate Smith sing it too many times on the radio in 1930s. Some of the verses we hear a lot – the feel-good ones.  The rebellious activist verses, not so often.   Here they are – all the verses:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island; 
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters 
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway, 
I saw above me that endless skyway: 
I saw below me that golden valley: 
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps 
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts; 
And all around me a voice was sounding: 
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling, 
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, 
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting: 
This land was made for you and me.

Those are the verses you’ve likely heard and sung.  Here are the last three:

As I went walking I saw a sign there 
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.” 
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, 
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, 
By the relief office I seen my people; 
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me, 
As I go walking that freedom highway; 
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me.

Folk singer Pete Seeger was a long-time friend of Woody’s, and as he was prepping for his 90th birthday concert, Pete was planning on singing “This Lange is Your Land.” He told Bruce Springsteen, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private property and the relief office.”

I find it impossible to believe that Lady Gaga did not know what she was doing when she put those two song fragments next to each other.  She’s way too savvy of a musician to have done that pairing by accident. And consider what she said in an interview before the show:

“But the only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career. … I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and the spirit of this country as one of love and compassion and kindness. So my performance will have both those philosophies.”

Now, all of this that I’ve discussed so far has been written about many places, though few have suggested that it was a deliberate pairing of the Berlin and Guthrie songs. But might I suggest one thing further. Let’s consider her inclusion of the end of the Pledge of Allegiance:

“One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It is perfectly likely that Lady Gaga just included the closing lines of the Pledge. But I can’t help but wonder if she was also including a sly reference to the progressive answer to the Tea Party, the Indivisible movement.  Indivisible is a web site with a document on how progressives can organize to fight President Trump’s political agenda. It also has tools for creating local organizations.  The Indivisible movement has gotten extensive media attention and is at the organizational core of many of the protests being held around the country. Was Lady Gaga giving a shout out there? I think it is possible, but there is no way of knowing as long as she keeps her Poker Face on….

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First Look at 2017 Super Bowl Commercials

So far, I’ve seen two new Super Bowl commercials which I admit I come to with complex reactions.

The first commercial is for the Mercedes AMG Roadster and was shot by the Coen Brothers of Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Hail, Ceaser! fame.  In many ways the ad is brilliant, but not one of my college freshmen in two classes had any idea what the joke was in it. Not one of them had any idea who Peter Fonda is or knew of the movie Easy Rider.

Now, I fully realize the ad wasn’t targeted at young people, but….

The second one here is for Budwieser beer and takes tells an edgy immigrant-oriented origin story for the beer and Anheuser-Busch brewery.  It’s a particularly timely bit of branding given the news this week about President Trump’s immigration policy.  The ad, of course, is not a corporate response to Trump’s executive order, as it was clearly in the works for months ahead of this week. It would seem to fit well into the “America” branding that Budweiser used over the summer.  Because what’s more American than immigrants?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is not apologetic for the ad. “The story is the truth, it’s not fiction. This is what Budweiser stands for and we are really proud of it.”

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