Rachel Maddow and Those Anticlimactic Tax Returns (Column)

Donald Trump Taxes Rachel Maddow

Did Rachel Maddow flub the biggest moment of her career?

Tuesday night, about 90 minutes before her show began, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow tweeted that the evening’s episode of “The Rachel Maddow Show” would be about President Donald Trump’s long-undisclosed tax returns. The internet, as it is wont to do, got extremely excited over a minimal amount of information — fueled by a few pompously worded statements from the White House and widespread, fervent enthusiasm for the termination of Trump’s fascistic presidency through the righteous power of fact-based journalism.

As it happened, Maddow’s show had only obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal tax return — two pages with “CLIENT COPY” stamped on the front, indicating that the return was leaked not from the Internal Revenue Service but from someone connected to Trump. It is, of course, significant when anyone obtains leaked information about previously undisclosed but much clamored-for information about the financial holdings and business interests of the leader of the free world. But Maddow’s presentation disappointed viewers tuning in because of the hype; after 20 minutes of context and a cut to commercial, her discussion of the two-page returns with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston (the reporter who received the leaked tax returns) merely indicated that Trump is in fact a multi-millionaire who paid a legal amount of taxes in 2005. (Indeed, the documents were so favorable for Trump that Johnston speculated, rather provocatively, that perhaps the president had the returns leaked himself — a statement that had the effect of making Maddow’s big reveal look instead like she was carrying water for her purported enemy.) The internet, as it is wont to do, proceeded to become extremely annoyed about the gap between expectation and result.

Undoubtedly, Maddow could have handled the returns better. Two pages of returns that indicate no special wrongdoing do not merit a countdown clock on MSNBC, which ran down throughout “All In With Chris Hayes.” (Hayes said he was receiving tweets during the last segment of his show urging him to get off the air already so that Maddow could start talking.) Maddow’s 20-minute introduction to the returns may be what she always does on her typically news-magaziney show — and it may be a good way of securing viewers through the first break, to keep her ratings robust — but it came off as manipulative, which doesn’t make those viewers particularly happy. If news is breaking news — especially if it could potentially change the framework of the American political landscape — than news institutions who have a 24-hour platform owe it to their readers to break it immediately. Conversely, if news isn’t breaking news — well, in a landscape where there is plenty of horrified outrage to go around, why take up space with a non-story?


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On the other hand — was it really a non-story? In those opening 20 minutes, on a show that Maddow and MSNBC knew was going to get an influx of viewers beyond her typical viewership, Maddow laid out a case for why the returns matter that included information that was an amalgam of information previously buried several paragraphs deep in hefty reported pieces about Trump’s ties to Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, and China. Maddow’s strength is not in reporting new information, but in contextualizing extant data; her opening segment Tuesday night was one of her best monologues to the camera, once it became possible to appreciate it without waiting for the big reveal. Nielsen ratings on viewership aren’t available yet, but it seems probable that Maddow reminded a very large audience that there’s a bigger story here that the Trump administration continues to shamelessly hide — until the moments where journalists are actually holding documents, at which point the White House feverishly puts out defensive, pouting statements about those pesky, meddling journalists.

Journalism, like anything worth doing, is a time-consuming and detailed process of accumulation. It is a very childish snit indeed to be annoyed that Maddow’s journalistic scoop lacked the dramatic stakes and plot twists of a scripted program; in any other context, we would probably agree that journalism should not be subject to the same metrics as “The Walking Dead.” The problem is not her — but that journalism is slow and boring, audiences are impatient, and Donald Trump, still unchecked, continues to wreak havoc on the American government. And because of the profit imperatives of ratings for cable news, Maddow is obligated to hold onto viewers for as long as possible — through as many commercial breaks that pay her bills as possible.

Yes, it was a huge moment, and with a bigger scoop, Maddow could have made history. But the anger at Maddow seems misdirected; where would a bigger scoop have come from, and is Maddow really responsible for not obtaining it? The MSNBC anchor was doing her job, albeit imperfectly; her promotion of her own show was seized upon by a public desperate for deliverance from some liberal hero or another — for someone else to solve the problem of Donald Trump. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is a problem not so easily solved. Sure, Maddow could have structured her hour differently, but she was not going to save America in an hourlong program on Tuesday night.


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  1. Mone says:

    Your an idiot. Waste of time to read as usual one sided lunatic who is trumph haters

  2. David says:

    This “writer” with a plebeian mind utterly lacks basic required skill sets of a critic. But, then, Variety must not require much by way of journalistic attributes to employ “writers”. Then, again, majority of her readership more than likely consists of Hollywood and still evolving caricatures such as Snoop Dog, Bow Wow and other preNeanderthal bacteria!

  3. Inkere says:

    What is all of this obsession with Trumps’ tax returns? To put it bluntly, — its no one’s business what they are– they are private!! You can’t see mine either!! Because other president’s released theirs does not obligate him to release his. The very thing that the Left accuses Trump of doing– fantastic conspiracy theories, unfounded accusations — is exactly what they are doing here because he will not comply with their wishes on this issue. Good for him!! The Left must learn the difference between one’s rights and one’s privileges. They DO NOT have a right to see his returns, no matter how much they believe that they should have– It would be a privilege that they were afforded, if he chose to release them. Regardless, Maddow’s hyperbolic release of his return did nothing but prove that the man filed his taxes, like we all do, took legitimate deductions to minimize his liability– like we all do; and paid his obligation– like we all do! Where’s the problem?– But yet the Left persists, where some posters are saying that if not for the AMT, he would have paid at a 3.5% rate,– yeah, so what– that’s why the AMT is there!! So everyone pays a reasonable tax amount. That Trump would like the AMT to be repealed– of course he does, the line is pretty long on that subject, since WHO WOULD NOT want to pay 3.5% rather than 25%??? But him wanting it repealed doesn’t make that so– and to cast a negative image of him for wanting it repealed is just the kind of trash reporting that Trump calls “fake” news– and any common sense individual would have to agree!

  4. loco73 says:

    The focus of all this attention should be not on Maddow, but the fact that now president Trump, unlike his predecessors, still hasn’t released his tax returns to the public, so that both his detractors and supporters can access the information and make up their mind about it…and what it all means..

    • you do realize there is no law forcing any POTUS to show their tax returns. They do NOT have to do it and several haven’t. Look it up left wing nuts

    • Steve says:

      Exactly right. In defense of a secretive, dishonest president, his supporters make adolescent cracks about Rachel supposedly looking like a guy. But, no matter what they may wish, the tax issue won’t be going away.

    • Kaboom! says:

      If Trump’s tax returns were released, would you read them? Your answer is no. If you actually read them, would you really understand them? Your answer is no. Would you read, and retweet, and post all the liberal hit pieces that were written 18 months ago? You answer is yes. The fact is this, the problem is the criminals that assisted Maddow. But you don’t care!

      • loco73 says:

        You are asking a lot of questions and answering them yourself, presuming and speculating what I would or wouldn’t say or do. That’s not really helpful and it still doesn’t address the issue. Try harder next time.

    • Quicksilver says:

      No, the focus should be the idiot Maddow and her fake news, but nice try.

      • Inkere says:

        Loco73– No, that is just the point Kaboom is trying to make– no one on the Left really cares what his tax returns are– they just want “someone who says” that they read them to provide some sort of “dirt” so they can come to posts like this and spew their hatred for Trump with a new sense of righteousness. It is just a continuation of their childishness.

      • loco73 says:

        I really don’t care about Maddow, besides she is not the president, who is beholden to the American people as well as the same rules all those before him were. And the “nice try…fake news” bit is stale and useless and makes no difference…

  5. Jacques Strappe says:

    So Maddow screws up one time and Trump performs like an a-hole moron, idiot jerk every moment ihe appears in front of a camera or tweets his bird brain comments out.

    • Inkere says:

      This response reminds me of how children respond when they make a mistake and are called out on it– “yeah, but you did this or that, too”– they try to excuse themselves from the transgression by pointing out someone else’s past mistakes. Sounds a lot like Obama’s “Bush did it!” defense!!: I guess the beat just goes on and on …..

  6. Jenny W says:

    Maddow & MSLSD have stepping into a huge cow patty of their own making. She asked for it and now she’s gonna get exactly what she deserves, the wrath of the liberal lame stream media. The Trumpster is laughing at this huge train wreck.

  7. C.C. 95 says:

    There is nothing “fascistic” in any way about this presidency.
    You are just not used to a president that actually gets up in the morning and DOES HIS JOB.

  8. Barry Gordon says:

    The problem is that Maddox does this ALL the time. Whenever I tune in (I much prefer Hayes and O’Donnell), she has an opening rant that, while occasionally interesting, almost always leads to a non-story. And sometimes the opening is so far afield, it is difficult to even connect it to the real story. That’s why I stopped watching her. She generally tries to carry the hour alone with a single guest after the halfway point. She is often bright and insightful, but more often, she mercilessly hypes what turns out to be a not terribly interesting story. The problem with the tax return story is not that it turned out not to be worthy of the hype. After all, the opening monologue was recycled from past Maddox rants. The problem is that, for Maddow, it was business as usual.

    • Inkere says:

      I congratulate you Barry. If you watched Maddow, I presume that you are in the opposition party to me. While it is not important to me what is the basis of your objections to her show,– what is important is that you have made very sensible and reasonable points about her show format. These are legitimate criticisms– and could also be attributed to O’Reilly’s show from the “other side’s” lead talk show host. It is nice, finally, to have a rational discussion about different points of view without the hysterical name calling and tantrums exhibited by supporters on both sides,dragging down the conversation by pushing indefensible points with disingenuous arguments. These childish demonstrations– from both sides– prove nothing, solve nothing. It is sad that the internet permits faceless, and therefore irresponsible and abusive actions by people, who otherwise would not dream of saying such things to another person when “face to face”. This “cloak of invisibility” serves no purpose other than the venting of one’s frustrations and the incitement of imaginary and unfounded feelings. We all need to grow up a bit!!

  9. charlie says:

    Rachel Maddow’s should be arrested and prosecuted to the full step of law and to be made an example out of , Pres. Donald Trump’s tax returns are private and are not covered under the freedom of speech . Obtaining these tax returns is theft and exploitation of that information and therefore you should be arrested and anyone else who was involved . If you are a tax returns are considered freedom of speech , then Rachel Meadows tax returns should be considered public information and exploited on TV for all to see . I hope the president takes legal and criminal action against you and all who were involved . To do this, your nothing that a piece of garbage and not a journalist. You are just a plain ass hole with the IQ of a soap bubble , and yes, that is considered fake news and being a lowlife and I would gladly tell that right to your face . Charlie

  10. Ray C says:

    MSNBC is now MSTMZ and Rachel Maddow is the new Harvey Levin. At least with TMZ there’s a story. I am very disappointed in the lack of journalistic integrity displayed by Rachel Maddow and MSTMZ. I really had respect for her, now she is reaching.

  11. Mario smith says:

    One more victory for TRUMP

  12. Quicksilver says:

    Maddow = duped idiot.

  13. Marky Mark says:

    Loved Rachel Maddow, until now. C’mon Rachel ! You are better than this. – now you have succumbed to a ratings hype tactic ? It’s March- not a Nielsen time for ratings that matter. However, it is a time for opportunity. Is your contract up for renewal ?

    This was such a disappointment for you.

    MSNBC ? The Countdown clock ? I’m a huge fan of the MSNBCOn-Air Promo Department. You all jumped on this and milked it for all. GOOD FOR YOU MSNBC ON-AIR PROMO & Marketing TEAM !
    You hit it out of the park.

    Nothing kills a bad show faster than GREAT MARKETING & PROMOTION.

    Mark S.

  14. seriously says:

    Trump is garbage and a fake president. Bah Bah to you Trump Sheep trolling away blaming Hollywood Liberals for your own ignorance and shortcomings. The only person looking like a fool is soviet Agent Orange Trump. He cannot accomplish anything! Ever! Go ahead and spin away delusional and obsessed Trump Sheep!

    • Inkere says:

      Really?? This is nothing more than a random spewing of trite name calling without any point or basis for posting — where do “Hollywood Liberals” come into play??? If you are referring to Maddow’s show– filmed in New Your City. Like I said– this post makes no sense

  15. Quicksilver says:

    You know, trash like Rachel Maddow and this stupid publicity stunt have no place on TV. Absolute garbage. Those perpetual low ratings of MSNBC are earned.

  16. Michael says:

    There is a significant difference between raw information and a good news story. President Trump’s 1040 form was good raw information. The return has value in the context of a candidate that refused to release his returns.

    But to be a good story, the information must reveal something of interest. It must have a detail that makes it newsworthy. Maddow chose to grandstand for 20 minutes (assuring a clear quarter-hour win for MSNBC) before revealing a document which contained a complete lack of news.

    By framing a non-news story in the context of a breaking news item, she created exactly what the President claimed: fake news.

    Maddow is better than this. She must realize the import of the news media behaving beyond reproach at this important moment in history, when the very credibility of our fourth estate has come into question by a significant portion of the electorate.

    Covering her tracks with an AMT argument and raising suspicion over what the long-form and schedules within the return might contain, she stopped being a reporter and started an unforgivable witch hunt.

    The media has a critical role in our country at this time: holding a President who plays fast and loose with the facts accountable for his words.

    The kind of slipshod reporting promoted by MSNBC last night has no place in America at this time.

  17. Crystal Brooks says:

    An unknown person mails you pages marked “client copy” and they have a first amendment right to release that info? So if a customer comes to me for a loan and I decide to secretly mail copies of the person’s return to someone else, that’s ok? If someone published your financial information without your consent, would you be okay with this? This could have come from someone who worked in the tax preparers office. If he ever got financing, the lender would have copies. I’m in banking and I could easily get copies of customers returns. But due to privacy laws, I would be fired if caught. These returns were over 10 years old and revealed nothing about the source of the income. So I don’t see how this was even newsworthy.

  18. Mike says:

    Omg. What a fool she looked like. Put any spin u want on it. I will never watch her again

  19. Julian Lean says:

    “where would a bigger scoop have come from, and is Maddow really responsible for not obtaining it? The MSNBC anchor was doing her job, albeit imperfectly; her promotion of her own show was seized upon by a public desperate”

    Blame a desparate public for her over hyped BS? Do you think maybe she could have done a little less hyperbolic marketing and grandstanding? All of this was for ratings and earning the $30 million a year she makes. In that sense, she’s no different than Trump.

  20. John says:

    Maddow looks stupid. A 2005 tax return showing he paid 38 mill on 250 mill income. She is such a loser it’s unbelievable.

  21. Coffee says:

    She came off as an idiot. Trump TRUMPED her, AND the guy paid 38 million in taxes. She looks like a fool.

  22. She has done the unforgivable – she wasted my time.

  23. Tim James says:

    She over-estimated most Americans’ comprehension of context.

    See others for examples.

  24. Alia Que says:

    “Maddow’s strength is not in reporting new information, but in contextualizing extant data”

    In other words fabricating fake news, very fake news and propaganda for the left, who are totally disconnected from reality.

    • The Truth says:

      Nothing was fake about Maddow’s reporting. The default response now from brainwashed Trump supporters is that any report that challenges Trump’s reality distortion field is “fake news.” Yet Trump tweets outrageous, unfounded accusations against our former President and refuses to provide the source(s) behind his claims. Why? Because there is no credible source or supporting evidence.

      If you want real evidence that Trump is total bullshit artist, read the American Healthcare Act. This is the “beautiful healthcare” that Trump promised, screwing our poorest citizens and lavishing obscene benefit increases on the rich. That’s Trump’s idea of how to make America great again.

    • seriously says:

      Alia’s comment: Sent from Russia, with love

  25. millerfilm says:

    “Ms.” Maddow, When a hard-left publication like Variety turns against you, you know you’ve become a national joke! :-)

  26. Steve Barr says:

    Trump is a monster and his supporters are brown shirts and cockroaches . Sonia keep up the good work your voice is needed now more than ever.

  27. Jiminy Critic says:

    Maddow continues her descent into irrelevance…

    • cadavra says:

      Yeah, that’s why her ratings are at record highs, even beating Fox most nights. Try living in the real world; you might like it.

  28. Wayne says:

    Clearly Maddox was duped. The copy they received stated “client copy” and this was done to distract from other issues within the Trump administration. Rachel, you let everyone down with this report. 2005 is meaningless as it doesn’t tell us what his returns were before running for president. This clearly was a plant by the Trump organization.

  29. Donald Duck says:

    Great job, Rachel. Thank you ! Yours, Donald

  30. Anna Scott says:

    There’s very few people I truly dislike in this world. Sonia Sariaya is one of them.

    • Steve says:

      Really? You sure have a pretty limited perspective.

    • Dario O says:

      I have never heard of this Sonia person, but I understand what you mean. My jaw is still on the floor after reading this piece … what universe does she live in? Oh right, Hollywood.

  31. Barb says:

    Well I learned something that I thought was illuminating. He paid 5 mil in federal taxes and 31 mil in alternative minimum tax. Trump is trying to get rid of the AMT. Gee I wonder why. And his salary was just under a million. Really? He is not worth more? LOL

  32. Kymsec says:

    What everyone seems to be overlooking is the fact that Donald Trump, for 2005, paid only a tiny tax percentage, followed by a legal Alternative Minimum Tax he was forced to pay, which he has vowed to get rid of. Had the AMT disappeared that tax year, Trump would have paid what a blue collar worker would have paid in federal taxes despite more than $100 million in earnings. That’s the story!

    • George W. says:

      Let’s not forget, St. Bernie Sanders paid an even smaller percentage — 13.5%, and he and his wife own several lovely huge homes. I don’t make much and I wish I could get away with paying only 13.5%, but Bernie and his ilk say one thing to us and then do something else behind our backs. They’re all fake.

  33. Nanny Mo says:

    It would be so funny to see this nut of a journalist get sued even though it was truly anticlimactic. Just because it once again shows that Trump isn’t quite as bad as loons are screaming doesn’t mean that we aren’t a nation of laws. If she broke the law, the DOJ needs to do something about it!

    • sammyglick says:

      Evidently, you have never heard of the 1st Amendment. No laws were broken, as clearly whoever leaked the return had access to a client copy (so it didn’t come from the IRS). Besides, Trump has his DOJ, FBI and CIA busy investigating nonsense like the 3 million who illegally voted for Hillary (only in CA and NY mind you…oddly no where else), and Obama wiretapping his campaign HQ (who would have thought he was so powerful, he could bully the FISA courts to do his Deep State evil bidding!?).

      Nanny Mo – just another far right winger using nutty conspiracies to fantasize about locking up their political enemies because GOP policies are nothing more than smoke and mirrors to benefit the 1%.

    • Barb says:

      Missed posting this first by a minute…

  34. Wyatt says:

    Talk about carrying water for someone – looks like you’re making quite the effort on behalf of Rachel Maddow. She oversold it in a blatant, shameful (but likely successful) attempt at garnering Segment A ratings. Bed made. Time to sleep.

  35. J.K. says:

    Flub – not in the least!
    Quite possible Trump anonymously sent these 2 pages out of sheer ego to show his year of making big bucks, paying some taxes (at the same time taking a huge deduction.). What he might not have considered is that the 2 abbreviated pages of disclosure have certainly wetted appetites. So Maddow’s strategy is brilliant. Be the first to go public with a ‘taste’ of Trump tax returns to incite others to now really go after him. Yes, she is quite brilliant.

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