In the words of Jason Robards portraying Washington Post editor Ben Bradley in All the President’s Men, “You’ve haven’t got it.” That’s the message to Rachel Maddow today who may have set investigative reporting back years. The twitterverse blew up after Maddow tweeted that in a couple of hours on her MSNBC, she would reveal newly-acquired copies of President Trump’s tax returns. Everyone was tuned in. Every one expecting something seismic.
So what did she have? Two pages of a 2005 federal tax return that told us absolutely nothing new. Maddow spent the first 25 minutes floating suspicious pieces of Trump’s finances. When she came back from break, she admitted all she had was the two routine pages and there was nothing different from anyone else’s return except, “the numbers are big.” (I would have included a segment of the show but there is no reason you should waste your time like I did mine.)
In fact, the White House beat her to the punch by releasing the tax information in advance of the show.
Nothing honks me off more than turning a show into a cable version of clickbait. That’s what Maddow did. She then ran out the reporter to whom the two routine pages were sent. After letting us know he started investigative reporting at age 16, David K. Johnson also let fly with more theories about Trump’s finances. But nothing, absolutely nothing, wasn’t already known before the show. And she admitted that.
Waving around two pieces of paper doesn’t an exposé make. The “new” documents were simply used as a vehicle to once again call for the president to release his tax returns. The vast majority of Americans want that to happen, me included. But Maddow’s bait and switch has hurt that pursuit and gave Trump yet another level of protection on the issue.
In addition to (ad nauseam) calling for the real tax returns to be released, she trotted out presidential historian Michael Beschloss to tells us which president released his returns and why.
To make it worse, Maddow pulled in Hallie Jackson, the fine and reputable NBC reporter who covered the election. All she could add was in essence, “Yeah, we’ve tried to get him to release the returns.” It hurts Jackson’s credibility to on the show. And I could be wrong, but it didn’t sound like Jackson wanted to be on at all.
I am a Democrat. I am also a journalist writing news and opinion. My opinion here is that Rachel Maddow should be ashamed of herself for leading people to believe and getting people to watch under false pretenses.