Last night, Rachel Maddow revealed that she had one of the Holy Grails of post-Trump political journalism: the president’s long-concealed tax returns. As it turned out, she had one of them. And it was from 2005. And it was only two pages of it. And it did not reveal much.
The point of journalism is not to find smoking guns, though—it’s to hold power accountable and to maintain the freedom of information. Those two goals are often interchangeable, and airing Trump’s 2005 tax returns serves them well. In an alternate universe, you can imagine Rachel Maddow revealing, before air, what they showed, and then teasing more analysis and the story behind them on the show. She could pull the Band-Aid off in the opening minutes—here’s what they are, and what they say—and then move on.
Rachel Maddow did not do that. Instead, she spent 20 minutes bloviating about Trump’s possible conflicts of interest and drawing red lines around various Russian names and connecting them to other names in finance; it was the paranoid left’s version of Glenn Beck’s big whiteboard of Soros money. After 20 minutes of that, she revealed: Yeah, Donald Trump is just another rich guy who doesn’t pay much in taxes.
As UpRoxx points out, the rest of cable news wasted little time in clowning the entire display. It reminded many of Geraldo’s much-vaunted scoop, in which he opened Al Capone’s vault and found… fuck-all.
Her opponents on CNN thought it helped Trump. David Cay Johnston, the financial journalist who initially received the returns, showed up to suggest again that they were leaked by Trump himself.
As if proof of the fact that this went as Trump planned, please note that the whole thing delighted Sean Fucking Hannity and his chin.
Even Trump’s shithead failson gloated about the W.
It was not a great night for Maddow, nor for cable news itself, which has bad nights pretty much (checks watch) every night of the week. As for disclosure of the rest of Trump’s financial records, The New York Times cautions: Don’t hold your breath. If they do continue to trickle out slowly, though, let’s learn from this whole experience. Their release is good, irrespective of what they reveal about Trump. His financial background is information owed to the public; it can be boring. Maddow’s mistake was to act like it wasn’t, and the result was worse, at least in her case, than bad journalism: It was bad TV.