Speed Reads

media matters

Rachel Maddow faces widespread criticism after hyped tax return scoop turns out to be a dud

On Tuesday evening, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow launched a flurry of speculation and excitement by tweeting "we've got Trump tax returns" an hour and a half before her show. Her scoop — which came after a characteristic, if ill-advised, contextual wind-up, during which The Daily Beast actually beat her to the punch — ultimately revealed nothing more than that Trump finagled his way into paying a rate of less than 4 percent on his regular federal income tax in 2005.

Almost immediately, viewers began to skewer the way Maddow had hyped the information. By Wednesday, Slate's Willa Paskin recounted the event by writing that "Maddow seemed uncharacteristically nervous as she wended her way though what could kindly be described as context and which I am unkindly describing as word salad, a long meander that was difficult to follow even without the distracting promise of a revelatory tax return at its end." National Review was less kind, declaring: "Rachel Maddow Wastes Everyone's Time."

Some critics went as far as to say Maddow's handling of the news was a "nice victory" for President Trump. Jay Yarow wrote for CNBC: "For Trump, in the swirl of chaos thanks to the CBO saying the GOP health-care bill would lead to 24 million uninsured and the FBI preparing to weigh in on his accusation of President Barack Obama wire tapping him, this tax story is a welcome reprieve." Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign press secretary, Brian Fallon, had speculated that Maddow's scoop was going to be "the holy grail," only to later tweet that Democrats "should return focus to TrumpCare tomorrow [and] … not get distracted by two pages from '05 tax return."

The White House also skewered Maddow for the story, releasing a statement prior to her show that claimed "you know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago." Some people, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnson, who received the tax form anonymously, believe that Trump himself could have leaked the information.

"The media is undeniably essential, particularly in this administration," noted Esquire. "However, leaning too heavily on the shock and awe factor is a distraction at best and an exploitation of the nation's fear at worst. And after all that, in the end, we didn't learn anything we didn't already know. Fun, huh?"