March 15, 2017

Taxing Subject

Well, it seems once again that the media have made fools of themselves over Trump's taxes.


Armed with "two pages -- front and back of an IRS form 1040" for Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns, she breathlessly huckstered this into an attempt to boost her sagging ratings by teasing this remorselessly in the minutes running up to her 9:00 EDT show. Here is the ENTIRETY of the Slate article above with emphasis added. (I do this as a service to you all so you will not have to search and click yourselves. And, besides, it's fully attributed and published under the "fair use" rules.)

At 7:36 p.m. Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow tweeted “BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously),” sending the internet into a frenzy of theorizing. Did Maddow have Donald Trump’s tax returns or just one of the Trumps’ tax returns? Could this be it, the tax return that would bring down the Donald? If this was it, why wasn't MSNBC cutting into its programming, instead of running a countdown clock to Maddow’s show? By 8:24, Maddow was tweeting that the tax return in question was Donald Trump’s 1040 from 2005. By 8:30, still half an hour before Maddow started airing, the White House had responded to the MSNBC report, saying that Trump had paid $38 million on income of $150 million that year. An hour later, about 20 minutes after The Rachel Maddow Show started, Maddow would confirm these numbers, turning her big scoop about Donald Trump’s long-missing tax returns into a cautionary tale about overhype. Rachel Maddow, you played yourself—and us too.

“It’s been a little bit of a hullabaloo around here this evening, I apologize for being flustered,” Maddow said at the top of the hour, before confirming that her show had copies of Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, obtained by the reporter David Cay Johnston, to share with her audience. “In just a second we’re going to show you exactly what it is we’ve got,” she said, before launching, instead, into a 20-minute monologue. 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.

The monologue started contextually enough, with a long-winded skewering of Trump’s refusal to share his tax returns that touched on Richard Nixon, the Clintons, and his unaudited tax forms, before veering off conspiratorially. “Whether or not you are a supporter of Donald Trump,” Maddow said, “It ought to give you pause that his explanations [for not releasing his tax returns] have never made any factual sense. ...when you get an excuse from them that doesn't make sense, you have to look for another reason. What’s the real explanation? Well, choose your own adventure.” She then launched into a long hypothetical about a particular Russian oligarch’s possible relationship to Trump that touched on Florida real estate, Deutsche Bank, and Preet Bharara, that Trump’s tax returns—though not, as it would turn out, the ones she actually had—could conceivably clear up.

The longer Maddow went on, ever deeper into a conspiratorial thicket, the clearer it became that whatever tax returns Maddow had, they weren’t as juicy as the ones she was talking about. If she had anything that damning, she would have shared them from the start. TV is a ratings game, but an entire episode about highly damaging tax returns is just as likely to get you great ratings as milking the possibility that you have highly damaging tax returns, and less likely to get you compared to Geraldo. Maddow even went so far as to hold the tax returns back until after the first commercial break, as if we were watching an episode of The Bachelor and not a matter of national importance—because we weren’t, in fact, watching a matter of national importance, just a cable news show trying to set a ratings record.

After the first break—at which point the tax returns were already available on the internet and glossed by the Daily Beast—Maddow was joined by Johnston, and she began by asking him how he knew Trump hadn’t sent the returns himself. Johnston said that he could have. A few hours after Maddow finished airing, this has become a popular conspiracy theory, simply because, if Donald Trump were to share any of his tax returns, the 2005 1040 seems like a good candidate. Trump paid taxes at a rate of around 4 percent, but because of the alternate minimum tax, he also paid an additional $31 million. The form revealed that, rather than not paying taxes and making no money, Trump paid $38 million on $150 million in income. Maddow promised to pull a sordid revelation out of a hat and instead plucked out … Trump’s credibility? Maddow was soon parsing, asking Johnston to explain that Trump is currently trying to do away with the AMT, which, unfair as it may be, still wouldn’t change the amount he paid in 2005.

As the show went on, it became clear that Maddow knew she didn't quite have the scoop that had been promised. “What would we have to see, what would we hope to get in mail,” she asked Johnston, “if we were going to get to the real meat of Donald Trump’s foreign ties?”—i.e. what would be more meaningful than the tax form that we have? Speaking to Chris Hayes and Johnston, she said, “The story here to me is, a) we have obtained this [tax form], b) that this stuff is obtainable.” “BREAKING: Trump’s tax returns theoretically obtainable. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously)” does make for a less rousing tweet.

Trump’s tax returns, whatever information they happen to contain, constitute a major scoop. Maddow’s social media team ensured the highest possible ratings for that scoop. But if ever a story should have been delivered in a stentorian, fuddy-duddy, nonpartisan manner, this was it. In positioning it as a grand revelation, a vital step in comprehending Trump’s corruption, MSNBC created an exceedingly cynical spectacle. By playing into the network’s loyal liberal audience’s fantasy that there exists a Trump silver bullet, it instead delivered Trump a positive news cycle—the guy pays taxes! Who knew!—amidst the debacle of the AHCA, along with more evidence that the media is aligned against him. The lesson? Don’t tell us you have news, just tell us the news.

While the internet roils with the back-and-forth over this item, one of the more interesting outfalls was that Trump actually released the taxes in anticipation of Madcow's upcoming hype..and then jumped on her for her painful quest for ratings:


But, unheedful of the embarrassing quagmire they were about to wander into, a number of newsies jumped on board, displaying their ignorance. One reporter, hell-bent of displaying her stupidity, was caught up and zorched by Jim Hoft over at The Gateway Pundit:


But then again, she is only continuing a long-standing, almost shocking display of financial matters and tax law obtuseness. Even more stupendous was the attempt to sabotage President Trump by the NYT back during the campaign when they claimed that he "paid no taxes" for ten years. The fact that they and their cohorts ran stories and hurled invective with that as the central premise showed a profound ignorance of operating loss carry back and carry forward rules allowing a person/firm to spread their losses over several years.

What was even more astounding was the ignorance of the writers that their own company -- the New York Times -- also used this "trick". Devoid of the ability to even grasp the simplest of tax law regarding losses, it is hard to believe that any of this cabal of ignoratii would even comprehend the more nuanced aspects of business and investment. For reference here is the back story on how badly the NYT missed the point in their story on Trump's 1995 taxes.

They are truly a pathetic lot and yet they are the ones responsible for delivering the message to the media.

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