March 15 2017
So--is Rachel Maddow the new Geraldo Rivera?
Or is she just kind of like Geraldo Rivera, who has never managed to live down his vaunted opening of Al Capone's secret vault on live television in 1986? As we all know, even though Rivera had a medical examiner in attendance should bodies be found and an IRS agent present should the on-TV excavation turn up cached-away money, all that Rivera was able to produce for the 30 million viewers of the television speial was a few empty liquor bottles and some assorted trash.
So it was with MSNBC's Maddow, who tweeted this at 6:36 p.m. yesterday (the chronology comes from Legal Insurrection):
BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9 p.m. ET.
Trump-hating progressives, who have been demanding for months that he release the returns and prove to the world that he, unlike the little peope whom progressives claim to love, was essentially a tax scofflaw, flocked to their sets jaws dripping saliva to watch MSNBC destroy the new president at last. One of them tweeted, according to Mediaite:
Kellyanne Conway is already prepping for the interview where she claims Rachel Maddow got the tax return directly from her Keurig
At the top of her show at 9:00 p.m, however, Maddow teased her viewers with an extended cold open on the importance of tax returns.
Twitter users expressed a mix of frustration and frenzy as they waited for the big moment.
Then, according to Legal Insurrection, the tweets went more like this:
Maddow is going to show us the tax return at 9:57, isn't she?
I've just watched 14 minutes of a Rachel Maddow monologue and now I've lost my will to live.
Finally, as the commercial breaks dragged on, Maddow's secret source turned out to be also a source for the Daily Beast (which actually beat Maddow to the punch--as did Fox's Tucker Carlson--in revealing the return's contents):
Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, DCReport.org. The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents. The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the so-called “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax….
In other words, Trump paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million in income in 2005-- a "sh--load," as Legal Insurrection put it.
Well! After his 1986 debacle Rivera disappeared shamefaced into the night and consumed the contents of at least one entire bottle of tequila, as he later recounted.
And Maddow? Well--she has the rest of the media to protect her. Mediaite's John Ziegler admitted that Maddow had pulled a fast one but nonetheless treated us to a fake-but-accurate-theme sermon:
It also probably educated a lot of new viewers to why it is completely insane that Trump has become president without releasing his taxes, while blatantly lying about doing so on multiple occasions.
If only because of his lies on the subject, I am still very firmly convinced that something very damaging is lying hidden in Trump’s tax returns. I don’t know if we will ever get full closure on this issue, but I do believe that what Maddow did tonight, while it may have harmed her reputation generally, actually makes it much more likely that we might.
It's not likely that Maddow's more concentrated audience will abandon her in any significant numbers because of this tax return fumble. Sure, her core viewers are probably disappointed the tax returns didn't damage or embarrass President Trump but they won't hold it against her for trying.
So see? Rachel Maddow isn't really the new Geraldo Rivera. Because there really isn't anyone among her fellow mainstream journalists who will hold her accountable for what should have been a career-killing gaffe.