WASHINGTON, March 15, 2017 — Network giants CNN and MSNBC are major competitors in the news industry, but they are just as competitive in the area of fake news.
MSNBC has won the latest round of that competition hands down. Rachel Maddow announced that she had the breaking news scoop of the year with President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax returns, teasing America via tweets and then well into her news show.
The scoop of the year has been compared to Geraldo Rivera’s revelation of the contents of Al Capone’s vault. The comparison is unfair to Geraldo, and Maddow may have to go into a journalist witness protection program.
Unfortunately for Maddow, she forgot one basic lesson from journalism school: Before you hype a news story, make certain that it really is a news story.
On April 21, 1986, before 30 million viewers on live primetime television, Rivera revealed the “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault.” The only problem with the reveal was that there was nothing in the vault. The mystery was a big, empty space.
Maddow has surpassed Rivera in the hall of journalistic shame. Unlike Rivera, Maddow knew exactly what she had. She didn’t take a gamble that there would be something there; she knew that she had a big, empty nothing.
Journalists on a variety of television networks concluded that Maddow hoodwinked her audience. Even CNBC, MSNBC’s fake news partner in crime, came to the conclusion that Maddow actually did the president a huge favor by releasing his two-page form 1040.
It turns out that when Trump’s tax payment rate of 25 % is compared with former President Barack Obama’s 18.7, Bernie Sanders’ 13.5 and even Comcast Corporation 24 % which owns NBC News, as well as MSNBC, President Trump paid a higher tax rate.
The lead up to Maddow’s story promised a bombshell as devastating as Watergate and the infamous 12 minutes of erased tape. It was as big as President Clinton’s “DNA stain” on that blue dress.
Ninety minutes before her broadcast Maddow tweeted, “we’ve got Trump’s tax returns. … (Seriously)” MSNBC put up a countdown clock.
Maddow didn’t have “Trump’s tax returns”; she didn’t even have one full tax return. She had one, 11-year-old 1040.
And what did it show? It showed that in 2005, Trump paid $38 million in taxes on an estimated income of $150 million. Conservatives who went slumming on MSNBC that night got a laugh. Maddow’s liberal audience got much less than that; their narrative during the 2016 presidential campaign was that Trump paid no taxes, period.
Maddow and her producers hyped up a big nothing, and they did it with their eyes wide open. Stung by the post-show criticism from across the network landscape, she tweeted, “People disappointed by Trump story expected too much.” They expected too much because she said she had “Trump’s tax returns … (Seriously)” They expected too much because there was a countdown clock.
They expected too much because they believed that Maddow had some credibility as a journalist (seriously) and they thought MSNBC was a news station. (Seriously!)
Maddow and MSNBC have been in a ratings decline. They did what flagging shows have done since Happy Days was in trouble: They jumped the shark.
They jumped the shark with a possible criminal offense. She had no First Amendment right to Trump’s tax return. In the unlikely event she were prosecuted and convicted, she could face up to five years at Club Fed or a fine of up to $5,000 according to Fox News.
Adding to the mirth of Maddow’s critics, her political hero Bernie Sanders paid a tax rate of just 13 last year, while former President Obama paid 21 percent to Trump’s 25 percent tax rate.
Trump himself probably put the best spin on Maddow’s non-news story when he tweeted,
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 15, 2017