Donald Trump triumphs again: Inevitably, last evening's stampede began with Rachel Maddow selling the car—and doing so in a misleading fashion.
At 7:36, then at 8:24, Maddow issued misleading tweets. "BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns," she said in her first exciting tweet.
"(Seriously)," she added.
In her second tweet, Maddow seemed to clarify matters a bit. "What we've got is from 2005—the President's 1040 form—details to come tonight 9PM ET, MSNBC."
That was misleading too. Maddow didn't have Donald J. Trump's full 1040 form. She only had its cover sheet. This provided very limited information concerning Trump's 2005 return. It didn't include many "details."
Whatever! Maddow's tweets touched off a stampede among two growing demographics—the highly gullible and the easily excited. The exciting discussion of Trump's 1040 was scheduled to start at 9 PM. Viewers scrambled to get in position. Across the cable dial, all other topics would soon be dropped in favor of a big plate of nothingburger.
The cover sheet had been obtained by David Cay Johnston, an experienced economics reporter who generally knows what he's talking about. How had Johnston obtained the sheet?
Eventually, Johnston would get a chance to explain. First, though, Maddow went through one of her endless song-and-dance routines. She burned 19 minutes off the start of the show with a remarkably tedious "background" discussion.
At New York magazine, Margaret Hartmann referred to this as Maddow's "interminable wind-up." In truth, it gave Maddow a chance to engage in her second favorite pastime—listening to herself talk.
Maddow listened to herself for those 19 minutes. After a commercial break, she finally began to describe the contents of the document she'd been pimping so hard, such as it was.
After misdescribing the document one last time, she finally offered the first tiny bits of information at 9:22 PM. According to Maddow, Trump "paid $38 million, looks like $38 million in taxes" in 2005. "If you add up the lines for income, he made more than $150 million in that year," she also thoughtfully said.
And that was it; basically, that was all she had! Twenty-six minutes into her hour, she finally let Johnston speak—and in their very first exchange, the gent delivered a buzzkill:
MADDOW (3/14/17): Joining us is David Cay Johnston. He's editor and founder of dcreport.org, which has posted this document as of a few moments ago. He's also the author of The Making of Donald Trump and the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial reporter who found the president's 2005 returns in his mailbox. David, thank you for being here.Say what? Sleazy pictures to the side, why might it have been in Donald Trump's interest to leak this nothingburger?
MADDOW: First of all, congratulations on this scoop. What can you tell us about how, how you got these pages? How you got this document?
JOHNSTON: Came in the mail over the transom. And there is absolutely nothing improper about journalists, if you haven't solicited something, getting it over the transom.
And by the way, let me point out, it's entirely possible that Donald sent this to me. Donald Trump has over the years leaked all sorts of things. The very sleazy girl-on-girl pictures of the first lady in the New York Post may have come from Donald. The front pages of the state tax returns that we had, that were sent to the New York Times and the New York Daily News last fall, may have come from Donald.
Donald has a long history of leaking material about himself when he thinks it's in his interests.
Sadly, the answer was fairly clear:
Duh. The cover sheet showed Trump earning a lot of money in 2005—and paying a lot of taxes. Maddow had been excitedly pimping a document which seemed to knock down several unflattering claims about Trump—the claim that he maybe isn't real rich, and the claim that he doesn't pay federal taxes.
(By this morning, MSNBC was airing a graphic which showed that Trump had paid a higher percentage in taxes as compared to Mitt Romney—and as compared to Barack Obama!)
The White House also got to swing into action claiming that the form had been stolen. On Fox, Tucker Carlson—Maddow's original cable benefactor—was bellowing out the same complaint during that 9 PM hour.
Basically, though, that was all the information Maddow actually had. The rest of the evening, spreading through several hour-long shows, was devoted to avoiding what Johnston had said, and to offering silly critiques of the underwhelming document.
During the 10 PM hour, Lawrence kept insisting that the cover sheet from 2005 showed that Trump didn't pay "hundreds of millions in federal taxes," as he once had said. Finally, at 10:35 PM, two of O'Donnell's expert guests staged an intervention.
They told him that Trump's remark didn't necessarily mean that he paid that much in taxes every year. Thus rebuked on live TV, Lawrence mercifully stopped.
At 11 PM, Brian Williams seemed a bit annoyed with the whole shebang. He began to mention the unmentionable—the possibility that the big scoop perhaps did serve Trump's interests.
Williams began to hint at something we haven't mentioned. The stampede about the nothingburger had wiped a wide range of weightier topics from last night's cable air:
Gone was discussion of the GOP health plan, which had been imploding. Gone was discussion of the expectation that information would drop today about Trump's wiretapping claims.
Gone, long gone, was Donald J. Trump and Russia. Instead, we had our silliest cable star pimping a tiny bit of information which basically seemed to serve the interests of Donald J. Trump.
It's very hard for liberals to see what a self-adoring circus clown Maddow has become. Last night, she staged a giant stampede over the latest shiny object—over a nothingburger.
Is it possible that Donald J. Trump leaked the shiny object himself? In the very first words out of his mouth, that's what Johnston had said.
Also gone from last night's air was any discussion of Chris Hayes' trip to West Virginia. The trip had produced an hour of powerful politics only one night before.
Hayes' trip was potential political dynamite, pointing the way toward a more successful future. By way of contrast, Maddow's overblown nothingburger was a big bag of hot air.
We think of the enduring drama enacted by Laurel and Hardy:
In Laurel and Hardy's beautiful work, the little guy with a hint of a clue is always too meek and mild and decent to speak up. In part for that reason, the big blowhard who's full of hot air always ends up in charge.
So it goes in human life. So it goes in cable news, especially where our own self-adoring circus clown is involved.
We hate to say this but: Yesterday, before the stampede, we decided to take another shot at Maddow's very strange presentation from last Tuesday, March 7.
We keep thinking we must have misunderstood what she said that night. Yesterday, we finally decided. Before the week is through, we'll show you what Our Own Rhodes Scholar said.
As we noted yesterday, liberals think they're being "informed" by Maddow's devolving program. When we put our clueless wonders in charge, it's dangerous for the rest of the world.
It's bad for progressive interests.