Here’s Why It Was Obvious Maddow Was Headed For a ‘Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone’ Moment

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You surely know by now that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow teased that she had some of President Trump’s tax returns before her show on Tuesday night. You are probably also aware that the general perception is that the release of two pages from his 2005 return was a rather large flop. After all, it is generally a very bad sign when a “news” show is doing a big “reveal” that BOTH Geraldo Rivera AND Al Capone are trending on Twitter. I was actually surprised that “vault” was not.

This result was not at all a surprise to me (I tweeted beforehand that I was betting liberals were going to be very disappointed) and it should not have been so for anyone who understands the basics of the news business. Essentially, for what Maddow possessed to have been really big news it would have, under these circumstances, been in direct violation of the basic mathematics of how the news media operates.

The first sign that this was much ado about nothing much was that Maddow tweeted, rather mysteriously, about the reveal in a manner which was clearly designed to create intrigue. Generally, you only need to do this in the media if what you have SOUNDS a lot better than it actually is. If you really have the goods, you just simply bring down the hammer, with little fanfare needed. I have written about this reality before when it came to a stunt by James O’Keefe which led to even less of a reveal than Maddow had (by the way, O’Keefe has had plenty of time to go through all of those CNN tapes he claimed would create #CNNLeaks, why have we not heard from him? Hmmm…).

The second indication that Maddow had nothing big was that this was being dropped first on her MSNBC show. There is simply no way, if this was the real deal, that she wouldn’t have gone on NBC Nightly News with her big scoop first and then promoted more to come on her MSNBC show. Whenever something planned breaks on MSNBC, especially in the evening, it can’t be that big of a deal because of the existence of NBC.

Thirdly, the fact that these returns were given to Maddow by the reporter who was originally sent them was a clear sign that there was very little news-worthy there. If that reporter really had something amazing he would have been able to go to a network morning show so that the story would get wider play because it would have far more prestige and much less partisan stench attached to it.

In a very real sense, having Maddow give the impression that she had the goods on Trump’s taxes, the Holy Grail of current liberal reporting, was like seeing a really hot young woman with an old guy that you know isn’t rich. It just doesn’t add up and it’s clear there likely isn’t going to be a great payoff at the end of the night.

We basically learned almost nothing from this release. In fact, we got so little new information that it seems rather obvious that Trump was likely, at least in some way, responsible for the leak (the pages are apparently stamped “client copy”). Sure, Trump’s basic tax rate seems remarkably low, but that’s partly because of how he generates his income as a real estate investor. His income was also rather low for a guy claiming to be a multibillionaire, but if all of his returns were like this one, it would be better for Trump’s finances than I would have expected (though, to be clear, I think this was a “good” year for him, which is why he was likely behind the leak).

That’s not to say that I think that Maddow’s show was pointless or marked really a tremendous victory in the long-run for Trump, as many of his fans, of course, seem to be saying. I actually thought that her lengthy opening segment, mocked for the obvious “coming up after the commercial” tease, was really pretty compelling. 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.

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John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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