Back in the 1980s, syndicated TV journalist Geraldo Rivera appeared live on TV to open a secret vault in a Chicago hotel that had once belonged to mobster Al Cabone.
It turned out to contain only debris.
But at least he didn’t know what would be inside when he hyped the story.
You can’t say the same thing for how Rachel Maddow of MSNBC last night breathlessly hyped the news that one of her guests had been send the first two pages of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return.
As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post concluded the result was a “nothing burger.”
Van Jones, a former aide in the Obama White House, admitted If all we get tonight is that Trump paid $38M to America's government, that's a good night for Trump.
The return showed that Trump had paid $38 million in federal income tax off a $150 million income that year. While Trump has frequently boasted that “I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.” But the Alternative Minimum Tax, which works to make it hard for multimillionaires to evade all federal income taxes apparently worked in Trump’s case.
Because of Trump’s longtime game of playing hide-and-seek with his tax returns, the media has obsessed over the chance that he may not have paid anything in taxes in some years. After all, he used $900 million in business losses to wipe out his tax liability in 1995. The partial release of his 2005 tax return make that theory less likely.
The White House noted that “it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns” and said the president will continue to pursue “tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”
Some members of the media were so frustrated at the deflation of Maddow’s balloon, they speculated that Trump himself leaked his partial return.
Regardless of the source, Trump’s adversaires and the media will continue to obsess about the tax returns. David Brock, a longtime court jester in the camp of Hillary Clinton, is offering a $5 million reward to anyone who hands over President Trump's "complete" and "legally obtained" tax returns. That’s bait and switch. If someone sent him the tax returns, Brock would cheerfully publish them and point out he didn’t have to pay the money beccause there’s no way an outside party can “legally” reveal tax returns.
I took seriously the issue of Donald Trump’s tax returns during the 2016 elections, and still do.
It was outrageous that Trump would often promise to release the returns, and then spuriously claim he couldn’t release even returns from two decades ago because his current returns were under audit.
It was hypocritical of Trump to ddmand to see the tax returns of every candidate he interviewed to be his vice president, but not release his own tax returns.
I strenously argued that Trump would sink his chances of beating Hillary Clinton by becoming the first major presidenital nominee since Nixon not to release his returns.
I was wrong. Trump was able to overcome his character deficits and win, in part because Hillary Clinton’s character flaws were even more marked and had been revealed in high government office. It’s not that the tax return issue is over, and I’m sure more pages from stray returns will pop up and be published.
But it’s time for the media to ponder cutting their losses, and moving on to other and fresher problems with the Trump presidency -- like his continued failure to fill sub-Cabinet positions that are key to allowing his govenrment to function.
When it comes to not releasing his tax returns, Donald Trump once again played a high-stakes game of political poker -- and won.
Rachel Maddow’s attempt to pump air into her deflated balloon of a story is yet another example of the mainstream media not willing to acccept defeat.
John Fund is a columnist for National Review. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFund.