Tuesday night’s release by MSNBC Anchor Rachel Maddow of President Donald Trump’s tax returns felt like a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out … in mockery.
Maddow’s “historically unprecedented” and “potentially historic” release of the top two pages of the 2005 Trump taxes revealed that Trump paid $38 million in taxes that year. The event was a disaster not seen on TV since the last “Star Wars” rerun showing the Death Star blowing up Alderaan.
Maddow unwittingly disproved Hillary Clinton’s 2016 claim that Trump might have paid no taxes. Trump’s $38 million tax hit was more tax than 672 households earned in the entire 2016. Drudge summed up the math: “TRUMP PAID HIGHER TAX RATE [25%] THAN MSNBC COMCAST [24%]... MUCH HIGHER THAN OBAMA [19%]... AND BERNIE [13%]!”
Maddow was skewered by conservatives and liberals for the needless hype and by journalists who claimed she had damaged the profession. The Washington Post’s liberal blog The Fix called the reveal “a total nothingburger” and conservative National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke commented that he never again wants “to see a televised suicide.” Mediaite bashed Maddow for having, “Just Trolled Us All For Ratings.”
Almost the only support Maddow got came from her fellow MSNBC staffers. NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell praised her coworker: “#Maddow is the newsmaker once again getting the 1st glimpse at a Trump tax return @MaddowBlog.”
It was nearly as big of a disaster for journalists who had been singing Maddow’s praises based on her recent ratings boom. Maddow was celebrated across the news media -- The New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post all featured articles on her ratings rise. Hollywood Reporter called her, “MSNBC's star player” and HuffPo noted how dropping coverage of Trump’s Twitter comments, “has only helped grow her sphere of influence.”
That all went into the trash can in an Oscar fail/Steve Harvey and Miss Universe mistake kind of way that will be remembered for years. Even Maddow’s biggest supporters lamented how the broadcast was either over-promised or it ended up being a tool of Trump’s P.R. machine.
The rest of Tuesday night was divided between ways to mock Maddow and her MSNBC bosses and trying to find someone -- anyone other than her -- to blame for the disaster.
One tweeter went for the celebrity jugular -- cash -- by making fun of how much money Maddow has vs. Trump. “That moment you realize that @realDonaldTrump paid more in taxes in 2005 than your entire net worth! #ThankYouMaddow.”
Journalists started with Maddow’s massive buildup to the story. Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman joked, “Haven't seen this much windup since El Duque.” Haberman’s reference was to former Yankee (and Met) pitching sensation Orlando Hernandez, known for a high leg kick that was even memorialized in an Adidas ad. Veteran ESPN anchor Bob Ley also noted the Maddow version of a long rain delay. “if you have news, Rachel, please tell us. soon. I'm not young,” he wrote.
Times columnist Elizabeth Williamson was especially sharp-edged. “I watched @maddow twice! The first time, and the last time,” she wrote, retweeting a comment from a Wall St. Journal staffer who watched for the first time.
Even sister network Executive Editor Jay Yarrow, of CNBC, knocked Maddow in a piece headlined: “Donald Trump just got a nice victory, thanks, of all people, to Rachel Maddow.”
CNN’s criticism was more biting, though a bit self-centered. Senior Reporter for Media & Politics Dylan Byers summarized the response to Maddow’s fiasco: “Reax on Twitter:
Disappointment for Democrats. Fodder for Trump supporters. Setback for serious journalists.” And don’t forget, CNN thinks it has a lock on “serious journalism.”
Is sorry/not sorry part of the new CNN style book? Still, Byers summed up the fiasco well in a piece he wrote for CNN: “Overall, the story coming out of Tuesday night's broadcast was not so much about Trump's tax returns as it was about the disappointment in Maddow's handling of them.”
Because of that, it was a night where snark ruled and comparisons ranged from the opening of Al Capone’s vault to who shot J.R. Ewing.
Hill media reporter/columnist Joe Concha chose the Y2K comparison for his sarcastic critique. “For whatever reason now all I can think of is anticipation of Y2K right up until midnight. And then absolutely nothing happening. #Maddow,” he tweeted.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (and current Fox News contributor) went with a more classic reference -- who shot J.R.: “Don't miss it! Rachel Maddow will reveal who shot J. R. Ewing on the series ‘Dallas.’ Sure it was the 80's, but it's RACHEL MADDOW!” (For the record, never trust Kristin.)
Since the left and the media view Trump as a J.R.-esque villain, naturally they blamed him for the leak gone wrong. Even MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber was asking uncomfortable questions about the story: “ Why would someone have access to only 2 pages of one year of tax returns? The nature of leak raises Q about if this was pro or anti Trump.”
Left-wing TPM Editor and Publisher Josh Marshall asked if Trump was behind the release. “Did Trump secretly release his taxes to distract us from Russia or from Health Care??????? I'm thinking 97 dimensional chess. At least.”
Almost the only support Maddow got came from her fellow MSNBC staffers. NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell praised her coworker: “#Maddow is the newsmaker once again getting the 1st glimpse at a Trump tax return @MaddowBlog.” Daily Mail U.S. Political Editor David Martosko responded in his best “When Harry Met Sally” deadpan humor. “Whatever you're on, I hope it's legal.”
The best MSNBC anchor Christopher Hayes could muster was the double millennial post, bookended with youth speak: “Lol at competitors trying to throw shade.” No wonder Hayes is confused. Shade looks just like a darkened TV screen.
By 10 pm on Tuesday night time had run out for Maddow. The mainstream media coronation of their anti-Trump queen had lasted mere hours.
The only question left was this: what anti-Trump media figure journalists will prop up next.
Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.