While I was completing the final, exhausting, lonely leg of my road trip across America, a WAR broke out among the staff here about Rachel Maddow’s report on Tuesday night revealing Trump’s tax returns. I am basically of both minds in that war: That was a typical Maddow-type show, which uses the A-Block to monologue for 20 minutes about an issue, but it was also overhyped, although that wasn’t necessarily Maddow’s fault. I’m glad she could expose a broader audience tuning in to find out about the tax returns to some other interesting theories surrounding Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns, but I also worry that those theories will be undermined by the fact that there wasn’t anything really newsworthy in those tax returns and that the broader audience is not familiar with Maddow’s typical reporting style.
But let’s be honest: Any other outlet in America would have done the exact same thing and published or aired those returns, but it might have been better to use the Times or the Post to make the revelation, because the tax returns would have just dropped, while Maddow necessarily had to tease the show ahead of time because that’s what happens on TV: There are promos. They speak to the issue being covered. I guess Maddow could have teased that, “We have the first two pages of a 2005 tax return,” but that wouldn’t have attracted the same audience, and Maddow has actually been beating Fox News and CNN in the ratings, of late.
Whatever: All I’m saying is, someone ought to be investigating Trump’s ties to that Russian oligarch. That was a good story, even if the revelation of Trump’s tax returns was not.
At any rate, Stephen Colbert parodied Maddow’s reporting style last night on The Late Show, prefacing a joke with a lot of context, and adapting Maddow’s mannerisms in presenting it. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh fuck off, Colbert,” but I’m just thrilled that Maddow is now popular and recognizable enough to be parodied on The Late Show (and I suspect that Maddow was not in the least insulted).
Meanwhile, Maddow herself showed up on Jimmy Fallon, who reportedly has marching orders from NBC to beef up his political content, to run through the two days that led to the report. It required that she get confirmation from the White House that the returns were authentic, which was the professional thing to do. However, it also tipped their hand to the White House, which was able to neuter the news by responding to it before it was even aired.
All things considered, if Trump did release the returns himself, it was a strategic con that worked not only to distract us from other pressing issues, but maybe to undermine a journalist gaining a larger and larger audience who may have been circling in on a number of connections that Trump would rather the rest of us not know about. It sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Bannon would do.