MSNBC host Rachel Maddow may be an object of mockery, even among her liberal media colleagues, for breathlessly hyping (and then endlessly milking) a “big scoop” about Donald Trump’s tax returns Tuesday night. The big leak turned out to be a two-page 1040 form from 2005, showing that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year. Even Slate headlined it a “Cynical, Self-Defeating Spectacle.”
Still, the New York Times remained faithful to the lefty host with “Rachel Maddow Lands a Scoop, Then Makes Viewers Wait” a post at nytimes.com Wednesday from media reporter Michael Grynbaum.
It was a convenient follow-up to Grynbaum’s promotional front-page story on Monday, and not even the embarrassingly anti-climactic aftermath of Maddow's hyping shook his faith. All’s well:
Rachel Maddow had a big scoop, and she handled it her way.
With a single tweet on Tuesday, Ms. Maddow, the MSNBC anchor, set the political world ablaze, announcing at 7:36 p.m. that she was poised to reveal previously unseen tax records from President Trump on her 9 p.m. program. (“Seriously,” Ms. Maddow added.)
After Grynbaum noted that “84 minutes struck some journalists as an awfully long time to wait,” he defended Maddow’s honor.
Ms. Maddow, who is enjoying the biggest viewership of her show’s nine-year run, did not appear to mind. She opened her program on Tuesday as she usually does: with a deliberately paced, fact-heavy monologue, in this case reviewing Mr. Trump’s past refusal to release his taxes to catch up viewers on why this new revelation mattered.
He dutifully cited a couple of Twitter complaints, but instead of exploring the embarrassingly partisan and cynically ratings-obsessed incident further, used it to dump some more of his previous interview
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The wait, about 20 minutes in all, may have irked political reporters, but it was of a piece with the strategy Ms. Maddow has laid out for herself and her staff. In an interview last week, she described “a real sense of responsibility” to educate her 2.6 million-strong audience, particularly those who may be casual consumers of the news.
Grynbaum ventured some extremely tactful criticism of Maddow and his former Times colleague David Cay Johnston, the tax reporter who actually received the wet squib.
The discussion between Ms. Maddow and Mr. Johnston veered into some odd directions, with Mr. Johnston mentioning a connection between Mr. Trump and the mob. And Ms. Maddow’s opening monologue raised lingering questions about links between Mr. Trump and Russia -- questions that no simple 1040 form, like the one sent to Mr. Johnston, could address.
Rush Limbaugh was considerably less restrained in his gleeful criticism. Meanwhile, here's more from Grynbaum:
On Twitter, journalists complained that Ms. Maddow had overhyped her findings with the initial teasing tweet, noting that the information in the returns did not amount to a scandal. Others asked why so much of the focus was on Ms. Maddow and not the subject at hand...
Once again the NYT, always hypersensitive to any sign of life in MSNBC’s ratings, hyped Maddow’s “ratings milestone” over Fox News Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson “among viewers aged 25 to 54, the most coveted demographic in television news.”