Despite a complete lack of newsworthiness, the morning news shows of ABC, CBS and NBC on March 15 spent 20 minutes and 28 seconds speculating about President Donald Trump’s tax returns based on two pages that even they had to admit were “certainly not scandalous in any way.”
On March 14, Rachel Maddow revealed that her much-hyped excerpt from Trump’s 2005 tax returns was completely inconsequential and revealed nothing relevant. Nothing good, nothing bad. Just nothing. It was so little payoff for so much hype that even CNN mocked Maddow.
Regardless of the lack of news, all three morning news shows tried to find a way to spin the non-story to make the president look bad. ABC’s Good Morning America accounted for nearly half of all the coverage with 9 minutes and 18 seconds. CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today came in just about even with 5 minutes and 36 seconds and 5 minutes and 34 seconds, respectively.
On Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos asked David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who was anonymously mailed the returns, “And now we've seen 1995 and 2005. These 2005 returns certainly not scandalous in any way from what we know of what was released. So what is it he’s trying to hide in your view? You’ve covered him for a long time.”
On NBC’s Today, MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber admitted that this revelation was, “Not a bombshell,” before going on to rant against the tax system: “But we learned that the President, like many wealthy Americans, pays a lower rate lawfully than so many other people who make less than him.”
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On CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King contradicted GOP pollster Frank Luntz after he stated that “most Americans really don’t care” about Trump’s tax returns: “But if you go to the town halls, people there are saying ‘yes we do want to hear the tax returns.’ That seems to be changing. In terms of the viewers not wanting to know what’s on the tax returns, I think that’s changing a bit.”
Luntz quickly dismissed King’s analysis, and accused the media of undermining themselves by focusing so much on something inconsequential. “No, actually, with all due respect, it isn’t changing. Those are people, those are professional protesters....It’s not your average everyday citizens. It's people who have come to disrupt….it doesn’t mean the American people care. In all the polling that we have done, this isn't even a top ten issue. It’s one of the reasons why Americans are so fed up with Washington and so fed up with politics as usual. And, frankly, the media has to be able to hold this president and Congress accountable. They have to have the credibility to call the White House’s bluff. But they can’t do it if they’re focused on issues that the average American, the ordinary American, doesn’t care about.”