The Media, Not Maddow, Screwed the Pooch on Trump’s Tax Returns

On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow released Donald Trump’s 2005 1040 IRS Form, or his tax returns. The tax returns show that Donald Trump did pay taxes, putting to rest the hopes of many on the left that he was either a tax cheat. They also show that Trump paid a higher rate than some of his toughest left-wing critics, like Bernie Sanders, so he’s not dodging taxes. They even show that Trump is actually very rich, even if they don’t prove if he’s worth $10 billion or not, so that theory on what he’s hiding is gone too. The White House, predictably, called the who story a “nothingburger” from some of their social media accounts. Major news outlets, like the Washington Post’s “The Fix,” actually ran with the White House’s line. In fact, most of the political media in this country picked up the spin of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer.

The press completely screwed the pooch here.

While much of the left may have believed that Donald Trump was a tax cheat, that was never the most likely, or important story here. The real beef in this story was never some fantasy of Trump cheating on his taxes, but was more in the content. In fact, I think it’s clear that several stories should have been the headline the morning after Maddow released his returns:

  • Someone very close to Trump leaked his tax returns. Someone may very well have been him, but if we assume for a second that he didn’t, which is his story, this is really alarming. If someone else released a copy of Trump’s 1040 with a “client copy” stamp on it, this is a very, very big national security issue. It suggests that personal information of the President, information he doesn’t want out in public, can be leaked and used against him (as black mail). That’s a big deal. It means someone either in his family, at a high level in the Trump Organization, or at the White House did this, suggesting chaos in this administration. Of course, it could also mean that our President is a psycho and did this himself to distract us, also an issue.
  • Donald Trump did make a lot of money, something we all should have suspected, but the important thing was always how he made his money- something not in this two page 1040 form. As one would suspect with someone who makes as much money as Trump, and in as complicated of a field as commercial real estate, Trump’s form refers to many attachments to his tax form explaining his income. None of those were in this leaked form. In other words, as Maddow pointed out, we still don’t know the sources of Trump’s wealth and debts. She spent her opening ten minutes putting on theories on why. Our press glossed over this important detail. Is Trump in deep debt to Russian oligarchs? Does he make a lot of money from foreign governments? We still don’t know these things. Given how much money Trump makes, this is an important question.
  • The most obviously important part of this return is how it fits into Trump’s stated public policy positions. Donald Trump paid $36 million in personal income tax ($38 million overall). Donald Trump would have only paid a little over $5 million if it weren’t for the Alternative Minimum Tax. Donald Trump has a stated policy position of repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax. In other words, Trump’s policy position would save him and people like him millions of dollars a year. In times past, we would call this corrupt behavior. Now, it’s almost accepted.

There were lots of actual stories from Trump’s tax returns, none of which should have been diminished by Maddow’s opening monologue about what it all might mean. Sure, Donald Trump paid taxes, but should that actually make you feel any better about this? Of course not. There are still so many questions and problems from these returns that even a cursory examination by responsible journalists would cause us serious worries. I guess you’ll have to read into that yourself though, because the press just isn’t writing that story.

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