Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rachel Maddow fires at Trump, blows off her toe

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S. Alaska Hawaii (detail) by Nam June Paik

      Like a lot of people, I noticed Rachel Maddow's tweet Tuesday evening, the one where she ballyhooed having Donald Trump's tax returns. Something smelled wrong about it, but it didn't cost anything to turn the television on at 8 p.m. and see what was up. 
       I have to admit, I've never tuned into her program before, though I've caught snippets, online, and she seems an intelligent person, good-hearted and thoughtful. 
     But generally, getting your news from television is like trying to breathe through a straw: a lot of effort for a little result.  Fox News is unwatchable agit-prop for right wing zealots, and CNN's reputation died when Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared in 2014, the network veering into some weird Twilight Zone of round-the-clock speculation, time-filling and tap-dancing. It was closer to performance art than reportage, with crazy speculation and holograms, a stain that can never be removed.  MSNBC, well, I really didn't have a preconceived notion about them. Somehow related to NBC. 
     So my expectations were not high. Maddow began by ... well, I can't say exactly what she was doing. "Setting the stage" someone tweeted, when I began urging her to get on with it already. Establishing that yes, people were in fact interested in Donald Trump's tax returns. And those returns could show all sorts of interesting things, like being indebted to some Russian gentleman who paid more for one of Trump's houses than it was worth. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. The same couple ideas, worn to a nubbin like a toddler's adored blankie. Then a commercial break. We were introduced to David Cay Johnston, who won the Pulitzer Prize -- not the gold standard of excellence she seems to imagine it to be -- who has a book on Trump out, and received the two-page photocopy in his mailbox. Twenty minutes into the show ... nothing.
     I went to the kitchen for a snack.
    Eventually, after much waving of the photocopied return, it was revealed that, in 2005, Donald Trump earned $158 million and paid $33 million in taxes, and it was so obvious, at least to me, that Maddow had been played— by Trump. You want taxes? I can see him sneer, here's taxes. The few pages that don't show the depth of his enslavement to the Russians, or his miserable cheapness at charity, or any of the dozen deficiencies that make Trump an unfit president and are the reason he wouldn't release them. He earned a lot of money in 2005 and payed a defendable share of tax. This wasn't a revelation, it was a blow job under the desk, the tax return version of that New York Post headline "Best Sex I Ever Had." You could tell it was a plant because the White House confirmed its authenticity, and the pro forma howl of outrage was just a wee bit muted. 
     I understand there is time to fill and eyeballs to attract. But the Donald Trump presidency is a true crisis, and goofy shit like this minimizes it. Maybe, in my ignorance, I gave Rachel Maddow a stature she didn't deserve -- a friend who watches MSNBC said the entire three hour block on MSNBC is always talking heads hyperventilating about every Trump nuance "like their hair was on fire." 
    Our nation is in danger. This is not the time for publicity gimmicks and cheap stunts to hook an audience. A hundred and fifty years ago, newspapers would print melodramatic fiction. You'd get to the end of the story and there would be a line, "And that is what it might have been like had all the animals escaped from the zoo Tuesday!" The modern world killed that, supposedly, and Maddow's tax return PR grab was a step back toward P.T. Barnum because what she claimed, while literally true, wasn't true in the way she pretended it to be. She didn't actually have what she pretended to have: something significant. It was like my claiming I have a new Ferrari when what I really have is a new Ferrari tire. 
     Whenever I write about Trump or anything related to Trump, my readership goes up 50 percent. So by that logic, I should write about Trump continually. I don't because a) some days a half dozen outlets say everything there is to say about that day's outrage and I don't see the need to pile on or echo; b) four years is a long time, and we need to take a break from just gazing in horror at the calamity; and c) other interesting and important stuff doesn't stop going on just because our country is on fire.
     If the sun were suddenly about to explode, but we had a month to live, we would not want to spend it reading "New Details on Sun Exploding" every single minute. We'd get it, and only want to hear truly significant stuff ("Here's the Date the Sun-Will Explode.") Nobody wants a list of stars that aren't blowing up in a month.
      That's why I avoid the "orange Chee-to" cheap jabs at Trump. I don't care that Melania is staying at Trump Tower, or that he golfs every weekend even though he promised he'd never take a vacation. That lie has to get in line behind all the others and it's a long line. What I care about is that he is a deeply un-American hate monger, in thrall to the Russians, who is working to undermine the country morally, economically, physically -- yanking away health insurance from 24 million people, many of whom are so out to sea they voted for the man. That every day he works to undermine the legitimacy of the media, the courts, the idea of truth itself. He's a liar, a bully and fraud. The rest is just window-dressing. 
     That's what's important. And Maddow yelling "Fire!" Monday night, well, it makes battling the blaze that much harder. It gives Trump the chance to say, "See, the media scum saw the taxes," when we didn't see anything at all. It casts an important voice into disrepute -- she could say she has Steve Bannon's head on a pike, details at 9 p.m. EST, and I'm not sure I'd tune in.  Rachel Maddow is still one of the good guys, but less an asset today than she was Monday. And the worst part: it was a self-inflicted wound. Someone dangled a few photocopies at her, she drew too fast and blew off a toe. 


  1. it seems to me what your saying is she took to long to draw and then fired blanks.

  2. Mr. Steinberg, you nailed it here.

  3. Never cared for her. She seems too hyper when stating the news. Laurence O'Donnell or Chris Hayes is preferable imo. Yes, she's been had and of course that was leaked and it doesn't say much.

  4. I didn't know the White House verified the return before they howled about Maddow's villainous felony -- do I hear "Lock her up..." in the background?


  5. That straw analogy is the best description of TV news I've ever read.

  6. I did not watch Maddow as I was in Arizona, but here is an article Johnston wrote on his site DC Report. And this interview was good. He does not believe Trump leaked these forms.

  7. It was a bad moment for Rachel but I'm still a fan. She did deliver great news in the first few minutes of her show last night: the crazy, far right Muslim-hating Geert Wilders did NOT win the Dutch election.


  8. Your reasons to abstain from perpetual Trump bashing are sound. It's fun and popular, but in your case strictly singing to the choir. Besides we already have a surfeit of punditry - enough that you shouldn't make politics your beat when the world is so full of wonderful things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

    As for Maddow, she's taken a lot of heat for the way she handled this story, but generally she's generally a sensible commentator. That said, I'm inclined to think the most damage to the Trump brand is being currently inflicted by right wing pundits like Jennifer Rubin and George Will.


  9. I think MSNBC's evening lineup is slanted more to the entertainment side of the business, less to actual news. I like Maddow, but have long since ceased watching these programs. I do like "Morning Joe" and Chuck Todd's afternoon "MTP Daily" for my national political fix and "WTTW Chicago Tonight" for local updates.

  10. She pulled a Geraldo Rivera and the Capone vault.

  11. I did not see this Maddow broadcast. I've blogged my problem with "news as entertainment and opinion/news programs as the antidote to one another rather than reportage for some years now. We need news and investigative journalism at this time so threatening to a Democracy once taken for granted. Television is for ratings first, period. Meanwhile, BUT has been sold out in my local coffee store for past month...I think I know why and it is consoling me greatly. A,couple years ago most coffee stores had stopped carrying papers. Now, the ones that do are sold out. Coffee party movement anyone? I've bern meaning to start a facebook forum devoted to this: Wherever you go for your java, ask the owner to carry at least 2 newspapers for customer should local.

  12. Meant to say "But newspapers have been sold out....for past month"....

  13. David Cay Johnston was on Democracy Now the day after the Maddow show. It was too bad that he was not asked about they hype about the release of the the two pages. I don't think that is on him though. While Trump did pay a big amount of taxes, if it wasn't for the alternative minimum tax he would have paid some where between 3 and 5 percent. This is something he wants to get rid of. There is a second part to the interview.


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