While Rachel Maddow’s revelation on President Trump’s taxes wasn’t as big a bombshell as many expected, mostly because it was an abbreviated version of his 2005 tax return, just the 1040.
Still, viewers switched over to MSNBC in droves to watch “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9 p.m. ET last night.
“Maddow has been on a ratings hot streak lately,” wrote CNN’s Brian Stelter in last night’s "Reliable Sources" newsletter. According to Deadline: “For the week of March 6, ‘Maddow’ ranked No. 1 among cable news shows in the news demo.”
Despite strong ratings, online engagement data around the “special report” was mostly negative. Many were underwhelmed by the revelations. The report included an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winner David Cay Johnston, who received two pages of President Trump’s 2005 returns in his home mailbox from an undisclosed sender. (He estimates the total return is over 1,000 pages.)
Johnson has no idea who gave him the pages, but did not discount the possibility that Trump was behind the effort. On CNN he noted: "Donald has a long history of leaking things about himself and doing it indirectly and directly," Johnston told anchors Poppy Harlow and Chris Cuomo. "So it's a possibility."
Most strikingly for Maddow, many opponents of the President felt the “special report” did nothing but bolster Trump. It showed that he paid millions in federal taxes for 2005, despite refusing to release his tax returns for any year.
The problem is that Maddow's report missed the larger political point.
The worry over Trump's taxes is far greater than what paid to the IRS in a specific year. The major issue is his global business alliances and his debts — and whether his personal finances — such as potential loans from Russian banks, etc. — may put him in conflict with U.S. policy. Those serious concerns cannot be answered until a complete tax return is examined.
A second worry is that the two-page return was deliberate — an attempt to distract from the Russian investigations.
That may explain viewer response.
According to data crunched by Amobee, there were 364,000 tweets that mentioned Rachel Maddow between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Tuesday evening.
A majority —75% of tweets — had negative connotations, with 14% being positive and 11% neutral. One of the biggest complaints across Twitter: About half of the show was a preamble to the actual release.
Another common grievance found the “special report” distracted viewers from the far more important issue of the American Health Care Act.
Maddow’s revelation did have a significant impact on the news cycle. Between 9 p.m. on Tuesday and 1 a.m. on Wednesday, 30% of all digital content around President Trump was tax-return related, whereas only 11% related to health care.
The hashtag #ThankYouMaddow made the rounds last night, putting a sarcastic spin on the news of the tax returns. About 17,400 tweets shared the hashtag, mostly by people who felt Maddow had absolved Trump of this controversy.
MediaPost's TV Blog columnist Adam Buckman gave his opinion, which largely fits the overall sentiment online, in today’s TVBlog.