The Nut And The Ninny: NBC's Maddow/Fallon Problem

With her ridiculous non-scoop about Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return this week, holier-than-thou Rachel Maddow proved that she is just like everybody else in news media today -- hungry for ratings and willing to undertake any means necessary to get them.

For Maddow, the means were this: She had gotten her hands on Trump’s two-page 1040 from 2005, and tweeted triumphantly about this “scoop” a few minutes after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

On her MSNBC show later that night at 9, she then spent 20 minutes hyperventilating while brandishing these two sheets of paper and delaying the big “reveal” about what they held for as long as she could.

Finally, she disclosed what they said: Trump paid $38 million in federal taxes that year on income of $150 million -- a tax payment that, upon inspection, seemed perfectly reasonable based on what most of us understand about income taxes.



Rachel's tweet to her 6.73 million Twitter followers at 7:36 that evening apparently helped drive viewership of her show to record levels -- 4.13 million viewers, according to this story on

It was a record high for her show and far above its usual audience, so you might say her strategy -- pre-tweeting the story, then delaying the actual reporting of it for a third of her show -- worked. But at what cost? 

A great chunk of the audience for her Trump tax-return show was likely made up of newcomers who may have heard about the story and were sampling her for the first time. Indications are that many of these first-timers (and others) felt bamboozled.

It is doubtful that very many of them came away from this experience as newly minted Rachel Maddow fans. Her long-time fans seem to love her unconditionally. But to many who may have been exposed to her for the first time this week, she came across as unglued and hysterical -- which is what she always seems like unless you’re a member of the Maddow faithful. 

Social media reaction was decidedly negative, according to this story by MediaPost's Philip Rosenstein.

Rather than being showered with accolades for this tax-return “exclusive,” Maddow has been vilified, satirized and criticized ever since. In interviews and on her own show later in the week, even she had to concede that there was nothing scandalous about these two meager tax-return pages.

But at the same time, she seems to have no idea that she completely bungled this whole thing. This was brought into sharp relief Wednesday night by the dueling approaches taken to this story on CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Colbert, who recently surpassed Fallon in the late-night ratings race, was merciless in his abuse -- satirizing Maddow at the opening of his show and then letting her have it during his monologue.

Meanwhile on NBC, where Maddow was a guest on “The Tonight Show,” clueless Fallon was gushing all over her -- his usual approach with every guest he has ever had. 

“You were trending on Twitter last night!” Fallon exclaimed, regardless of the fact that the reaction on Twitter was more negative than positive. “Like, it was a giant deal!” Fallon said.

It is at times like these that Fallon seems like a ninny. Maybe that’s why Colbert is surging.

As for Maddow, her problem was that she overestimated the significance of this “scoop” and then over-played her hand. She handled the situation like a rank amateur, or at the very least like someone who is unaccustomed to having exclusives fall into her lap like this.

Instead of calmly considering the relative value of the information she had received, and then playing it accordingly, she became over-excited by the potential it held for a big ratings bump. 

She got the bump, but the price she’s paying for it -- in damage to her image and reputation -- is steep indeed.

8 comments about "The Nut And The Ninny: NBC's Maddow/Fallon Problem".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 17, 2017 at 1:09 p.m.

    When I saw the photo accompanying the article, I thought it was about who-wore-it-best. She need not worry too much about her reputation. I've only heard a few references to Geraldo and the Capone vault.

  2. Alex Miller from ViaSat, March 17, 2017 at 1:20 p.m.

    For perspective, just think about the non-stop hyperventiliating (and often BS-ridden) stories run on the likes of 'Fox & Friends' and 'The Angry Old White Guy Factor,' not to mention CNN. Maddow generally brings solid journalism and thoughtfulness with her signature wit, so this one abberation isn't enough to convince anyone she's not the smartest person on cable news. More likely it was the producer behind the Geraldo-fication of this particular non-story.

  3. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, March 17, 2017 at 2:41 p.m.

    Ridiculous? Non-scoop?

    Sure, we were all hoping for the President's complete tax returns, with all the schedules filled out so we can see who he really is. But if you don't think even a GLIMPSE at his tax returns is a valid news story -- even if his team leaked them -- you're way out of line. Maddow has earned her lofty reputation, and one over-hyped tweet about an upcoming broadcast should not affect that -- not when she is the leading television news personality who is doing real journalism to expose the President's connections to Russian state security.

    The Capone vault had been hyped with breathless on-air promos for WEEKS. This is completely different...

  4. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, March 17, 2017 at 2:44 p.m.

    Another point: If she tweeted out to her fans, why do you think lots of first-time viewers were tuning in. I doubt people who've never seen her show are going to be following her on Twitter. Maddow doesn't deserve this kind of over-the-top hit piece.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 17, 2017 at 4:07 p.m.

    She is holier than thou.

  6. Matt Schwach from iPowow, March 17, 2017 at 4:40 p.m.

    FYI, Maddow was just being true to how she always presents the news. She's definitely into providing context and historical background. My sense is that she takes pride in being the yang to frothy, fast paced yin. But yes, it can prompt a "get to the point" response!

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, March 17, 2017 at 8:18 p.m.

    An outsiders perspective from afar.   I agree that it was a 'scoop' for Maddow.  Was it newsworthy - yes.   Did it damage Trump at all - no.

    But given the fake news that abounds ... could this fall into that category?

    Being a statistician that is a sample of n=1 which always rings alarm bells.   Chance of it being an outlying non-representative sample - could be high.   Margin of error - could be massive.

    Solution - release the past (say) n=30 years (a commonly used minimum sample size for a normally distributed population) of tax returns.    

  8. Tom Tyler from GCTVTexas, March 18, 2017 at 9:51 p.m.

    :D Lololololol! Rachel Minnow.

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