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 Deadline.com.
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.