Rachel Maddow’s Trump Tax Return Reveal and Other Media Moves That Didn’t Match the Hype

March 15, 2017 11:41 am
President Trump's 2005 Tax Return
Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)
President Trump's 2005 Tax Return


After all the buildup, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow unveiled… two pages of a Donald Trump tax return from 2005 that had dollar amounts, but no incriminating details.

Americans on both sides of the aisle were underwhelmed, with even Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign press secretary mocking the reveal.

It’s not the first time, however, that the media hype didn’t match the big reveal on a story, as you’ll see below.

Geraldo Rivera Al Capone
Incredibly, this 1974 photo is not the most embarrassing moment of Geraldo Rivera’s career as a journalist. (ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images


Geraldo Rivera “Gets” Capone. In hindsight, it seems endearingly misguided: why would a network devote two hours of live air during primetime to an excavation with no guarantee there was anything to report? In 1986, that’s the gamble Rivera took when he opened legendary gangster Al Capone’s vault. The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults is still remembered today as one of the greatest debacles in TV history, though it was actually a massive ratings hit. (Just one that left its viewers disappointed and disgusted.) Read the Mental Floss oral history here.

Opening the Titanic’s Safe. Just a year later, TV again offered a chance to watch as something historic offered its secrets. And again, the result was viewers tuning in to see not very much. Hosted by Kojak star Telly Savalas, the two-hour special Return to the Titanic . . . Live ultimately revealed some jewelry, old banknotes, and that one of the members of the team had already peeked inside, taking away even the nominal suspense from a grueling 120 minutes.

O.J.’s “Confession.” Leaving aside the morality of a project that was intended to reward a man financially for revealing how he slaughtered two people, O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened didn’t even deliver the promised morbid payoff. (Thanks to the “If” in the title, Simpson insisted it was purely a hypothetical he did for the paycheck.) The Goldman family ultimately won control of the book in bankruptcy court and published it as If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, which Vanity Fair described in a review as “gliding surface and obvious behavior and psychobabbly introspection.”

L.A. Times “Proves” the Notorious B.I.G. Killed Tupac. The 2002 story by the Los Angeles Times seemed too incredible to be true: Had the rapper the Notorious B.I.G. really ordered the murder of his onetime friend Tupac Shakur? As evidence, they offered… comments by anonymous gang members. Holes in the article quickly surfaced, primarily the fact that the sources alleged B.I.G. arranged the murder in Las Vegas and was present nearby on the night of the killing, yet there was no proof placing him in Sin City. The story was quickly forgotten and the world quickly moved on to tales of Biggie and Tupac chilling together in New Zealand.

The Secret Assassination of Zachary Taylor. Taylor was the U.S. President from 1849 to 1850, when at 65 he dropped dead not long after reportedly consuming a large amount of cherries and iced milk. Okay, that does ring as a little suspicious, so it’s no surprise that there has long been speculation he was murdered. Indeed, in 1991 media pressure became so intense that his body was exhumed and it was finally proved that… eh, actually he wasn’t poisoned, after all. Despite the disappointment, the assassination conspiracy theories continue to the present day.

Below, see media hype at its best with a 30-second spot for Capone’s Vaults that makes Rachel Maddow’s Tuesday night broadcast seem subdued. (Yes, it does feature simulated gunfire.)

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife

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