Hordes of liberal Twitter users went from giddy anticipation to impotent rage Tuesday night as MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s big tease of “Trump tax returns” delivered no new evidence of political collusion between the U.S. president and Russia.
Many messages along these lines came from reporters and editors for establishment news outlets — who claim to be objective and non-partisan while pushing a conspiracy believed almost exclusively by the far left.
As the show aired, several journalists complained about Maddow’s torturously long presentation of background info, which allowed the White House and several other news outlets to get ahead of reporter David Cay Johnston’s “scoop” that Trump paid the IRS $38 million in 2005. Others stayed patient with Maddow, tweeting along to her web of Trump-Russia connections.
Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker expressed hope that these tax returns would clear up “unanswered questions” about “Russian oligarchs”:
Deutsche Bank, Bank of Cypress, Turkey, Flynn, Preet, Russian oligarchs… all unanswered questions ever will be answered by tax returns…
— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) March 15, 2017
Ryan McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief of VICE, linked to an article asking questions about a real estate deal between Trump and a Russian fertilizer magnate:
Here's one story Maddow mentioned on Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev buying Trump's mansion https://t.co/RGGd5rFeRM
— Ryan McCarthy (@mccarthyryanj) March 15, 2017
Peter Sterne, a reporter for Politico, wrote that Maddow’s monologue would only be relevant if the tax return showed “ties between Trump and foreign governments”:
If 2005 tax return shows ties between Trump & foreign governments, then all this context is relevant. But if not, just seems like innuendo.
— Peter Sterne (@petersterne) March 15, 2017
Bill Bishop, Managing Editor of Texas news network KHOU, called the history lesson on Trump and Russia “scary”:
— The Bishop (@BillBishopKHOU) March 15, 2017
Ken Dilanian, reporter for NBC News, apologetically told critics that Maddow was at least introducing a much wider audience to the Trump-Putin conspiracy theory:
Yes, the windup is insufferable, but millions are now hearing things for the first time about the Russia connections.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) March 15, 2017
However, for most viewers, disappointment quickly set in.
Annie Linskey, chief national correspondent for the Boston Globe, spoke for her peers:
Hey @maddow does he owe money to the Russians? All we want to know
— Annie Linskey (@AnnieLinskey) March 15, 2017
Spencer Ackerman, reporter for The Guardian, wondered if he was “missing” the implication of Johnston’s scoop:
Am I missing something or does this tax return not speak to anything re Russia, Azerbaijan or any extant foreign-based concern re Trump?
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) March 15, 2017
The aforementioned McCarthy acknowledged, minutes after his earlier tweet, that Trump’s 2005 return would not illuminate the mysterious property sale of 2008:
— Ryan McCarthy (@mccarthyryanj) March 15, 2017
Max Weiss, managing editor of “the No. 1 lifestyle brand in Baltimore metropolitan area,” also seemed let down:
2005 tax returns pretty meaningless in terms of his ties to Russia.
— Max Weiss (@maxthegirl) March 15, 2017
As Maddow’s show wrapped up, these purportedly non-partisan journalists began to speculate that President Trump himself leaked the document — since it proved far from scandalous.
Noam Schreiber, New York Times reporter, lamented, “There is basically nothing incriminating here”:
More I think about it, more I believe Trump leaked his own returns. There is basically nothing incriminating here. 1/
— Noam Scheiber (@noamscheiber) March 15, 2017
Still, others maintained hope that the story would move forward, either through other leaked tax returns or through federal investigations.
Carlos Maza of Vox subtweeted Maddow’s detractors, such as Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post:
"I knew the tax returns would be a nothingburger," he tweeted, not fully understanding how tax returns, audits, or Russia work.
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) March 15, 2017
Jim Acosta, CNN correspondent, hyped a report about FBI Director Jim Comey potentially announcing a Trump-Russia investigation with a tongue-in-cheek link to the evening’s tax return hoopla:
Psst… More on that 2005 return here… https://t.co/XbPem5ORz1
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 15, 2017
Maggie Haberman, New York Times White House Correspondent, gave a similar preview on the Comey story:
This feels like potentially bigger deal > https://t.co/fxc3VjN4Mo
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 15, 2017
A viral tweet from Evan Osnos, writer for The New Yorker, held out hope for a smoking gun in Trump’s 2008 returns:
Time to start looking for '08 tax return. That was the year Don Jr. said they were getting a "disproportionate" share from Russia etc.
— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) March 15, 2017
Associated Press national reporter Lisa Lerer, Washington Post “fact checker” Glenn Kessler, and the aforementioned Gourevitch retweeted Osnos’s wish.