NYT Publishes Trump Tax Returns

Should we question the timing?

Last night, I received a flurry of phone alerts telling me that Donald Trump has paid essentially no taxes since 2000. While this doesn’t surprise me in the least, I’m more than a little dubious that we’re just getting this reporting now, on the eve of the first presidential debate.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, whose paper broke the story, explains,

Today we are publishing the results of an examination of decades of personal and corporate tax records for President Trump and his businesses in the United States and abroad. The records stretch from his days as a high-profile New York real estate investor through the beginning of his time in the White House.

A team of New York Times reporters has pored over this information to assemble the most comprehensive picture of the president’s finances and business dealings to date, and we will continue our reporting and publish additional articles about our findings in the weeks ahead. We are not making the records themselves public because we do not want to jeopardize our sources, who have taken enormous personal risks to help inform the public.

We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances. Every president since the mid-1970s has made his tax information public. The tradition ensures that an official with the power to shake markets and change policy does not seek to benefit financially from his actions.

Mr. Trump, one of the wealthiest presidents in the nation’s history, has broken with that practice. As a candidate and as president, Mr. Trump has said he wanted to make his tax returns public, but he has never done so. In fact, he has fought relentlessly to hide them from public view and has falsely asserted that he could not release them because he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. More recently, Mr. Trump and the Justice Department have fought subpoenas from congressional and New York State investigators seeking his taxes and other financial records.

Baquet and I are in agreement on this. The longstanding norm in American politics is for politicians to release their tax records and financial disclosure forms. While hugely invasive, it has long been understood to be part of the cost of doing business.

Still, I maintain the unpopular opinion that politicians who refuse to participate in this exercise have the right to do so. In return, voters have every right to believe doing so raises a red flag, or even disqualifies them from office.

Given that tax records are private, I’m highly skeptical of news organizations publishing them. That’s especially true when they do so without disclosing how they obtained them.

Further, Trump’s taxes have been a big topic going back more than five years now. Publishing them five weeks before an election should raise eyebrows. Let alone choosing now to publish a weekslong series on the matter. It smacks of putting their thumb on the scale.

Baquet addresses these issues obliquely.

The reporters who examined these records have been covering the president’s finances and taxes for almost four years. Their work on this and other projects was guided by Paul Fishleder, a senior investigative editor, and Matthew Purdy, a deputy managing editor who oversees investigations and special projects at The Times.

So, if they’ve been doing it for four years, why now? I’m suspicious that they just now concluded the investigation. For that matter, if they have, why not publish what they have rather than dragging it out?

Some will raise questions about publishing the president’s personal tax information. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the First Amendment allows the press to publish newsworthy information that was legally obtained by reporters even when those in power fight to keep it hidden. That powerful principle of the First Amendment applies here.

Sure. But that goes to the legal right to publish, which is not in dispute.

But, again, these are personal records that Trump has, quite legally, decided not to share with the public.* How did the Times acquire them? When did they acquire them? And why publish them in dribs and drabs?

Absent satisfactory answers to those questions, this comes across as the New York Times serving as the Biden campaign’s personal opposition research arm. That may be good for the country in the short term but it’s bad for the institution of the press.

The rather obvious caveat to all this comes from what seems a throwaway line in Baquet’s note:

Mr. Trump’s businesses appear to have benefited from his position, and his far-flung holdings have created potential conflicts between his own financial interests and the nation’s diplomatic interests.

The early reporting being picked up by the wires and other Breaking News outlets have focused on the amount of taxes Trump has/has not paid and his failures as a businessman. To the extent the story is about the use of the White House to serve his private interests, the public’s right to know trumps just about any other journalistic value.

_________________________

*The Supreme Court has, quite correctly, ruled that Congress and those conducting criminal investigations into Trump’s finance have the right to them for legitimate public purposes. But that’s a separate question.

FILED UNDER: Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    That may be good for the country in the short term but it’s bad for the institution of the press.

    Yes. It is extremely bad that the NYT reported that Trump will have to figure out a way to pay off hundreds of millions dollars in loans in the next few years.

    After all, the public has no legitimate business being aware of this massive conflict of interest.

    On a more serious note, this is exactly the kind of news the press should report.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    “As media companies become more and more reliant on subscription revenue, they evolve to telling the readers what they want to hear, and I think that’s true of frankly every journalistic organization in America,” he said.

    Aaron Mishkin

    Welcome to the new media world https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/oh-dear-its-monday-again/#comment-2548461

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  3. Lounsbury says:

    Well you are consistent in your preciousness at least.

    Given the financial structure complexity of the Trump organization, and it’s opaqueness (as well as the deliberate mixing of personal with corporate), and the rather open evidence of direct profiteering from the Presidential office, it hardly seems either unfair or unreasonable that such be done over installments.

    Hand wringing here is really quite precious.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    As @drj: points out, despite the apparent salaciousness of this, confirming that Trump is in hawk up to his ears and the bill will become due during his next term is what makes this newsworthy. While who he owes the money is still an open question, the speculation that it is Russian banks and oligarchs is reasonable.

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  5. al Ameda says:

    A few points:

    Baquet and I are in agreement on this. The longstanding norm in American politics is for politicians to release their tax records and financial disclosure forms. While hugely invasive, it has long been understood to be part of the cost of doing business.


    (1) Now that ‘norms’ don’t matter and do not apply, I believe that the old now-defunct ‘norm’ should be replaced with legislation that requires disclosure of the most recent 8 years of tax returns.

    Further, Trump’s taxes have been a big topic going back more than five years now. Publishing them five weeks before an election should raise eyebrows. Let alone choosing now to publish a weekslong series on the matter. It smacks of putting their thumb on the scale.


    (2) IMO … This his information will have no effect. In fact, his supporters will think it’s ‘bad ass’ and love it that he paid no taxes, after all, taxes are Marxist confiscation intended to pay for Socialist stuff.
    (3) Thumb on the scale? Normally I’d agree, but after Comey’s 2016 ‘October surprise’ and the ensuing 3+ years of destruction of the Federal government, I just can’t get too upset about this, especially while Barr plans various September, October, and November ‘surprises.’

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  6. CSK says:

    If anything, this revelation has made Cult45 even more determined to protect and defend Trump, which is precisely what I expected the cult to do.

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  7. drj says:

    The early reporting being picked up by the wires and other Breaking News outlets have focused on the amount of taxes Trump has/has not paid and his failures as a businessman.

    What is wrong with this?

    Trump sold and continues to sell his candidacy using the claim that he was a successful businessman.

    Why on earth should the press refrain from exposing this lie?

    Trump himself introduced his business success and personal wealth into the public convversation. As a presidential candidate, he doesn’t get to claim privacy on these topics now.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    It is extremely bad that the NYT reported that Trump will have to figure out a way to pay off hundreds of millions dollars in loans in the next few years.

    Again, I caveat that in the last paragraph (and begin digging into that in the next post). It’s not what the Breaking News stories are emphasizing.

    @Lounsbury:

    Given the financial structure complexity of the Trump organization, and it’s opaqueness (as well as the deliberate mixing of personal with corporate), and the rather open evidence of direct profiteering from the Presidential office, it hardly seems either unfair or unreasonable that such be done over installments.

    That’s a fair point. Again, my point is that timing a reporting series that’s been reportable for years with the closing stages of an election raises questions that ought to be answered.

    @al Ameda:

    I believe that the old now-defunct ‘norm’ should be replaced with legislation that requires disclosure of the most recent 8 years of tax returns.

    I’m probably okay with that. But that hasn’t happened.

    IMO … This his information will have no effect. In fact, his supporters will think it’s ‘bad ass’ and love it that he paid no taxes, after all, taxes are Marxist confiscation intended to pay for Socialist stuff.

    At this point, I’m not sure what could deter his hard core supporters. The race is now about “swing” voters and turnout.

    @al Ameda:

    after Comey’s 2016 ‘October surprise’ and the ensuing 3+ years of destruction of the Federal government, I just can’t get too upset about this, especially while Barr plans

    I think Comey’s bungling of a bad situation is in a different camp than Barr’s mendacity. But I’m not sure why we’d compare government action and that of the press.

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Welcome to the new media world

    Maybe so. But the Times, especially, has strived for well over a century to be above reproach and be America’s Newspaper of Record.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    My concern here is the release. I have had big issues with all these tax write offs that rich people can take.
    By what right does a newspaper release private records of a US citizen? My big concern is if the president’s tax returns are somehow open to the public, where does that leave the regular working folks out here like me? I don’t want my taxes released by the IRS, NYT, or Scholastic News! What would be next? Medical records, credit card information, internet history, and school report cards? What if I got hold of the NYT subscriber lists and made that public, complete with their phone and credit card numbers? You know what would happen.
    Our privacy is a thing of the past, and these cell phones have made it a lot worser!

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    Trump has a number of reasons to withhold his tax info, and most people seem to be focused on his wanting to keep up the sham the he is a successful businessman in order to fool the voters. But, ask the NY AG’s investigation hints at, Trump is at personal legal liability here. If, as seems incredibly likely, he took out loans or secured investors with one set of books (“All my businesses are making money hand over foot! Get in on the action!”) and then presented a different set of books to the IRS, he is in serious legal trouble, perhaps even criminal trouble. Josh Marshall speculates that’s one of the reasons Trump is desperate to stay in office – his tactics so far has been to claim almost limitless presidential immunity.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Absent satisfactory answers to those questions, this comes across as the New York Times serving as the Biden campaign’s personal opposition research arm. That may be good for the country in the short term but it’s bad for the institution of the press.

    I’m sorry, I mean really sorry, as it is impossible for me to take this sentiment serious in any way shape or form, when FOX, Sinclair, and OAN have been doing the heavy lifting for Republicans for years/decades. Really James, that boat sailed a long, long, looooooooooooooooong time ago.

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  12. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s a fair point. Again, my point is that timing a reporting series that’s been reportable for years with the closing stages of an election raises questions that ought to be answered.

    I was with you to the point that if candidates don’t release their tax returns, it’s up to voters to decide.

    But the “reportable for four years” angle is a reach just to grasp at straws. We don’t know when the latest batch of returns was obtained. It’s quite possible that they didn’t find them until recently. More to the point, it may have been the source who chose the timing.

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  13. Jen says:

    @Tyrell:

    where does that leave the regular working folks out here like me?

    Don’t be ridiculous, the issue here is that Trump is a public figure, the elected head of government, and in a position to lean on/compel/press/influence/cajole people into behavior that benefits HIMSELF.

    This is precisely why it has become pro forma for presidential candidates to release their taxes. Unless you are similarly situated in the public eye with significant influence, no need to worry.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    FOX, Sinclair, and OAN have been doing the heavy lifting for Republicans for years/decades.

    But my premise is that the New York Times is not supposed to be like those entities.

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  15. Kurtz says:

    @Tyrell:

    The credit cards and addresses aren’t comparable.

    As far as releasing tax records, people who run for public (repeat that) office give up some of their privacy.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Kurtz:

    We don’t know when the latest batch of returns was obtained. It’s quite possible that they didn’t find them until recently. More to the point, it may have been the source who chose the timing.

    Absolutely! But given how quickly the questions arose as I started looking at the story, it seems obvious to me that Baquet should have addressed them head on.

    1. When did the Times get these returns?
    2. Did they come all at once or piece by piece?
    3. What is the nature of their source? What motivation did they have?

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  17. Jen says:

    Let’s not leave the lawyers out of the questions about timing. Depending on how the NYT acquired these documents, this might be the result of a LOT of legal review. I’m guessing even each piece written might need to be reviewed. I’d likely chalk the timing up to that, but honestly this isn’t going to matter much at all.

    Trump’s supporters are falling all over themselves to explain this all away, as per usual. Fence sitters for this election are exceedingly rare.

    Also, Comey & emails–the NYT’s timing is what it is.

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  18. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Tyrell:

    I don’t want my taxes released by the IRS, NYT, or Scholastic News!

    Then may I suggest that you do not run for President.

    In fact, if your privacy is that important to you, I’d suggest that you discontinue expressing your opinion on these pages. By going back and looking at your prior posts readers here have learned a great deal about you: your opinions, your sports, your past living locations etc. These are private issues that you are giving out freely.

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  19. Kathy says:

    Still, I maintain the unpopular opinion that politicians who refuse to participate in this exercise have the right to do so.

    That’s not what Trump did. He did not say “I wont’ release my tax records for these reasons.”

    Instead he promised to release them, then reneged on that promise, making up lies and moving the goal posts while doing so.

    As to the timing, it’s as @OzarkHillbilly said in their comment.

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Again, my point is that timing a reporting series that’s been reportable for years with the closing stages of an election raises questions that ought to be answered.

    James, I would suggest you haven’t been paying attention for the past 4 or 5 years. Many stories concerning Trump’s finances have been reported by this team and a few others on a continuous and ongoing basis. A few that come to mind (there are many many more): Earlier this year or late last year they (or one of the other teams) obtained some partial tax returns from a few years ago and there was extensive reporting on that. There was later reporting on how those returns compared to what Trump had submitted to banks (Deutsche Bank?) on loan applications and municipal taxing authorities. There has been many articles about the financing of his businesses and just a few months ago there was extensive reporting on how much his father’s business was actually worth and how much of Trump’s real estate fortune was actually what his father built (hint: virtually all of it).

    It may be a trope on the Right that this article came out of nowhere and is designed to put the thumb on the scale, but it simply doesn’t square with the record.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    But given how quickly the questions arose as I started looking at the story, it seems obvious to me that Baquet should have addressed them head on.

    Why? Because Republicans are whining? The NYTimes owes the public exactly one thing about these tax returns: have they done the due diligence to insure they are real? They explain extensively why they are certain they have the right stuff. Other than that, they shouldn’t release any more details about their origin so as to protect their sources.

    Republicans are gonna whine. They are gonna be offended. And if their “serious questions” are answered, they will move the goalposts and start whining about that. It’s all a performance of perpetual aggrievement. Don’t fall for it.

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  22. Kathy says:

    BTW, I haven’t read what Trump King of the Covidiots and his apologists are saying about this, because we know Trump will lie and his apologists will obfuscate. But I get it they’re all claiming this is “fake” news.

    Fine.

    Trump can easily disprove the Times’ reporting, and sue them for libel until they bleed, by the simple expedient of making his tax returns public.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    Jesus, @James, this is an embarrassing knee-jerk Republicanism on your part. Your post vacuous, irrelevant and trivial.

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  24. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Why? Because Republicans are whining?

    It was literally among the first things I asked myself as I started to dig into the reporting this morning. I have consumed zero reaction to the stories, aside from the OTB comments to my own blogging on them. I think it’s a natural question/series of questions to ask when the Newspaper of Record starts reporting on years-old tax returns just as the campaign kicks off in earnest tomorrow night.

    @MarkedMan:

    Many stories concerning Trump’s finances have been reported by this team and a few others on a continuous and ongoing basis.

    Yes, that’s absolutely true. But those struck me as in the course of normal reporting: they got returns, investigated them thoroughly, and reported when they were ready. That may well be what happened here. But the timing is more suspicious given where we are in the cycle.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    this is an embarrassing knee-jerk Republicanism on your part.

    I don’t think that I could have been clearer these last five years of my contempt for Trump and his enablers in my former party. But, at my core, I’m an institutionalist. The New York Times is the crown jewel in American political media. I wouldn’t have posted this if, say, The Intercept or The Nation had done the reporting.

    And I wrote this partly because Baquet himself felt the need to post an explanatory note and then failed to answer what I thought were obvious questions.

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  25. EddieInCA says:

    @JamesJoyner

    Let me simplify it for you.
    Based on these results, Trump has been engaged in felony tax fraud for several decades. This isn’t gaming the system. This isn’t taking advantage of tax loopholes. This is felony tax fraud on a massive scale.

    This wasn’t the release of tax returns. No. This was the release of massive evidence against a criminal enterprise.

    Spin it any way you want. That’s the reality.

    Felony. Tax. Fraud.

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  26. a country lawyer says:

    It does not appear that the Times or it’s reporters have Trump’s actual tax returns. The article in the Times refers to the paper having his tax return data. What the Times likely has done is reconstruct his taxes from public filings and good old forensic accounting. Assembling a picture of one’s tax profile from such data for a public figure when such information is relevant to the public interest clearly outweighs that person’s privacy interests.

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  27. Jen says:

    @a country lawyer: They also said that they would not be releasing what they have in order to protect sources. That points to something slightly more detailed than just public records–but also likely highly identifiable/easy to trace back to a source. So, maybe a disclosure form of some sort for a business, etc. It can’t just be public records but those likely do inform/bolster the information they received from the source/sources.

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  28. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Based on these results, Trump has been engaged in felony tax fraud for several decades. This isn’t gaming the system. This isn’t taking advantage of tax loopholes. This is felony tax fraud on a massive scale.

    You would certainly think so. But he was engaging in it for at least 15 years before he was President. The IRS was only auditing the one thing as best I can figure—the massive refund he successfully claimed a few years back. Even granting that the system is stacked in favor of the fraudsters, it’s baffling that the IRS didn’t catch him before now if it’s so cut and dried.

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  29. I have to say that this doesn’t strike me as some weird deviation from long-standing press behavior.

    1. It is a big enough story to sell papers (and get clicks).
    2. It is legitimate, timely news.

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  30. Tyrell says:

    @Jen: Thanks for your attention and response to my article. Privacy is a big issue nowadays as we are losing more of it. I plan to remove a lot of apps from my cell phone. My provider said they would help with that because it can be tricky. I think some of these corporations eavesdrop on our personal conversations in the home, through the phone or smart devices (Alexa?).
    One tax issue I have is paying a 14% income tax rate on an annual income of around $40,000. The people at the IRS are very helpful. The problem there is the hour-long phone wait.

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  31. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Even granting that the system is stacked in favor of the fraudsters, it’s baffling that the IRS didn’t catch him before now if it’s so cut and dried.

    No. It’s not baffling at all. The GOP’s desire to gut government over the last three decades has left the IRS horribly understaffed. I’ve had accountants tell me, “Do it. We’ll take our chances at the audit, if we get audited. It’s not like the old days.” I fired those accountants.

    https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/irs-data-book-tells-story-shrinking-staff-fewer-audits-and-less-customer-service

    https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/29/paper-tax-returns-irs-290112

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  32. JKB says:

    Well, you might question the time, and the coordination.

    Democrats wasted no time in seizing on the news, with the Biden campaign’s online store already selling stickers saying “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump” on Sunday night.

    The release of the story now was obviously to make it “news” so that would be used in the debate Tuesday. Wouldn’t want a debate on policy or something.

    Given the corruption in the IRS evident by their harassment of Tea Party organizations, it was very unlikely there would be anything in Trump’s tax returns, otherwise someone a the IRS would have leaked them earlier. Same with NY tax authorities.

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  33. CSK says:

    @a country lawyer: @Jen:
    I wonder if the NYT’s source is Mary Trump. She’s provided them with other documentation.

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  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    You know, I can’t even get mad at you. I just get so much joy from watching you grasping at straws, like the last person off the Titanic wondering if maybe that Champagne cork will float you in the North Atlantic. Grab it, @JKB, grab that cork, boy, because Kate Winslet’s got the whole raft to herself.

    What was that? Glub? Did you say, glub? Glub glub?

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  35. Joe says:

    It does not appear that the Times or it’s reporters have Trump’s actual tax returns.

    Actually, a country lawyer, they cite certain lines of his tax returns.

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  36. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    1. It is a big enough story to sell papers (and get clicks).
    2. It is legitimate, timely news.

    Aside from my longstanding qualms about publishing tax records that were almost surely released to the Times illegally–i.e., by someone who either stole them or had a fiduciary obligation to keep them private—we agree. My concern here is literally about the timing: Why now, on the eve of the debate? It strikes me as an unlikely coincidence.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the Times, especially, has strived for well over a century to be above reproach and be America’s Newspaper of Record.

    The Times leverages that reputation, but their business is peddling papers. Four years ago they were selling papers with HER EMAILZ!!! and her Foundation. Never actually alleging any wrongdoing by her foundation, but not for lack of trying. Now they’re going to peddle a lot of papers dribbling out Trump’s tax returns just before the election. The timing, if not driven by the source, driven by marketing, not partisan, concerns. It’s a shitty system, but it’s what we’ve got.

    I share some qualms about disclosing tax records, but I’ll live with it in return for the good this is likely to do. Sounds like someone leaked a huge data dump of Trump’s financials. Are they supposed to just sit on it? How would you feel if Trump were re-elected and next year NYT Let slip they had his records but out of some new-found Muelleresque sense of ethics they sat on them?

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  38. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:The reporting on the previous release was in May of 2019 so we know they got this after. They’ve had it at most 16 months and probably less. They had to verify provenance, and then check out each and every item that they were considering mentioning. It looks like they also did extensive investigation as to whether the items were corroborated with other documentation or sources. They knew that one mistake, no matter how trivial, would be jumped on by Republicans to denounce the whole thing. FWIW, my reaction was the exact opposite of yours: I wondered if they had rushed this. Initial impressive is “no”.

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  39. Jen says:

    @CSK: There are loads of possibilities for sourcing. The most interesting thing to me is how many people out there likely have access to this type of data, and yet it hasn’t leaked.

    For example, the golf courses in both Scotland and Ireland–there are likely loads of documents connected to those projects abroad, and plenty of people probably have access to them. Ditto for his ex-wives, any business partners, etc. The fact that there aren’t a lot of documents out there floating around speaks to two things: one, that many people take their jobs and the protection of documentation seriously; and two, the rather infamous litigiousness of Trump org.

    @JKB: I’ve seen a bit of bleating about this from the right, so let’s address this head-on. Any campaign worth its salt has a rapid-response team that is dedicated to grabbing news stories and getting a wide array of content generated extremely quickly. No “coordination” is necessary if you have a competent campaign team, just a war room and decent hires.

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  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    it’s baffling that the IRS didn’t catch him before now if it’s so cut and dried.

    Seriously? You don’t know how the IRS operates?

    They don’t squeeze people with money and lawyers, they squeeze middle class businessmen because it’s not about collection, it’s about intimidation, sending a message. Do billionaires ‘get the message?’ No, they get lawyers. The message is for the middle class: pay up or we’ll screw you like we did the dry cleaner down the street.

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  41. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The GOP’s desire to gut government over the last three decades has left the IRS horribly understaffed.

    Yes, I alluded to that in my first follow-up post and blogged about the ProPublica report at length in May 2019. [EDIT TO ADD: But this has actually been a bipartisan enterprise. Many of the cuts in auditing capacity took place when Obama and the Democrats controlled the whole shooting match.]

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  42. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Very few tax returns are audited. Less than half a percent. The Republicans have been relentless since Reagan in disparaging the IRS and limiting what they can do. It is not at all surprising that Trump has only been nabbed once.

    In other words, roughly 1 out of every 220 taxpayers were audited last year. A decade ago, those odds were closer to 1 in 90.

    “Very few people get audited,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

    The dip in audits over the past decade is largely due to budget and personnel reductions over that time period.

    The IRS budget of $11.4 billion in 2018 was about 20% less than it was in 2010, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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  43. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yes, that’s fair. I’ve written about this before: it’s just incredibly difficult and time-consuming to go after complicated tax schemes.

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  44. Teve says:

    Kevin Drum:

    Trump’s story turns out to be pretty simple. After screwing everybody in sight during the ’90s, he entered 2000 in parlous shape. What saved him was The Apprentice, which earned him a boatload of money and formed the foundation of his flurry of licensing and endorsement deals over the next few years. But as revenue from the show faded, so did Trump’s finances, and since 2012 he’s been losing money every year. Long story short, Trump has lost money at pretty much everything he’s ever done. The only exception is The Apprentice and the licensing money it enabled—which probably owes more to reality show mogul Mark Burnett than to Trump himself.

    Trump’s ability to squander the money he inherited is breathtaking. He’s also deeply in debt, it turns out, with about $300 million in loans coming due over the next few years. It’s no wonder he’s been so assiduous at trying to turn the Oval Office into his own private ATM.

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  45. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell: Tyrell, you should be very, very angry at your tax preparer. If your annual income is $40K and all you have is the standard deduction that should get you down to less than $28K, i.e. you pay 0% taxes on the first $12.4K. The next $10K of that is taxed at 10%, and the remaining $18K is taxed at 12%. Your total Federal income taxes should at most be just over $3K. Your effective tax rate would then be about 8.25%. Tyrell, I fear you are being robbed by your accountant.

    (Of course, more likely, you are delighted with having “triggered” me into doing the research and spending time pointing out the “errors” in your post. And normally I wouldn’t fall for it. But, and I admit this is probably bizarre, I actually enjoy these types of problems. So thanks.)

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  46. Teve says:

    Trump’s in hock to (probly) the Russians for hundreds of millions and that’s not a good thing to report. Takes some real deformed thinking to reach that conclusion.

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  47. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yes, that’s fair. I’ve written about this before: it’s just incredibly difficult and time-consuming to go after complicated tax schemes.

    Which is a great reminder that most of our crime statistics (which, btw, are voluntarily reported by law enforcement and have very limited vetting) don’t adequately represent the extend and type of crimes that are actually happening within the US. They represent only the ones that the most observable/easiest to report. Which skews our understanding of the topic.

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  48. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Oh, it’s the timing that’s the issue here, is it? Yeah, right, sure, uh huh, you bet.

    It’s posts like this that make me think the either James has crossed the line into parody or he’s just keeping a straight face while he yanks our collective chain. Seriously not sure which.

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  49. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    They don’t squeeze people with money and lawyers, they squeeze middle class businessmen because it’s not about collection, it’s about intimidation, sending a message. Do billionaires ‘get the message?’ No, they get lawyers. The message is for the middle class: pay up or we’ll screw you like we did the dry cleaner down the street.

    Absolutely f*ing right. The Republicans don’t care if the little guy gets audited, they only help the rich.

    How deep does it go? Here’s one from many years ago. The Republicans had control and had passed some extensive tax “reforms”. A friend of mine who was in the finance sector mentioned to me to make sure I did… something (I can’t remember exactly, as this was a long time ago) on my tax returns, and that it would be easy to miss. I started thinking about it and realized that this change had an absolutely zero effect on revenue. It was literally just a change in how something was filed. “Are you sure that’s the rule?”, I asked, “It won’t raise any more revenue or reduce taxes.” He looked at me like I was a newborn babe, innocent in the ways of the world. “Of course it will raise revenue – from people who do their own taxes. The better off people have accountants and the accountants will get this right. The people who do their own taxes will miss it or be confused and the IRS is automatically looking at this line and will get to charge a penalty when it is incorrect. The tax bill actually lists the expected penalties on the plus side of the ledger, allowing them to give bigger tax cuts to the wealthy while remaining revenue neutral.”

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  50. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    The only thing that’s ever obsessed Trump more than the acquisition of money is acceptance by Manhattan’s true social and financial upper crust. He spent the first half of his adult life desperately trying to buy his way into those circles (you can’t) and the second half trying to get his revenge on them for spurning him.

    I don’t think most people realize how profoundly this obsession has corrupted any capacity he ever had to do business successfully–or even to engage in rational thought. Bear in mind he lost money promoting gambling and peddling booze. That’s practically impossible.

    Fred Trump, racist crook though he was, was wiser than his son when he warned Donald not to go into Manhattan because Trumps didn’t belong there.

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  51. Jen says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: Even the timing question can be seen from another perspective– if it was earlier, there’d have been criticism about whatever aspect of the timing was seen as problematic. Even now, it could be argued that it’s either too late (people have already started voting) or too early (lots of time between now and the election to forget this), or simply that it’ll be knocked off everyone’s radar by some stupidity in the debates, etc., etc., etc.

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  52. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Oh, it’s the timing that’s the issue here, is it? Yeah, right, sure, uh huh, you bet.

    By the time you wrote this, I’d already posted two other pieces digging into the substance of the reports, both customarily critical of Trump. But, yes, I think it’s worth asking about the timing of the Newspaper of Record’s weekslong series of reports on this subject.

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  53. Kingdaddy says:

    Further, Trump’s taxes have been a big topic going back more than five years now. Publishing them five weeks before an election should raise eyebrows. Let alone choosing now to publish a weekslong series on the matter. It smacks of putting their thumb on the scale.

    Wife: “I have proof that you have been cheating on me.”
    Husband: “Your tone is so judgmental. You just want to tear me down.”
    Wife: “Please don’t focus on my tone. We’re having a conversation about facts.”
    Husband: “Why are you bringing this up now, the day before our anniversary? Couldn’t you have brought it up before?”
    Wife: “I just found out. But I don’t need to defend my timing. It happened.”
    Husband: “So you’ve been spying on me!”

    And so on.

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  54. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Many of the cuts in auditing capacity took place when Obama and the Democrats controlled the whole shooting match

    This is completely fair and I’ll take it as a caution to myself to remember that when it comes to regulatory capture the Dems can be just as bad as the Republicans. I believe it was a Dem Senator who (behind the scenes) led the successful campaign to prioritize credit card companies over child support and alimony in bankruptcy cases.

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  55. James Joyner says:

    @Kingdaddy: I think we can have these conversations simultaneously. The Times has published some interesting information that reveals newsworthy things about the sitting President. We should talk about them! But it’s also fine to talk about journalistic ethics at the same time.

    I did that, for example, with the revelations of the massive data-mining operation the NSA was conducting under the Bush administration. And of the various Wikileaks reports. We can be simultaneously interested in government malfeasance and in the means and motives of those revealing the information.

    And I can do that regardless of how I feel about the party being damaged politically by the information dump. Here, for example, I’m both glad that this could hurt Trump and worried about how it impacts the degree to which the Times is viewed as an impartial arbiter of the news.

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  56. sam says:

    One probable effect of the publication is the utter vitiation of the efforts of Trump’s lawyers in New York.

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  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    There are no journalistic ethical issues here. This wasn’t an editorial, this was extensively researched and vetted data being reported in a timely manner.

    When was the time when it would have been OK to let the American people in on the facts? Anyone have a date? Was it. . . fingers crossed. . . oh, I’m gonna say. . . Tuesday, August 4? Did I get it right?

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  58. Monala says:

    @MarkedMan: Unless Tyrell is adding in his FICA (SS and Medicare) with his federal taxes. The employee’s portion is 7.65%.

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  59. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    When was the time when it would have been OK to let the American people in on the facts?

    As a general rule, I think the answer to that question is: As soon as you’re sure you have the facts right. So, for example, I tend to be highly critical of reporters who save the juicy bits for their books.

    I’m more torn on facts derived from presumably-stolen tax records. But, to the extent that there’s a compelling public interest that outweighs privacy concerns—and I think that likely applies here—I think the answer is the same.

    So, to be clear, I’m not accusing the Times of holding the information until it could most damage Trump. This may have been the earliest possible time they could have been confident in their information. I’m literally just posing a question that I think Baquet should have answered in his explanatory note.

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  60. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    Q: How did the Times acquire them?
    A:Can’t answer this without compromising sources.

    Q: When did they acquire them?
    A: Can’t answer without compromising sources. If, for example, it was dates coinciding with Reince Priebus’s tenure, that tells you something.

    Q: And why publish them in dribs and drabs?
    A: Because they might want to save some column inches for other stories? Because they want to sell more papers? Because they want the public to have time to digest the information? Because it’s not really your business unless you have some reason to suspect foul play? Do you?

    But you knew all those answers. And you knew that you had no basis in fact for this doubt expressed in the first graf:

    I’m more than a little dubious that we’re just getting this reporting now, on the eve of the first presidential debate.

    Also, given the rather obvious answers to your questions, you certainly had no grounds for this:

    Absent satisfactory answers to those questions, this comes across as the New York Times serving as the Biden campaign’s personal opposition research arm.

    And this:

    That may be good for the country in the short term but it’s bad for the institution of the press.

    Is what, exactly? Concern trolling? Remember how damaged the NYT was by publishing the stolen, secret Pentagon Papers? What with that Pulitzer trophy shelf collapsing and all?

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  61. Blue Galangal says:

    BUT HER EMAILS!

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  62. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You can keep punching @James, but he finally read the sidebar articles and a light bulb went off. He hasn’t completely let go of the pearls yet, but the grip is loosening. We know that @James can be stubborn, but he is slowly coming our way, though he won’t join the posse.

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  63. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I was just coming back here to post something exactly along these lines. Thanks. Now I can get some actual work done…

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  64. MarkedMan says:

    @Monala: I believe the entity known as “Tyrell” claims to be receiving Social Security and Medicare. It would be a smart move on his part to now declaim that he shouldn’t have to pay into SS and Medicare because, reasons! That will generate outrage and responses from a good number of people. Not me, though.

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  65. inhumans99 says:

    Okay, to add my 2 cents to the timing thing. Yes, the NYT is putting their thumb on the scale but just like Fox News getting away with guiding the policy making decisions of President Trump that does not bother me.

    Also, there are two big reasons why they could not wait until we are closer to the election to release this news, one is the first debate coming up tomorrow evening, and two, in less than two weeks states will start sending out ballots so people have plenty of time to vote and send it in for processing. I think CA will start delivering ballots on 10/08, so releasing this info weeks after a good chunk of the country has already voted does not help change anyone’s mind. The NYT had to release now or forever hold their peace.

    Again, I am not disputing the timing is geared towards benefiting Biden as that would be like me trying to deny it will be miserable again in Fremont today with smoky skies and a 96 degree high (for Fremont, CA that is extremely hot).

    The funny thing is that everyone wants to clutch pearls ant tut, tut the NYT for the suspicious timing of this report and yet for the past few months Barr, Johnson, and other GOP politicians have been shockingly open that they are timing the release of any investigations they have running regarding Hunter Biden, etc. to be released to the press/public when they feel it can do maximum damage to Biden’s elections campaign. If most people are not bothered by such admissions than the timing of the NYT Tax story should also not bother them in the least.

    What makes me smile is that so far the GOP has failed at turning Hunter Biden into an individual that most folks care about or want to learn more about. Certainly, the tax story will start to overtake mentions of Hunter Biden in the press.

    After all, politics is not bean bag.

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  66. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I fuck off and avoid work so you don’t have to, my friend.

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  67. BugManDan says:

    @inhumans99: My ballot has already arrived and been delivered back to the county office.

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  68. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Further, Trump’s taxes have been a big topic going back more than five years now. Publishing them five weeks before an election should raise eyebrows. Let alone choosing now to publish a weekslong series on the matter. It smacks of putting their thumb on the scale.

    And yet you post two additional pieces on this topic. Okay Boomer. [sigh]

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  69. Kathy says:

    Will anyone take a bet that between now and the election, Trump will demand Biden release his tax returns, and/or demand the Times conduct a similar investigation on Biden?

    Now, he may not be stupid enough to demand something like this during a debate, but he is more than stupid enough, and his base as obliging enough, to bring it up in a campaign rally.

    Of course, Biden has released his returns already. But when has truth or fact proven an impediment to Trump?

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  70. Mu Yixiao says:

    @inhumans99:

    I received my ballot last week. It was delivered to City Hall this morning.

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  71. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Remember how damaged the NYT was by publishing the stolen, secret Pentagon Papers? What with that Pulitzer trophy shelf collapsing and all?

    The Pentagon Papers permanently changed the relationship of government and the press, for both good and ill. An interesting retrospective published by the NYT Magazine on the 10th anniversary observes,

    There are many who hold that, for better or worse, publication of the Pentagon Papers was the beginning of a new period of press militancy, when journalists would increasingly see their function as that of exposing wrongdoing rather than of reprinting Governmental statements. Harrison Salisbury, for example, argues that the reporting of Watergate would not have occurred but for the willingness of the press to publish the Pentagon Papers. And Mr. Bundy cautions that one effect of the Pentagon Papers case is that it led the press, in one sense, to “change for the worse. One of the things that has happened is the growth of the notion that unless the relationship between the press and Government is adversarial, it’s not honest.” Others charge that the pressure to produce investigatory articles has led to a greater reliance by many publications on unnamed sources. (Ironically, both Richard Nixon and Daniel Ellsberg have expressed their suspicions that leaks were increased by the publication of the Papers.)

    I think, on balance, that the Pentagon Papers and Trump’s tax returns are newsworthy enough to justify printing. But I do think that the paper’s executive editor, writing a note to explain why they were being published, ought to have addressed to obvious question of the timing. Yes, there are plausible reasons for it. But I think he could have explained what they were without compromising his sources.

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  72. Matt says:

    @Tyrell: I upvoted you on accident so I feel I need to respond to clarify.

    Our privacy is a thing of the past, and these cell phones have made it a lot worser!

    Only if you choose to make it a thing of the past. You choose to turn over information when you provide it on social media or your phone.

    Privacy has always been relative and directly related to the choices you make.

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  73. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: They appear to have obtained recently (as the phrasing is careful, “legally having access” one rather suspects from a service provider, perhaps accountancy), and given Trump Org is not a properly organized entity but a spaghetti mess, I can hardly fault taking time to avoid getting burned, making errors, etc.

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  74. James Joyner says:

    @Lounsbury:

    given Trump Org is not a properly organized entity but a spaghetti mess, I can hardly fault taking time to avoid getting burned, making errors, etc.

    Absolutely. Again, given that Baquet published a note justifying the series, I’m surprised that he didn’t explain the timing. Because that’s literally the first thing I thought of in giving the report context: that it was news that we’re getting on the eve of the first debate.

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  75. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    The Pentagon Papers is an imperfect example here. New York Times Co. v. United States dealt with executive privilege. In this instance, we have a statute (26 US 7213) which explicitly criminalizes not only the unauthorized disclosure, but also the publication of protected tax information, and that provision hasn’t really been tested.

    I think that the 1A would likely prevail in a rational world. but with this court, it’s difficult to say. At a minimum, I think you should probably expect to see Trump move to seek a TRO to prevent further publication pending legal action. Given the situation, such a motion would have a better than average chance (imlo) of being granted. The Times is wading into deep waters and placing a lot of faith in their belief that the 1A is a blanket get out of jail card.

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  76. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    The movie “The Post,” about how the Washington Post came to publish a portion of the Pentagon papers (after the Times had already published a portion), begins with Daniel Ellsberg, and many others flying back from Vietnam to to US with the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.

    On the plane McNamara asks Ellsberg for his impressions. He says the war is going badly and no progress ever gets made (or words to that effect). McNamara agrees with him.

    In the next scene they disembark in Washington and McNamara is met by the press. He then says the war is going splendidly, that things are progressing, and we must press on.

    This is the setup to justify Ellsberg’s leak years later. And it’s probably fiction.

    But the plain fact is the war was a quagmire, and multiple government officials and two presidents knew this, yet pressed on and lied to the public about it. Add the draft to the equation, where young men were being forced into battle in a quagmire they could not possibly win. I’d argue under the circumstances it was morally criminal not to leak the Pentagon Papers.

    Trump’s tax returns don’t rise to that level of importance, as they involve no war* and no mass destruction. and yet, Trump is harming America and American democracy more than any of America’s many enemies have ever dreamed of. He has also lied about his business acumen, which he used to promote himself in the campaign, and he has broken promises to reales his tax returns.

    I see leaking the returns as fully justified in the moral sense, and I see no moral failure to publish them where they will do Trump the most harm.

    *No shooting war, yet, at any rate. Trump is very much at war with the Blue States.

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  77. Teve says:

    @CSK:

    The only thing that’s ever obsessed Trump more than the acquisition of money is acceptance by Manhattan’s true social and financial upper crust. He spent the first half of his adult life desperately trying to buy his way into those circles (you can’t) and the second half trying to get his revenge on them for spurning him.

    I had, 20 years ago, a girlfriend wake up early in the morning to watch princess Diana‘s funeral. I have never understood attraction to “blue bloods” and I consider it a character defect. I choose friends that are funny and smart and interesting, I do not give a shit who your great granddad was.

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  78. Teve says:

    @Blue Galangal: somebody wrote in Slate or Vox last year that a study found that there was more press coverage of Hillary’s emails than every policy issue combined.

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  79. Teve says:

    No edit function and no markup buttons? WTF?

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  80. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    Trump needs desperately to be accepted and admired by those he regards as his superiors. It’s a level of emptiness and insecurity most psychologically sound people can’t begin to comprehend.

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  81. Jen says:

    @Teve:

    I had, 20 years ago, a girlfriend wake up early in the morning to watch princess Diana‘s funeral.

    I watched it too. Had less to do with her being a “blueblood” than the fact that she really seemed to care about people. Her anti-landmine work and AIDS work was remarkably forward-thinking. She used her celebrity to benefit people.

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  82. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “But my premise is that the New York Times is not supposed to be like those entities.”

    That ship sailed with the Great Clinton Pen@s Hunt, sneering at Gore, bootlicking Dubya and his war, Birtherism, sh$tting on Clinton and keeping mum on Trump in 2016.

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  83. Barry says:

    @James Joyner:
    “1. When did the Times get these returns?
    2. Did they come all at once or piece by piece?
    3. What is the nature of their source? What motivation did they have?”

    They have a scoop and your reaction is ‘prove your own innocence”?

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  84. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “Even granting that the system is stacked in favor of the fraudsters, it’s baffling that the IRS didn’t catch him before now if it’s so cut and dried.”

    Jame, do you not understand that Trump is rich?

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  85. Blue Galangal says:

    @Teve: Oh, I know. I troll the f*** out of the NYT on Twitter just on that basis.

    “In just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” – Vox, https://www.vox.com/2017/12/7/16747712/study-media-2016-election-clintons-emails

    I can’t find it right now, but I know it was an astonishing number of above the fold breathless coverage of her emails. The NYT would need to run 2-3 stories a day from now to the election above the fold about Trump’s taxes to come close to what they did with her emails.

    A related headline of note: Partisan Right-Wing Websites Shaped Mainstream Press Coverage Before 2016 Election, Berkman Klein Study Finds (https://cyber.harvard.edu/node/99982) – the conservatainment tail is still wagging the “liberal” media dog.

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