Last Night: Trump’s Taxes and Alicia Machado

In which one of our critics finds an example of the media using good judgment.

Last Night: Trump's Taxes and Alicia Machado


Another installment in our ongoing effort to monitor how politics is covered on prime-time television (and, occasionally, other major media).


Trump’s Taxes

Orchids to the PBS NewsHour for a fascinating discussion of Donald Trump’s tax problems between the program’s economics correspondent, Paul Solman, and Pulitzer Prize-winning economics reporter David Cay Johnston. Johnston actually gives Trump something of a pass on his apparent not paying of any federal income tax. That is on Congress, Johnston says, not Trump, since our tax laws allow rich folks like Trump who own real estate to depreciate almost every expense, real estate-related or not, so long as they spend 15 hours a week managing property.

Purple orchids

Orchids (Photo: Ramesh NG [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

But here is where it gets interesting. Johnston focuses on another of Trump’s potential tax dodges – his appeal of an audit to New York state tax authorities when he claimed to have made zero revenue from consulting and yet deducted more than $600,000 of expenses without any documentation.

And, wait! There’s more. The tax preparer whose signature is at the bottom of the return, Johnston says, swears he did not prepare it. Johnston’s conclusion: “These are very strong badges of fraud.” And just for good measure, Johnston also cites Trump’s buying jewelry at Bulgari’s, and then having the store send empty boxes to an out-of-state address so he could avoid paying New York sales tax. Trump’s federal tax shenanigans may be unethical, but they aren’t illegal. His New York shenanigans may be both.

And I wouldn’t have known about them if it weren’t for the NewsHour.

Miss Universe’s Past

Sliced red onions

Onions (Photo: Darwin Bell [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Onions to Will Rahn – I’d never heard of him either – who is listed as a political correspondent and the digital manager, politics, for the website. Rahn had a prominently featured “commentary” on the site Thursday where he questioned why more folks in the mainstream media didn’t pick up the story of Alicia Machado, the Miss Universe whom Hillary Clinton referenced in the debate on Monday. The illustrious Daily Mail had reported a number of escapades of Machado’s, from allegedly driving a getaway car after an assassination attempt on a judge to making love on camera on a Spanish reality TV show. Good, salacious stuff – the stuff of Extra, which did pick it up.

“There’s something odd,” puffed Rahn, “about news coverage that avoids easily available and fascinating stories about that person’s life. And it’s especially peculiar when that person is a campaign surrogate for a major party nominee, which is what Machado is now.”

This is wrong in so many ways, it is hard to know where to begin. Machado is no surrogate for Clinton; she was adduced as an example of Trump’s misogyny. She isn’t running for president – at least as far as I know. The issue was Trump’s insults, and her behavior is irrelevant to those. But what is really insidious about this “commentary” is Rahn’s notion that the mainstream media should be covering Machado because there are “easily available and fascinating stories” about her. This is one of the few times the MSM haven’t taken the bait, and when they behave responsibly, a political correspondent actually wants them to take silly detours that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything other than prurient interest.

Even if Machado’s behavior is irrelevant, writes Rahn, “that doesn’t mean that her life, which has been reported on extensively in the Spanish language press, should be sanitized and whitewashed by the press. The political media is not in the beatification business; if it’s out there, readers deserve to know it.” Actually, they aren’t sanitizing a thing. They are ignoring it. Journalists used to call that judgment.

Neal Gabler

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, TIME magazine's non-fiction book of the year, USA Today's biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.