The unexpected success of Donald Trump with Republican primary voters hasn’t sat well with many in the mainstream media. Reporters and pundits are used to dealing with candidates who tend to hover around the “center” on most issues and largely fail to venture outside the comfort zone of their parties’ most vocal voters.
Owing in large part to their disbelief that Mr. Trump has come so far and to their condescending attitude toward those Americans who have thrown their support to him, many elite journalists have for months been inserting anti-Trump advocacy into their ostensibly objective coverage. That is not to say that Mr. Trump should be shielded from proper journalistic scrutiny. But all too often dispassionate scrutiny becomes full frontal assault when reporters and editorialists decide a particular candidate is not to their liking.
Take the ongoing controversy over Mr. Trump’s tax returns. Now, we suppose there are very good reasons for wanting to know everything we can about someone who aspires to the most powerful office on earth before we decide whether to put him or her in that position. And a tax return may indeed contain much that that is revealing and relevant about a candidate. But consider the following.
On May 14 The New York Times ran an editorial titled “Donald Trump’s Evasions on Taxes” that read in part:
American politics has some silly and outdated traditions, but the disclosure of income tax returns by contenders for the presidency isn’t one of them. Beginning in 1952, candidates have been releasing their returns to assure voters that they have no conflicts of interests, that they are generous to those in need, and that they take their duties as citizens seriously by meeting their tax obligations to the government.
Donald Trump, the de facto Republican presidential nominee, so far has refused to follow suit. On Friday, he disagreed that Americans have a right to see his returns. Asked what his tax rate is during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he snapped, “None of your business.”
In the same edition the Times featured a story on its front page, headlined “Trump Defies Calls to Show Tax,” which included the following:
Once again thumbing its nose at a time-honored tradition, Donald J. Trump said Friday that he does not believe voters have a right to see his tax returns, and he insisted it was “none of your business” when pressed on what tax rate he pays.While not required to release their tax returns, all major party presidential nominees have done so for roughly the past four decades….
The remarks from Mr. Trump signal that he has little intention of disclosing verifiable details of his income or what fuels his wealth, a matter of endless speculation for a candidate who boasts of being a billionaire many times over despite his past brushes with bankruptcy and increasing reliance on celebrity-oriented income and licensing deals that use his name.
The release of tax returns bedeviled Republicans during the 2012 presidential election, when Mitt Romney delayed releasing his until September. His effective tax rate, which was below 20 percent, was used by President Obama’s team to lampoon him as wealthy corporate raider who was out for himself and who could not understand how regular people lived. Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Romney erred in waiting so long to release his taxes and should have done so sooner.
For many years, Mr. Trump’s wealth has been a moving target, subject to much estimation, debate and even litigation.
Using the term “defies” in characterizing Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns seems a deliberate stretch for a headline on a front-page news article and it pushes the story into the realm of advocacy rather than straight reporting.Editorial Board