I don’t support Trump. I don’t support Clinton. But what I really don’t support is shoddy journalism, and that’s what is all awhirl regarding the leak of three pages of Trumps’ federal tax return from 21 years ago.
Trump the Tax Cheat?
The New York Times is running front-page amok (italics added here) with the exclusive that Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial, the writers claim, it could have allowed him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.
The Times continues “Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years… [the loss] could have eliminated any federal income taxes… for each episode of The Apprentice, or the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos.”
How To Do Journalism With No Information
Let’s pause for a moment: all the Times has is three pages of Trump’s lengthy tax filing from 1995. None of the schedules are there, nothing that details the profits and losses. Everything the Times writes otherwise is speculation, extrapolation, and that word, “could,” over and over.
The newspaper even uncorks a statement that would get any undergrad booted out of her first journalism class “In the absence of any disclosures from Mr. Trump, The New York Times and other news outlets have attempted to fill in the gaps.”
Pro-Clinton Vox takes it another step, stating without any evidence “Trump still isn’t releasing his returns. And here’s what that means: whatever is in his returns is worse than what the New York Times is telling the world is in his returns. The Trump campaign has decided it prefers the picture the Times is painting — a picture where Trump didn’t pay taxes for 18 years — to the picture Trump’s real records would paint.”
Summary: in the absence of information, 2016-era journalists can just make up whatever they like.
How Taxes Work for Grownups
But all that aside, let’s go back to the shoddy journalism.
For all of the Times’ hyperbole, it seems to miss, or just not bother to state, the obvious: what Trump did, deduct business losses from gains to reduce his tax burden, and likely spread those losses over a period of years, is exactly what every business does. In fact, the tax forms even give you little boxes to insert those numbers in to take the deduction.
There is literally nothing to see here.
I know of no person who actively seeks to maximize the taxes s/he pays.
Instead, every taxpayer does what the tax laws intend, take deductions to lessen the amount they pay in taxes. I do it, you do it, the Clintons do it. There are the business loss deductions, the capital loss deductions, the business expense deductions, the mortgage interest deductions and on and on and on. If you follow the tax law, then the amount at the end of the return is what your “fair share” is.
Even the Times’ story has to sorta, kinda admit that, assuming you make it deep into the text, that “Tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump.”
That line seems significant, especially given what came before it on the front page.
And yep, most of these deductions are only available to the rich, at least in dollar amounts that matter. We can argue separately how messed up the tax system is (a subject the Times may consider covering at some point), but we cannot argue that what Trump did is not the way the system is. Neither can Clinton.
But the funnest of fun parts here is while the Times, and Clinton, reluctantly point out that nothing Trump did was illegal, they both make it clear they think what he did was ethically wrong, a bad thing worthy of slinging around. Given the parallels to the emails (not illegal!) and the Clinton Foundation (not illegal!), that seems thin ice to skate on.
BONUS: Coincidentally, it was only at last Monday’s presidential debate that Hillary Clinton said Trump was refusing to release his tax returns so voters would not know “he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” Then, what do you know, a few days later an excerpt of those returns just pops into the New York Times’ Inbox. Small world.
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