March 18, 2017
David Cay Johnston? Oh yeah, that guy’s cool.
by Melville House
Unless you’ve been in a coma, you probably know that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and bestselling Melville House author David Cay Johnston broke the media this week, when Johnston showed up on Maddow’s show Tuesday night with several pages of Donald Trump’s tax returns—among the most sought-after documents on the planet—in hand. It created perhaps the biggest splash since Johnston’s book, The Making of Donald Trump was first published in August, only to immediately spend four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Donald Trump was definitely watching (like, of course he was), and wasted no time tweeting out a response in which he asked, “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mailbox’ and found my tax returns? FAKE NEWS!” This made followers of Johnston’s career fall off their chairs, because:
- The reporter “nobody has ever heard of” has won a Pulitzer Prize, and worked as a writer for the New York Times, The Nation, USA Today, Politico, and elsewhere. He’s a regular cable news commentator, appearing frequently on Democracy Now!, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, CNN, and so on. Johnston and his book have been flashed in nationwide campaign ads, on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and in countless news articles. The book, as we mentioned above, spent the first four weeks after its publication on the New York Times bestseller list. Clearly, someone has heard of Johnston.
- If the implication Trump meant to make was that Johnston had somehow fabricated the tax documents, this is supremely bizarre, since Trump’s own White House confirmed their veracity before MSNBC’s cameras had even started rolling.
- Trump and Johnston have known each for nearly thirty years — Johnston first interviewed Trump for a story in 1988, and their paths have crossed many times since. Trump has Johnston’s home number, and sometimes calls him to discuss stories (and also claims to have “the world’s greatest memory,” lol), as this passage explains:
Here’s a rundown of some of the coverage, and coverage of that coverage, that’s followed:
- On Thursday, Johnston appeared on New York City Public Radio’s Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the revelation. “When Donald is not in control of a leak, he goes ballistic.” Yup, story checks out.
- USA Today’s Nathan Bomey ran a light, fascinating “who is this guy?” piece. Did you know Johnston’s reporting once freed an innocent man wrongly convicted of murder?
- Another, similar piece by Brendan Morrow in Heavy covers some different ground. Johnston has called Trump a “vulgar, ignorant, racist, sexist blowhard,” which, again, no argument here.
- In the Guardian, Jon Swaine offered a behind-the-scenes interview with Johnston, who answered his questions while sitting on a tarmac waiting for his flight home from New York to take off. As for the identity of his anonymous source, the journalist said, “I don’t know. All I cared about was whether it was authentic, and the White House confirmed it.”
- As Heather Hogan writes at Autostraddle, the documents Johnston revealed did not “set a torch to the White House” or “oust Donald Trump from the West Wing,” but accomplished a lot: proving that Trump’s returns are out there and can be obtained; demonstrating, by the White House’s preemptive confirmation of the papers’ legitimacy, that they do in fact have Trump’s tax returns, and can release information from them; permanently putting the lie to Trump’s claim that he couldn’t release his returns because he was under audit; and demonstrating that, while he pays taxes (or at least payed taxes in 2005), he does so at a rate lower than many less wealthy Americans. Analyses of the information in the returns continue cropping up.
- Team Trump revealed to Fox News that they’re considering suing Johnston for “violating federal privacy laws.” Not a snowball’s chance: there’s been some confusion about how the First Amendment works lately, but just to be very clear: this is exactly the kind of activity our constitution protects. Johnston explained as much to Joe Madison on Sirius XM News and Issues.
- Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple followed up further with Johnston, who called out Trump’s litigious bluster as “absolute nonsense,” adding, “nothing illegal about what I did at all. And then attacking me personally starting before dawn on Twitter then going on TV.” Wemple is continuing to follow up with Johnston, and so will we.