Well, it wasn’t exactly clickbait, because it was on TV rather than online.
But Maddow’s promise to reveal Trump’s tax returns was the sort of thing you see on the internet all the time, an ad that promises some amazing game-changing revelation but turns out to be very much ado about nothing.
Maddow’s teaser that she’d obtained Trump’s tax returns did have some mild news value in that the particular return she featured (2005) showed that he’d paid more taxes in the year in question than many people would have thought.
Here’s Slate—not ordinarily a bastion of Trumplove and Maddowhate—on the subject:
TV is a ratings game, but an entire episode about highly damaging tax returns is just as likely to get you great ratings as milking the possibility that you have highly damaging tax returns and less likely to get you compared to Geraldo. Maddow even went so far as to hold the tax returns back until after the first commercial break, as if we were watching an episode of The Bachelor and not a matter of national importance—because we weren’t, in fact, watching a matter of national importance, just a cable news show trying to set a ratings record…
The form revealed that, rather than not paying taxes and making no money, Trump paid $38 million on $150 million in income. Maddow promised to pull a sordid revelation out of a hat and instead plucked out … Trump’s credibility?
The author of that Slate piece, Willa Paskin, seems very disappointed in Maddow. It’s easy to see why. Maddow is no TV neophyte, and must have known her revelation was more inclined to help Trump than hurt him. Paskin writes that rumor is that Trump himself leaked the returns, based on the fact that they are favorable to him. I’d rather that were the case than that they were obtained illegally, but I believe the latter is far more likely.
[NOTE: By the way, regarding Paskin’s dig at “The Bachelor”—say what you will about the show (and I’ve said my piece here)—the “Bachelor” directors certainly know how to entice an audience into eagerly anticipating something. In fact, a great many viewers make a sport out of deciphering what the promos really indicate about what happens versus what they purport to indicate.]