Trump, Taxes, and the Media

Image courtesy of The Guardian

Image courtesy of The Guardian

Anushka Agashe, Co-Editor

Donald Trump’s tax returns have been a source of controversy since his first presidential campaign in 2016. Back then, Trump refused to release his tax returns, breaking a 40-year long tradition of presidential candidates doing so. Since taking office, he has been engaged in a legal battle to conceal his tax returns from those attempting to access them. That all changed on September 27th when the New York Times released over two decades worth of data on Trump’s taxes, including the first two years of his presidency.


The original New York Times article contains information that courts have been fighting over for years. It reveals information about Trump’s businesses, including his severe reported losses and huge debts, yet the most talked-about portion regards his tax returns. This deep investigative reporting came shortly before the election, at a time when it’s most likely to make a difference. It’s extremely detailed, laying out the information in a thorough yet somewhat dense way. As an initial report breaking the news for the first time, it’s unsurprising that The Times hasn’t compromised on any of the details. However, this makes it somewhat difficult for the average person to fully absorb, even as the article became all anyone could talk about. Across social media, people focused on one easy to grasp part: the $750 of personal income tax that Trump paid. It soon became a trend for people, from average Americans using social media to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, to share how they paid more taxes or spent more money on everyday items that the president paid in taxes.


After the original New York Times article, the next media wave sought to explain the findings of the lengthy article. One of the most prominent of these is a second New York Times article. This one, entitled “18 Revelations From a Trove of Trump Tax Records,” breaks down the complicated information of the first article into easily digestible pieces about tax avoidance, consulting fees, etc. This reporting tactic makes the complicated yet crucial findings of the first article easy for the average American to understand. As the election approaches, such measures ensure that the American public is as informed as possible about the revealed data. This media wave wasn’t limited to established organizations, either. Ordinary people used their platforms and their knowledge to dive deep into The Times’s report. For example, a TikTok of a woman highlighting the most important parts of the report, as well as potentially unethical or even illegal activity on Trump’s behalf, went viral on the TikTok app. She was able to reach a wide audience of mostly young people that might not understand the intricacies of the tax returns, but are affected by it nonetheless.


Unsurprisingly, there are media sources that discredit the New York Times’s findings about Trump’s taxes. One significant source that does so is Fox News. In a TV segment, the news network features White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. When asked about the report, she brushes it off as a Democratic tactic ahead of the debate and maintains that the American people will not fall for it. Both she and the network quickly move on. By inviting her on to discuss it and then moving past it so quickly, Fox News is determined to minimize the significance of this finding, since exacerbating the issue could pose problems for Trump in the election. However, other news networks didn’t allow this lack of coverage to pass quietly. An important part of the coverage of this story is in the reporting on Fox News’s response. A Vanity Fair article, among others, reports how even a heavy bias towards Trump didn’t allow Fox to completely sidestep questions about taxes. Rather, Vanity Fair analyzes how Fox framed the story as lies and fake news in an attempt to delegitimize it. Reports like these point out bias to the average reader, establish the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, and help readers navigate the truth.


The media coverage surrounding Trump’s taxes was intense for a short period of time, yet it died down almost completely with the rest of the week’s news, including the presidential debate and Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. However, as that news calmed down a little bit, several media outlets worked to draw attention back to Trump’s taxes. The Washington Post, for example, asks the American people not to lose sight of the most important Trump-related news. By bringing attention back to a topic which quickly lost traction in the face of all that’s happened in the past week and a half, articles such as these implore their readers to pay attention to a nationally significant story that some people would rather sweep under the rug.


The Trump tax story broke less than a month ago. In that time, there have been several waves of coverage, from clarifying the original article, to trying to dismiss it, to bringing attention back to it. Regardless of the stance various media sources hold, these reactions demonstrate to readers and viewers that this story matters, and coverage matters more than ever. It might seem like yet another Trump scandal, but voters shouldn’t sweep this one under the rug. Whether they’re filling out their ballot early or voting on Election Day, this tax story proves one again that Donald Trump isn’t the right choice for America.


  1. New York Times
  2. New York Times
  3. Vanity Fair
  4. Washington Post
  5. Fox News