Times' tax story is talker, but perceptions mostly hold

President Donald Trump arrives to speak about coronavirus testing strategy, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – Orlando Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson was curious how readers in polarized central Florida would react to her newspaper leading Monday’s edition with a report that President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017 — and no income tax at all in 10 of the previous 15 years.

By midday Monday, she'd heard from two people. One questioned the report's timing and another wondered why the paper would run The New York Times' account without other sources.

“That's a pretty muted response,” she said.

It illustrates how hard it is for any news story — even a deeply reported one that penetrates the secrecy behind Trump's finances — to change political perceptions or pierce a media shield used by many to reinforce them.

“Bombshell” was a word frequently employed on Monday; how it was used depended on whether you were in Trump-friendly or unfriendly media territory. The liberal website Talking Points Memo used it in back-to-back headlines, saying the Biden campaign, “pounces on NYT bombshell,” and “Trump gives rambling denial of NYT bombshell.”

The conservative site Red State called it “the biggest dud of a ‘bombshell’ in political history.”

Yet readers showed interest. It was the most-engaged story that The New York Times has had this year, with 4.2 million reposts or reactions on social media through early Monday afternoon, according to NewsWhip. Seven of the 10 most-engaged stories concerned Trump's taxes, either the Times' pieces or those of other news organizations.

Largely driven by the tax story, Sunday was the second-highest ever for page views on The Associated Press' apnews.com website, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said.