“The Family Business,” a Showtime documentary short broadcast Sunday night, prompts this question more than perhaps any other. It focuses on the New York Times report, published on Oct. 2, into Donald Trump’s family finances and the degree of fraudulence that padded both his claims that his father had given him a fairly small loan, paid back with interest, and his dealings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Cameras recorded the moving and strangely mundane scene before it went live, with reporters stuck in a midtown Manhattan conference room, as tense as actors waiting for opening night of a play.
According to “The Family Business,” the investigation was prompted by reporters’ curiosity after the provocative and incomplete Rachel Maddow segment that aired last March on a partial 2005 Trump tax return. Over the course of a half-hour, we track 18 months in reporters’ lives as they chase down the story. By dint of its running time and its focus on a single, hard-to-nail-down story — as opposed to the four hours and diffuse, ever-shifting focus of “The Fourth Estate,” Showtime’s 2018 docuseries about the Times’ political reporters — “The Family Business” feels less granular than it might. “The Fourth Estate,” focusing as it did on people working the ins and outs of a beat that constantly demanded copy, lended texture and personality to the daily briefing; “The Family Business” could never be as interesting as the 14,000-word story whose origin it documents.
The Family Business: Trump and Taxes
Directed by Jenny Carchman and produced by Oscar nominees Liz Garbus and Justin Wilkes, the doc focuses on the efforts of Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russell Buettner, the chief reporters on the team. They spent more than a year working on the story that was published on Oct. 2 and ran a mammoth 13,000 words. Sparked by the leak of several pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return as reported by Rachel Maddow, the story belied Trump’s decades-long assertions of being a “self-made” billionaire who got his start thanks to a mere $1 million loan from his father which he had to repay with interest. Among the revelations was that little Donald was making over $200,000 a year at the age of three, no chump change for a tyke. Ironically, much of the reporting was based on obligatory financial disclosure forms filed by Trump’s sister Maryanne, a federal judge.