If this was supposed to be an October Surprise from the New York Times it seems to be falling with a thud rather than a bang, particularly in light of the storm of other such last minute stories flooding the red zone. Still, on November 1st, the Paper of Record chose to run a headline with the breathless title, Donald Trump Used Legally Dubious Method to Avoid Paying Taxes.

Wow. That sounds pretty bad. Let’s see what the heck they’re talking about.

Donald J. Trump proudly acknowledges he did not pay a dime in federal income taxes for years on end. He insists he merely exploited tax loopholes legally available to any billionaire — loopholes he says Hillary Clinton failed to close during her years in the United States Senate. “Why didn’t she ever try to change those laws so I couldn’t use them?” Mr. Trump asked during a campaign rally last month.

But newly obtained documents show that in the early 1990s, as he scrambled to stave off financial ruin, Mr. Trump avoided reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxable income by using a tax avoidance maneuver so legally dubious his own lawyers advised him that the Internal Revenue Service would most likely declare it improper if he were audited.

Thanks to this one maneuver, which was later outlawed by Congress, Mr. Trump potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes.

The details of this alleged, legally dubious activity are so wonky that they will probably put anyone to sleep unless they’re a CPA, but they deal with tax credits offered as a result of business losses. Trump had taken a major hit on some casino investments, losing a significant amount of money which included investment capital put in by others. As part of the negotiations which followed he was able to get some of those investors to forgive the debt, adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars. Without that tax credit, Trump would have had to treat all of the forgiven debt as personal income and pay taxes on it even though the money was gone.

You can call that dodgy if you like, but it takes the Gray Lady three paragraphs before they get around to mentioning this little detail which I’ll repeat here. (Emphasis added)

Thanks to this one maneuver, which was later outlawed by Congress, Mr. Trump potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes.

Two important bits of context and spin are missing here. The first, and most obvious, is the fact that the laws were changed later so that such a tax credit could not be taken. So at the time Trump did it it was not forbidden. The second point I would note is the choice of wording employed by the Times. “Outlawed by Congress!” See? If The Donald had done that in later years he would be an outlaw! Oh, the horror. The reality, of course, is that Congress simply made yet another change to the nation’s tax codes, which are currently more extensive than the legendary Library of Alexandria. They no longer allow businesses to write off such debt forgiveness in that fashion and if you do so you will incur a penalty if you are audited.

So this was the New York Times’ big shocking expose, scheduled to drop seven days before the election? It wound up being more of a firecracker than a bombshell in light of all of the Clinton email revelations and the underlying story is not one of crime, but of a business taking advantage of favorable tax codes just as countless others did.