The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening that Donald Trump had lost a cool $1.17bn (£897m) between 1985 and 1994 on failed business ventures, more than any other American taxpayer.

The newspaper got hold of copies of the president's old income tax returns just as his Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to give up his more recent filings from 2013 to 2018 to the House Ways and Means Committee, telling chairman Richard Neal there was no "legitimate legislative purpose" compelling him to do so.

Trump was quick to try and own the narrative about his murky past.

He remains the first president since Gerald Ford in 1976 not to open his books to the American public, leading his many detractors to suspect he has something to hide.

That Trump suffered professional disasters at the height of his pomp in the 1980s and early 90s was already well known.

He even talked about it openly during his tenure as host of The Apprentice, alluding in passing to such follies as his Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and aborted Trump Shuttle airline in an opening monologue for the show in 2004.

It's the huge extent of his losses that were not previously known.

Reacting to the news, Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of Trump's business manual The Art of the Deal (1987), joked the tome should be refiled under "fiction" by booksellers.

But Fox News, the president's favourite broadcaster and leading apologist, moved fast to downplay the significance of Trump's commercial misfires.

As this montage from Media Matters makes clear, the channel scrambled to excuse the president, deploying its big beast pundits from Sean Hannity to Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and the Fox and Friends sofa-dwellers to dismiss the Times' story as insignificant, spinning it to Trump's advantage and claiming it was all just more evidence of the "never-ending smear campaign" against the president from the left-leaning "Fake News Media".

"Americans don't care about his tax returns from 30 years ago," declared former Arkansas governor Huckabee. A man who it's fair to say may have conflicted interests: his own daughter is the president's press secretary.

The network praised Trump for the shrewdness of his accountants and his boldness as an entrepreneur and risk-taker.

The rest of America joined Schwartz in scoffing at his ever-more-laughable presentation of himself as an investment titan and builder of worlds.

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