By Howard Portnoy

Shoddy journalism is running rough-shod over the high-stakes 2016 presidential election, as evidenced by two trending stories.

One being advanced by sources on the right is that audio recorded at a Hillary Clinton campaign event captures the Democratic nominee badmouthing millennials who supported Bernie Sanders. The phrase “basement dwellers,” which figures largely in the trumped-up (sorry, there is no other word) reports, was never uttered by Clinton, who if anything was attempting to empathize with what she termed the “children of the Great Recession” who “are living in their parents’ basement.” Never mind that these basement dwellers are there largely as a result of Barack Obama’s job-killing regulations. Never mind either that Clinton has promised to double down on these policies if she is elected.

The second — and much larger — story is that the New York Times obtained and published Donald Trump’s tax returns from 1995, which show that the GOP nominee real estate mogul took a nearly billion-dollar loss that year.

But the Times doesn’t stop just there. The headline and article go on to posit that the real estate mogul could have avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades as a result of the loss. Notice the wording: could have. It’s purely speculative, but it’s also the only part of the headline Joe Q. and Jane A. Public are likely to internalize.

The dutiful mainstream media is already doing its part to ensure that the innuendo rises to the level of fact. “Trump, allies try to contain tax avoidance story,” reads the headline at USA Today as an example.

One key question that arises in the light of all this is how the paper’s “investigative journalists” got hold of an American citizen’s confidential tax returns without his permission.

The article partly answers that question:

The pages were mailed last month to Susanne Craig, a reporter at The Times who has written about Mr. Trump’s finances. The documents were the first page of a New York State resident income tax return, the first page of a New Jersey nonresident tax return and the first page of a Connecticut nonresident tax return.

But the question that is not answered is mailed by whom? Whoever Craig’s source is broke the law.

The Times likely broke the law as well by publishing the pages without written authorization. An attorney named Marc E. Kasowitz has threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action” against the Times.

But the damage has been done. The woman Trump in his own inimitable style of campaigning has branded (aptly, it seems increasingly) as “crooked Hillary” has already released a statement trading on this “bombshell,” as she calls it.