The Media Today

Fun with Roger Stone

February 1, 2019

One week and two hours ago, a CNN producer and a photojournalist were staking out Roger Stone’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when a heavily armed FBI team spread across the lawn. Agents rapped on Stone’s door and arrested him. The office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel for the Russia investigation, had finally indicted Stone—on charges including obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering—and laid out, for the first time, prosecutors’ belief that a senior Trump campaign official had in 2016 been directed to contact Stone about material, possessed by WikiLeaks, that Russian intelligence had stolen from Democratic Party officials.

The raid proved to be merely a curtain-raiser for a zany week on the Stone beat. Right-wing pundits quickly cried foul, claiming that the FBI must have tipped off CNN: How else could it have had a camera ready? Producers shot back that a combination of luck and dogged reporting had led them to Stone’s door. Hours after the arrest, Stone emerged on the steps of a local courthouse, flashed defiant “V for victory” hand signs, and told a flock of  reporters—over loud boos and chants of “lock him up!”—that Mueller’s charges were bunk. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” he said, and smiled.

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In the past week, Stone has stuck to that mantra. To an extent that is unusual for a man under indictment, he’s made sure the media has talked about him by keeping a whirlwind schedule of interviews and public appearances. Many of these have been with conservative media. He first called into The Alex Jones Show—of InfoWars, the conspiracy theory empire (Stone has been a host in the past)—from the courthouse, then went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox show, Sean Hannity’s, and Laura Ingraham’s. He also submitted to grillings by Chris Cuomo on CNN and George Stephanopoulos on ABC. Stone has painted himself as a victim of fabricated allegations, the FBI’s “Gestapo tactics,” and powerful attempts to silence him. Right-wing journalists have boosted the signal. Referring to Stone’s dramatic arrest, Carlson asked him, with a straight face, “Is there something we don’t know? Do you have an arsenal at home?”

Stone has a long track record of eccentricity, so it’s no surprise that coverage of his indictment has veered into the ridiculous. Yesterday, he discussed his sartorial choices with The Daily Caller: “You have to think long and hard about what you’re going to wear for your arraignment in US district court,” he said. “I’m Roger Stone and as you know, I’ve always believed that the clothes make the man.” But the circus has fed itself as much as Stone has fed it. Outlets and commentators across the media have relished the opportunity to re-up a flamboyant character, reminding their audiences, for example, of his back tattoo of Richard Nixon, and his past as a swinger.

Even some serious Stone coverage has been infused with silliness: ahead of his arraignment in a Washington court on Tuesday, his attorneys, who aren’t members of the DC bar, botched paperwork naming an attorney who could vouch for them. If you look past the farce, however, the Stone indictment is an important and weighty development, offering new information about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to WikiLeaks, and drawing on electronic, financial, and physical evidence that prosecutors yesterday called “voluminous and complex.”

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Such developments have received ample coverage. Nonetheless, we should be careful, when having fun with Stone’s outsize persona, not to underestimate his power to set the media narrative.

Below, more on Roger Stone:

  • Doorstepping Stone: No, the FBI did not tell CNN that agents were about to arrest Stone last week. Jeremy Herb explains what led his network to the right place at the right time.
  • Stonewalled: The loquacious Stone has plans in place to circumvent a possible gag order, Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein report. Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge in the case, already hushed other suspects in Mueller’s inquiry, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and their attorneys. Stone is due in court today.
  • Stone, wall: The Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman scored a wide-ranging Oval Office interview with Trump yesterday after A.G. Sulzberger, the paper’s publisher, counter-offered the president’s request for an off-the-record dinner. Trump told the Times that he never spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks, nor directed anyone else to do so. “I like Roger, he’s a character,” Trump said, adding that the manner in which Stone was arrested was “a very sad thing for this country.”
  • Rolling with Stone: For more color on Stone, check out  “The Dirty Trickster,” a 2008 profile by The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, or Get Me Roger Stone, a 2017 documentary that’s available to stream on Netflix.

Other notable stories:

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.