The Media Today

The media today: Ronan Farrow takes on Trump and the media outlet that protects him

February 16, 2018

Ronan Farrow’s latest story for The New Yorker published online this morning, and his target is President Donald Trump. In 2006, Farrow writes, “Trump and [Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate] began an affair, which McDougal later memorialized in an eight-page, handwritten document provided to The New Yorker by John Crawford, a friend of McDougal’s. When I showed McDougal the document, she expressed surprise that I had obtained it but confirmed that the handwriting was her own.”

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According to a November 4, 2016, report from The Wall Street Journal, American Media, Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer, agreed to pay McDougal $150,000 for her story of an affair with Trump, but then didn’t publish it. The alleged affair began less than two years after Trump married the former Melania Knauss. Farrow’s story documents how AMI engages in the practice of “catch and kill,” buying and then burying stories. “Her account provides a detailed look at how Trump and his allies used clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairs—sometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneously—out of the press,” Farrow writes.

The White House denied that Trump ever had an affair with McDougal and told Farrow in a statement, “This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”

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In recent weeks, news reports have focused on a separate alleged affair from around the same time involving Trump and pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels. Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen recently told The New York Times that he had paid Clifford $130,000 out of his own pocket, but declined to give a reason for the payment.

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The interactions that McDougal outlined in the document Farrow obtained “share striking similarities with the stories of other women who claim to have had sexual relationships with Trump, or who have accused him of propositioning them for sex or sexually harassing them,” Farrow writes. “McDougal describes their affair as entirely consensual.” Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, alleged that Trump assaulted her in December of 2007 at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the same location described by McDougal and Clifford.

Allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and infidelity have swirled around Trump since the 2016 campaign, but have not managed to break through in the manner of other media narratives. The reports on affairs with Clifford, and now McDougal, have brought new attention to the president’s past actions at a moment when reckoning with the behavior of powerful men is dominating national coverage. But Farrow’s piece, detailing the lengths to which Trump’s press allies went to keep McDougal’s story out of the news, is also one about the media. McDougal, Farrow writes, “fears that A.M.I. will retaliate for her public comments by seeking financial damages in a private arbitration process mandated by a clause of her contract. But she said that changes in her life and the emergence of the #MeToo moment had prompted her to speak.”

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Below, more from the coverage of Farrow’s report and Trump’s alleged behavior. 

  • Media rounds: Farrow is out this morning promoting the story. He spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition, telling Rachel Martin “The reason we thought this was an important story was not because of the affair, per se…but really the important ramifications of this story are the way in which it illustrates a system used by some of the most powerful men in this country that includes leveraging tabloid media institutions.”
  • Trump’s tabloid ally: The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin profiled David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media, Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer. “Throughout the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor,” Toobin wrote in July of 2017.
  • Be smart: Axios highlights key passages from Farrow’s story.


Other notable stories

  • CNN’s Brian Stelter writes that what was different about the coverage of the horrific shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School was that viewers had a window into the bloody classrooms and hallways through social media footage taken by students trapped inside. “Perhaps these up-close views—through the eyes of the victims—will force Americans to see these shootings in a new way,” Stelter writes.
  • Some of the footage Stelter references came from Stoneman Douglas senior David Hogg, a student reporter at the school. Hogg interviewed his classmates as they were hiding from an active shooter in the school.
  • For CJR, Bob Moser writes that the real threat to journalism doesn’t come from the president’s invective, but from financial concerns and a fear of irrelevance. “Take bad economics, mix in the devaluing of journalism as a profession—both from within and without—and the downgrading of truth in American culture, and you have a recipe for despair,” Moser writes.
  • A New York federal judge issued a surprise ruling against nine news organizations over their use of a Tom Brady photo, in a decision that The Hollywood Reporter’s Eriq Gardner writes, could potentially disrupt the way news outlets use social media.
  • From the new issue of our magazine, Walter Mosley tackles the reasons behind journalists’ struggle to deal with racial issues in their reporting. “One reason that the media will not, cannot, and may never honestly address race is that their constituency, like Melville’s Bartleby, would rather not . . . hear about it,” he writes.
  • On Thursday, Google was scheduled to begin using its Chrome browser to eradicate ads it deems “annoying or otherwise detrimental to users,” reports ABC News’s Ryan Nakashima. “It just so happens that many of Google’s own most lucrative ads will sail through its new filters,” he writes. CJR’s Mathew Ingram previously covered the planned changes.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.