The media today: The Stormy Daniels story finally makes landfall

Stormy Daniels has been in the news for two months, but a recent flurry of developments have brought her story back to the top of cable news hours.

Since The Wall Street Journal reported in January that President Trump’s personal lawyer had arranged a $130,000 payment to the former adult-film star in the days before the 2016 election, the story has been simmering on the back burner of the political hot stove. Plenty of journalists questioned why an alleged payoff by a presidential candidate days before his election wasn’t getting more sustained attention. On Wednesday, the saga of Stormy Daniels finally seemed to break through.

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On Tuesday, Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti filed a lawsuit seeking to void the agreement barring her from speaking about her interactions with the president on the grounds that Trump had never signed the document. Wednesday morning, Avenatti told NBC’s Today show that Daniels “believes it’s important that the public learn the truth about what happened.” Finally, NBC News reported that Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who arranged the initial agreement during the campaign, “is trying to silence” Daniels by “obtaining a secret restraining order in a private arbitration proceeding and warning that she faces penalties if she publicly discusses a relationship with the president.”

During Wednesday’s briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was challenged by reporters, notably CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, over the president’s involvement. Sanders deflected all questions to outside counsel, saying the case had already been “won” in arbitration. Asked for a response to that claim, Avenatti told The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg, “yeah and he also won the popular vote.”

What’s at stake in this story? Jack Shafer takes on that issue in his column for Politico, delineating whether the matter at hand is prurient interest in the president’s affairs, concern over an apparent cover-up, or a legal quagmire. “The Daniels topic, just entering its seventh week in the news spotlight, has become so choked with details, nuance, and avenues of entry that it’s easy to get confused,” Shafer writes. He doesn’t come down on any correct interpretation, but concludes: “The takeaway that probably fits everybody, from pro-Trumpers to anti-Trumpers, is that the 45th president has successfully demolished a norm so outrageous that nobody ever thought to spell out as a norm: Presidential Candidates Should Never Get Caught Having Sex With Adult Film Actors.”

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It helps that Daniels seems intent on telling her story. With allegations of secret payments in the midst of a heated campaign, it’s certainly more than a simple sex scandal. But we’ve seen other controversies surrounding the president bubble to the surface and be minimized by the administration, only to recede beneath the roiling waters of the Washington churn. While the administration has more questions to answer, the past couple of days show the power of persistence in keeping a story alive.

Below, more on the coverage of the Stormy Daniels story. 

  • Eye of the storm: The Times’s Rutenberg and Peter Baker write that the most recent twists in the saga “put the White House in the middle of a story that Mr. Trump and his lawyer had been trying to keep quiet for well over a year.”
  • How we got here: The Washington Post’s Frances Stead Sellers, Emma Brown, and David Fahrenthold look at how the story spilled into public view. The issue, they write, “has altered the course of Daniels’s life and threatens to alter the course of Trump’s presidency.”
  • Making the rounds: Avenatti was on a media blitz on Wednesday. Regarding the restraining order that Cohen won through arbitration, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “We do not take kindly to these threats, nor will we be intimidated.”

 

Other notable stories

  • The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo turned back the clock on his media consumption, unplugging from digital and television news for two weeks, and relying on print for his information. The result? “I am not just less anxious and less addicted to the news, I am more widely informed (though there are some blind spots). And I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have.”
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter reports that some journalists forced to participate in Sinclair Broadcasting’s new “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message” are upset with the promotional campaign that reads like anti-media propaganda. “This is so manipulative,” one anchor told him.
  • CJR’s Jackie Spinner looks at the way new photographs of the unrest in Chicago following the assassination of Martin Luther King 50 years ago help develop the story of what went on in that city, and demonstrate the importance of having diverse perspectives in newsrooms.
  • For CJR, the Tow Center’s Susan McGregor reports on a shift in EU regulations that will “have ripple effects on digital publishing and dissemination across the globe.” The new privacy regulations will affect any organization in the world that serves EU residents.
  • Good discussion over at FiveThirtyEight thinking through the question: “Why does everyone hate the media?

ICYMI: How hacked emails and a yacht in Monaco ended my career at The Wall Street Journal

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