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Stormy Daniels and the media keep on using each other

The NBC News headline summed up the day: “Silk pajamas, spanking, and questions about STDs: Stormy Daniels details sexual encounters with Trump.”

None of it was new information, of course — the former porn actress had told this story for years, starting in 2018 — on CBS News, to New York Magazine, to InTouch Weekly. She told it in a “tell-all book.”

But what’s new this week is the setting — inside a New York City courtroom, from the witness stand, while former President Donald Trump is on trial.

The Acela media has taken to labeling the festivities a “hush money” trial, but that ignores the reality of what Trump is charged with — and ultimately serves as partisan spin disguised as shorthand. More accurately, it would be the “business records” trial, or the “campaign expenditures” trial, but those aren’t very catchy.

Enter Stormy, this week’s savior for the dying legacy media, gasping for relevance and revenue, while slurping up the salacious details with tongues wagging. Perhaps next week they’ll get Karen McDougal, the former Playboy playmate, or Michael Cohen himself.

But for now, it’s Cinemax for the elite consensus-pushers in the press. Daniels was on the stand Tuesday, and she’s back today. But the more the media shines a light on what’s happening now — in all its lascivious details — the more they will have to obscure their own involvement in the sordid affair of how the Stormy narrative was framed in the first place.

It began back in 2016, when the story of Daniels’s one-night-stand with Trump 10 years prior nearly saw the light of day, and then again in 2018, when it all came bursting onto the national spotlight.

Ken LaCorte was the editorial head of Fox News online and ran the network’s website for several years, including in 2016 when Daniels’s account was being pitched to various publications. He wrote back in 2019 about why he didn’t run the story at the time, and he reflected on the moment this week in light of Daniels’s testimony and the media coverage of it.

“They didn’t even want an article,” said LaCorte, who hosts the “Elephants in Rooms” YouTube channel, told me, referring to Daniels’s reps shopping the story. “Once that’s out there, it’s hard to say ‘give me money to keep quiet.’ So I don’t think they ever wanted it to become a story.”

Instead, LaCorte said, it was all a ploy to put little bits of information out there in an effort to get Trump and his team to pay her to go away. They wanted outlets “to be calling the campaign” to increase the pressure. In retrospect, LaCorte told me, “as soon as they got paid, they started ghosting us.”

And it wasn’t just Fox News. Jacob Weisberg, then the editor in chief of Slate, wrote in 2018 how he too personally talked with Daniels while trying to corroborate a story she was shopping. He wrote that Daniels told him “she was talking to me and sharing these details because Trump was stalling on finalizing the confidentiality agreement and paying her.” Like LaCorte’s version, Weisberg wrote, “about a week before the election, Daniels stopped responding to calls and text messages,” and thus Slate never ran the story.

And that’s how it remained until January 2018, when the Wall Street Journal opened the floodgates to further reporting, and Daniels went public. (The big “60 Minutes” interview was in March.) How did that happen, given the nature of the payment? “I assume at that point in time she just decided to start talking,” LaCorte told me. “What, is Donald Trump going to sue her for breach of contract?”

This was also, of course, when Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s new lawyer, was becoming a media star in his own right. A representative CNN primetime segment featured Avenatti battling Michael Cohen’s lawyer for 26 minutes over the details of the nondisclosure agreement and payment.

Daniels told the New York Times in July 2018 that “every time I watch him [Avenatti] work, I think, This is what it must have been like to see the Sistine Chapel being painted. But instead of paint, Michael uses the tears of his enemies.” Less than four years later, Avenatti was cross-examining Daniels while representing himself in a trial over stealing money from her. Now he’s in prison. Basta.

The point in taking this trip down “embarrassing media moments” memory lane is two-fold. First, we’ve litigated all of this before, ad nauseum. The details being revealed by Daniels on the stand in this trial are not new — at least not yet — despite the media’s best efforts to recycle the trashy tabloid fodder for a rapt Resistance audience. If they were, that would be an indictment of the dozens of journalists who have gotten a chance to question her about her (alleged) one night in Tahoe with Trump.

But more importantly, this episode in our political cycle — in the history of American politics — is not the democracy-defining moment smug media figures would like their audience to believe. It has the gravitas of a “Vanderpump Rules” reunion. It’s frivolous and sleazy. It has the Avenatti stink all over it.

“It’s undeniably a big story,” LaCorte told me. “It’s also undeniable that the very vast majority of the media have completely abdicated all their journalistic ethics in an effort to get Donald Trump, and this is playing right into that.”

It all would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious — with no cameras in the courtroom, reporters have the opportunity to craft the narrative in a way that centers themselves as the main character, and surely the protagonist of this very important story.

And so the porn star and the press soldier on, forever intertwined, hoping for that money shot that will put away their foe for good.

Steve Krakauer, a NewsNation contributor, is the author of “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People” and editor and host of the Fourth Watch newsletter and podcast.

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