Former porn star lawyer Michael Avenatti is back in the headlines, this time for being indicted Thursday on 36 charges, which range from fraud to concealing a $4 million settlement from a mentally ill, paraplegic client. Incidentally, this is the same Michael Avenatti whom broadcast and cable news networks have hosted a whopping 254 times over the past year, according to the MRC's latest count of the spotlight-loving attorney's televised escapades.
MRC analysts combed through recordings and Nexis transcripts of every Avenatti interview on major cable (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) and broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) news networks since his first 2018 TV appearance on the March 7 edition of NBC's Today.
CNN was the porn lawyer’s top cable enabler with a whopping 122 appearances; MSNBC earned a close second with 108. Broadcast networks hosted the attorney a combined 24 times (ABC: 12, CBS: 7, NBC: 5), while the Fox News Channel brought up the rear with just two appearances.
The majority of those interviews took place in the first half of 2018 (179 from March through June of that year). That's because liberal pundits gradually grew wary of Avenatti as he continued to inject himself into the political news cycle.
Back in May of 2018, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood warned Avenatti that he would not be allowed to participate in a case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen unless he stopped his televised “publicity tour.” Rather than quitting TV, he instead withdrew his motion to appear in that case.
On the May 30 edition of The Lead, CNN host Jake Tapper took Avenatti to task for that decision: “Why do that? Why is that in the best interest of your client? It seems to a layman that the judge said you can either be on TV or you can be in this courtroom, you can’t do both, and you chose to be on TV. Am I wrong?”
During Justice Kavanaugh’s heated confirmation last fall, the celebrity attorney caused an uproar when he came forward with a series of vague but incredibly shocking allegations against Kavanaguh by his client, former Democratic operative Julie Swetnick. Many journalists worried that these salacious claims had inadvertently undermined the credibility of the other two women who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
Alas, the coverage continued. Months later, CNN host John King complained that the attorney's attention-seeking was distracting from “serious” news stories. On the December 12, 2018, edition of Inside Politics, King was visibly frustrated at being forced to cover a live press conference by Avenatti (who had just been arrested on domestic violence charges): “Michael Avenatti — like a moth to a light, I guess, is in the courthouse here. He’s someone who likes attention.”
After the feed cut back to King, he groused to AP’s Julie Pace: “I was trying to have a conversation about things that actually matter — sorry Michael Avenatti…”
In February, the embattled attorney emerged from the shadows yet again, this time brandishing what he claimed was a tape of R&B singer R. Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a minor. Despite his checkered legal past, television news outlets found this story too good to pass up.
On February 15’s CBS This Morning, Jericka Duncan discussed this scoop at length with Avenatti in his 254th interview. Meanwhile, CNN hosts began reporting that some of their staff had somehow “viewed” the tape — while conspicuously ignoring the serious charges against Avenatti that had been announced that same morning.
David Rutz of the Washington Free Beacon previously calculated that by May 11 of last year, CNN and MSNBC alone had given Avenatti a grand total of $175,000,000 in earned media. That figure did not include the more than $500,000 he and his former client earned from their now-defunct crowdjustice page (like a kickstarter for lawsuits), which he plugged relentlessly during his early television appearances.
Yet the ample coverage persisted, even as the attorney who once billed himself as the single greatest legal threat to President Trump found himself embroiled in scandal. With every new embarrassing headline, his enablers in the television news media look all the more ridiculous.