Former President Trump was in a courtroom this week to face (weak) charges rooted in a story the media first pounced on five years ago. Back in 2018, viewers saw frenzied coverage of porn celebrity Stormy Daniels and her sensational allegations, a clear partisan contrast with how the networks censored or denigrated the many (non-porn) women who in the 1990s leveled allegations against Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The media’s reasons for promoting Stormy’s story were obvious, yet some journalists went beyond merely giving airtime to Daniels’ anti-Trump agenda. Instead, they tried to mainstream the X-rated performer herself, praising her as a “very empowered woman,” a “working mom,” a “beacon of The Resistance” and a “feminist hero.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, her journalistic admirers even sent Daniels “multiple invitations from media companies to attend this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner as their guest. But Daniels declined them all...”
Recalling how Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) had flirted with a run against Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter in 2009, Cosmopolitan magazine yearned for her to again enter elective politics: “Clifford has garnered widespread support — mostly from Democrats, but polls show also from a not-insignificant amount of Republicans. So the question remains: will we see Stormy take that support and launch a new run for office?”
Daniels’ years in the porn business, which normal people would regard as scandalous, were shrugged off. “You should never apologize for making a living. You’re a working woman and making money,” ABC’s Joy Behar told Daniels during an appearance on The View in April 2018.
The media’s eagerness to promote Daniels and her story in 2018 (including donations of massive free airtime to her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, before he was arrested and convicted of extortion and for defrauding clients, including Daniels) was the oxygen that helped keep it alive amid the swirl of other allegations. It’s quite possible, of course, that Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump would have existed even if the media had dismissed Daniels as they did Clinton accusers Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones.
But instead, they embraced her. Here’s a quick look back at the media’s adoring coverage of the porn star who suited their partisan agenda:
■ “Stormy Daniels on Twitter has the air of a very smart cat batting off a series of very dumb mice, who come at her under the delusion that the relationship is reversed....She is quick, sassy and, most of all, unflappable and relentlessly thick-skinned....You don’t get to be an adult performer without learning how to handle men. And Daniels knows how to handle them all the way out the door....Sometimes people think they’re grabbing pussycats when they’re actually grabbing lions.”
— Columnist Monica Hesse in a “Style” section piece in the March 10, 2018 Washington Post.
■ “Stormy Daniels was in full force, meeting her fans in the presidential suite of the Solid Gold strip club in between performances....At one point, there were more women than men lining the stage, angling to snatch a few moments with Daniels and tuck some bills into her garter or literally paste them on her body.... Nivia Kiernan, a 27-year-old studying to be a medical assistant, was one of those ladies. ‘Women, we love to cheer on other women and we love to promote them,’ she said when asked why she came to see Daniels.”
— Hadas Gold in a CNN.com posting, “For Stormy, controversy blows up into a club scene bonanza,” March 12, 2018.
■ Co-host Ana Navarro: “I don’t think she’s trying to portray herself as a victim. I certainly don’t see her as a victim. I see her as a woman who refuses to be shut up, who refuses to be silent. [audience applause] I see her, frankly — and I think the reason that she’s got this appeal is because she is this very empowered woman. I mean, this lady does not give a damn about anything!”
Co-host Joy Behar: “You know what? She has more testicularty than the entire Republican Congress at the moment!”
— Discussing Stormy Daniels on ABC’s The View, March 16, 2018.
■ CNN’s Gloria Borger: “So I think the President has met his match in Stormy Daniels. They’re pretty similar. They know how to use the media. They’re not afraid to do it....”
The Guardian’s Sabrina Siddiqui: “I think that this is one of the few stories in the Trump era that has actually stuck for several weeks now and, in part, because I think Stormy Daniels and her lawyer have been very savvy in the way they’ve kept it alive by offering these little bread crumbs but not giving away too much detail...”
— Exchange on CNN Newsroom, March 20, 2018, during “breaking news” coverage of a tweet by Daniels.
■ “Her senior yearbook photo showing the then-aspiring journalist choosing the caption, ‘We will all get along just fine as soon as you realize that I am Queen,’...When she’s not on tour at adult entertainment nightclubs across the country, Daniels other hobby, horses. Here’s video of her competing at an equestrian event in 2017....”
— Correspondent Tom Llamas profiling Stormy Daniels on ABC’s Good Morning America, March 27, 2018.
■ “As numb as we have become to the shock and ugh of the Trump presidency, here’s one thing we didn’t foresee: Stormy Daniels, porn star, director, entrepreneur and fiercely funny tweeter might just be the woman that the resistance needs....In her 60 Minutes interview, she calmly, articulately dismantled Trump’s macho armor in a way that an army of feminists hasn’t been able to.”
— Time’s Susanna Schrobsdorff in an April 9, 2018 profile, “Stormy Daniels: underestimated warrior.”
■ “Most human beings could not survive the scrutiny she is under, nor so deftly dodge efforts at simplistic caricature. What’s incredible is to see Ms. Daniels embody so many human extremes — so much boldness, so many flaws, and so many taboos broken — and to see her story nonetheless believed and acted upon.”
— Author Jill Filipovic in an August 24, 2018 New York Times opinion piece, “Stormy Daniels, Feminist Hero.”
■ “People have this idea about porn stars, of what their sex-fueled lives must be like. But Daniels is a working mom. She looks after seven horses, a hobby she dreamed of ever since she was a little girl, begging for quarters to put in the mechanical pony outside Kmart.....At the barn and on the North Texas horseback-riding circuit, friends think of Daniels as Hannah Montana, the pretty girl with the double life. ‘We joke that among all of us she is by far the most boring,’ says one of her Texas friends, Kathryn Roan. ‘Nobody thinks of her as Stormy Daniels.’”
— New York Times writer Amy Chozick in an August 28, 2018 Vogue profile, “Stormy Daniels Isn’t Backing Down” August 28, 2018.
■ Anchor Brooke Baldwin: “So, you talk about, I have to quote this — this line in your piece because you set it up, comparing to her to, of course, what we saw on that 60 Minutes interview — all fancy and make up-ed up and everything. And you write: ‘In person, [Stormy] is nothing like that stoic, on-message woman. She is blunt, foulmouthed, funny. I ask her for more details on her alleged 2006 affair with Trump. “How many details can you really give about two minutes?” she says. Two minutes? I ask. “Maybe. I’m being generous.”’ [both laugh]
Journalist Amy Chozick: “Yeah. She’s very dry. She has this sardonic wit and it was something she kept kind of kept relying on every time the conversation got too heavy about this, the weight that millions of Americans placed on her shoulders seeing her as this kind of beacon of The Resistance.”
— Discussing Chozick’s Vogue article on CNN Newsroom, August 28, 2018.
■ “She is vulgar and candid in the way lovably brassy women always are, sharing the farcical and just-too-much, from descriptions of Trump’s genitals and personal grooming habits (Pert Plus up top, not enough attention down below)....She is all the things women are not supposed to be. And yet you like her — not in spite of her rule-breaking but for it.”
— Filipovic reviewing Stormy Daniels’ book for the Washington Post’s “Outlook” section, September 23, 2018.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.