An adult film actress took the media by, well, storm last week with not one but two revelations regarding interactions with the President of the United States. Earlier in the week, ex-porn star Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump to break a confidentiality agreement, set on the eve of the 2016 election, dealing with previous encounters between the two more than a decade ago. The second discovery came on Friday, when the president’s lawyer Michael Cohen claimed he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 of his own money as part of the non-disclosure agreement, a transaction to which he says neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign were a party. Beyond the ethical concerns raised by the allegations, the payment could violate federal campaign finance laws and lead to further federal investigations of President Trump’s pre-election activities.
Above: The leading Republican sentiment about the story: If true, who cares? That’s his personal business. Below: Democrats focus on the possible election finance law violation, but commenters know it will do little in the Republican-held Congress.
As is expected in today’s political channels, the left is aghast while the right is unabashed. Depending on which tribe to which they ascribe, commentators either inflate or downplay—or sometimes ignore— the story in their reports. As Republicans have chosen to focus more on steel tariffs and Kim Jung-Un, conservative media like Drudge Report and Breitbart have had scant or limited coverage of the Daniels lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and MSNBC have led with developments in the story through much of the week. Democrats may view these disclosures by Ms. Daniels as further proof of Trump’s unsettling pre-election transactions to ensure victory and ultimately add to what they see as mounting evidence for his expulsion from the White House. Republicans, on the other hand, may consider this to be another mainstream media witch-hunt bent on undermining the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.
Today, how the news is covered is as much a part of the news as the stories themselves, so it is no surprise that barbs have been thrown between major media outlets. Last Thursday, CNN accused right-wing outlets of sweeping the Daniels story under the rug while Info Wars bashed MSNBC for pivoting back to Stormy Daniels amid emerging reports about the President’s plan to meet with Kim Jung-Un. Info Wars even has a six-minute video on how CNN is “crazy,” “obsessed,” and “completely irrelevant” with its coverage of Stormy Daniels. News publications reporting on the coverage of other publications would seem to watchdog against undue bias, yet when it comes from the very outlets most often accused of showing bias themselves, it comes across as inter-media mudslinging.
Above: Right-leaning outlet pokes fun at the seeming absurdity of the left-wing media. Below: The Left resorts to defending the validity of the coverage.
While a steamy Days of our Lives–like tryst makes for good tabloid fodder, Oval Office philandering is not new and has had little effect in past presidencies. Through their continued support of both Clintons, Democrats will come off as hypocritical if they try to base this story on its ethical concerns alone. They must focus on the crux of the matter: the campaign law violations, but even Democrats know that the Republicans will not impeach Trump without concrete evidence of major violations—or a major rally cry from the public. The problem is the public doesn’t care about a 10-year-old affaire or much about the money to conceal it. Despite his favorite book “being the bible,” Trump is neither virtuous nor scrupulous, and his constituents and Americans know this. He was a rich playboy in the ’80s hey-days who’s had multiple wives and enjoys giving people demeaning nicknames. He’s also someone whom the Republicans see as dong the job as they see fit despite his personal affairs.
While Trump won’t likely go down in history as being impeached for paying hush-money for a decade-old affaire du cœur, that’s not to say the media storm has passed for the President. Twitter is abuzz with news of a possible 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels—and the Trump team’s attempts to stop it from airing. The exact path of this story is hard to predict, but as typical in the current administration, we can be sure of more social media fodder to follow.