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Michael Avenatti and the Weaponization of Cable News
Andy Warhol, who memorably said that sooner or later everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, obviously never met Michael Avenatti.
Unless you’ve been in a coma, you know that Avenatti was porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, the narcissist who never met a camera he didn’t like. And if you didn’t see him on TV last year, there’s a good chance it’s because you don’t have cable. Or it could be because you only watch the Fox News Channel. More about that to come.
According to a new study by the Media Research Center, Avenatti was on TV a staggering 255 times in the past year, almost all of it on cable in 2018.
It wasn’t unusual to see him on CNN in the morning then on MSNBC in the afternoon, before heading back to CNN at night, prompting tongue in cheek rumors that he was actually living in the CNN studios.
The MRC study found that Avenatti was on CNN 121 times, on MSNBC 108 times, and on the broadcast networks a mere 24 times. He was on Fox just twice.
In just one 10-week period last year, Avenatti was interviewed 147 times. Wolf Blitzer could only wish he got so much airtime.
After Avenatti's girlfriend said he was emotionally and physically abusive to her – a charge he denies – his face time fell off sharply. But now ... he's back, charged with multiple crimes that could land him in prison almost forever.
One indictment alleges he stole two payments totaling nearly $300,000 from an advance Stormy Daniels was supposed to receive from a book deal in 2018.
According to prosecutors, “As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client."
In another case, prosecutors indicted Avenatti on charges that he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike, a company he alleged was paying top high school basketball players and steering them to colleges with whom Nike had shoe deals.
He’s also facing a federal indictment in Los Angeles alleging that he stole millions of dollars from clients, didn’t pay taxes and lied during bankruptcy proceeding.
Avenatti says he’s "100 percent not guilty" of all the charges. And he may be, but anyone paying attention knew he was slimy. He came off as the poster boy for the kind of lawyer so many Americans detest.
None of that mattered over at CNN and MSNBC. Michael Avenatti was good for business. That’s all that mattered. That’s why they turned him into a celebrity and, for a while, took seriously his babble about being a potential Democratic presidential candidate.
Some of the coverage certainly was legitimate. He was, after all, representing a client – a porn star no less – who said she was sexually involved with Donald Trump before he became president – and was suing him, as president, to get out of a non-disclosure agreement. That’s too good a story to turn down.
But 255 times in one year?
If Avenatti was a narcissist hooked on TV, the addiction ran in two directions. Here’s how Madeline Osburn explains it in the Federalist:
“Like a true addict, Avenatti always found ways to get his fix. The frequency of his appearances spiked anytime President Trump or Rudy Giuliani made comments about his former client Stormy Daniels. Once [that] news cycle died down, he quickly found new ways to wedge himself back into the limelight.
"In July and August, he began defending Central Americans who illegally crossed the U.S. border and were separated from their children in the process. Later in the fall he represented Julie Swetnick, a woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh of gang rape.”
What all those stories had in common was that they portrayed President Trump as the villain-in-chief. Michael Avenatti was a convenient "talking head" who conveyed that message. And while cable news’ reason for being may be as a disseminator of information, it’s also something else. It’s a weapon – a weapon used to wage war against a president it detests or one used to defend that president.
When it comes to opinion shows – as well as the many opinion shows masquerading as news programs -- CNN, MSNBC and Fox are in business to give their viewers what they want. If they hate President Trump, CNN and MSNBC are glad to oblige with contributors who also hate the president. That’s why they put Avenatti on so much; because they knew he’d bash Mr. Trump, which is what their audience wanted to hear, which in turn boosted ratings, which led to more money flowing to the bottom line.
That’s why they had him on more than 200 times.
And it’s why Fox put him on only twice even though for a while he was a legitimate news figure. Fox viewers don’t like to hear negative news about the president. And Fox, like the two liberal channels, is in business to give its viewers what they want so that they’ll come back for more.
Like it or not, this is what cable news is.
And regarding the two liberal cable channels that fell madly in love with Avenatti: You might think that given his current troubles, the journalists at CNN and MSNBC would be in an introspective mood. You might think they’d offer up to their viewers a public mea culpa.
You’d think they might say, “We went too far; we put him on TV way too much; we handed him a megaphone that turned him into a household name; we should never have taken those pictures with him – the ones that show us smiling and having a grand old time; he was a news source, not a friend – or at least we should have treated him as a news source; we are sorry.”
Tell me when you stop laughing.