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Some members of the mainstream media have issued mea culpas for building up now-disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti, while others have shirked responsibility and some have even blamed President Trump – but it all falls flat for critics who watched his rise from lawyer for a porn star to potential Democratic presidential candidate.
Avenatti, who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Trump, appeared on CNN and MSNBC a combined 229 times over two years, according to the Media Research Center. CNN’s Brian Stelter was Avenatti’s biggest cheerleader, once declaring that he was a “serious” contender to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
But a New York jury found Avenatti, 48, guilty Friday of extortion, wire fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort up to $25 million from Nike. He faces up to 42 years in prison and still faces two other trials.
CNN pundits Jeffrey Toobin and Brian Stelter discussed their role in turning Michael Avenatti into a household name.
In another upcoming trial in Manhattan, he faces charges that he cheated Daniels out of the proceeds of a book deal. The most serious charges are in a federal case in Los Angeles, where he is accused of defrauding clients and others.
“CNN and MSNBC are playing victim, as if Avenatti snookered them,” Cornell University Law School professor and media critic William Jacobson told Fox News. “In fact, they exploited Avenatii and others like him for use against Trump. It was a mutually manipulative relationship in which Avenatti gained fame and CNN/MSNBC gained viewers.”
Conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News that the reaction by the liberal media has been “largely Orwellian” so far.
“Instead of saying ‘we made a mistake, we didn’t properly vet this guy and we are sorry,’ we are hearing how actually this is Trump’s fault,” Barron said. “Few reporters are willing to admit they got this wrong and this is symptomatic of a much bigger problem in journalism.”
“Few reporters are willing to admit they got this wrong and this is symptomatic of a much bigger problem in journalism.”
— Chris Barron
Stelter addressed the debacle on Sunday when he asked guests to critique his infamous claim that Avenatti could challenge Trump in 2020 because of his presence on cable news.
“Give me a media critique,” Stelter asked. “Was that stupid on my part? What do you make of how Avenatti was covered by CNN and MSNBC?”
Panelist Lachlan Markey and Asawin Suebsaeng, who were on the show to promote an anti-Trump book, managed to essentially blame the president for the situation.
“This was a guy, who in many ways, was very similar to Trump. He really knew how to operate in the modern media environment,” Markey said. “I think that’s what really drew a lot of Trump’s critics to him, was this idea that he could sort of beat Trump at his own game.”
Markey then said journalists need to ask themselves if they were played by Avenatti’s strategy.
Brian Stelter once told Avenatti on air, “Looking ahead to 2020, one of the reasons why I’m taking you seriously as a contender is because of your presence on cable news.”
“A lot of folks did take him very seriously without looking at the extensive personal, financial, legal baggage that was out there just waiting to be reported,” Markey said as Suebsaeng chimed in.
“His crookedness aside, it would have been weird at that time, sort of during the Michael Avenatti boomlet, not to take him seriously at least in the form of someone who was getting in the president’s head,” Suebsaeng said. “Obviously, objectively speaking, news at the time.”
Stelter, who did not ask someone with opposing political views for a critique or feedback, smirked as he said reporters need to be more skeptical of the manipulation, “whether it’s Trump or Avenatti,” that’s occurring.
“There are no lessons learned, no moments of self-reflections and no one being held accountable for failing to meet basic journalistic standards. It’s always someone else’s fault. Never the fault of the corporate media.”
— Chris Barron
“There are no lessons learned, no moments of self-reflections and no one being held accountable for failing to meet basic journalistic standards. It’s always someone else’s fault. Never the fault of the corporate media,” Barron said. “Truly appalling.”
Avenatti became a hero of the media elite and even spent his time away from cable news greenrooms partying with CNN hosts. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin explained that he “go to know” Avenatti when the now-disgraced lawyer was a fixture on the liberal network but admitted he now feels “snookered”
“I remember once at the peak of all of this, we went to lunch in Midtown, when our offices were in Midtown, and we walked back together to CNN, and it was like walking with a major, major celebrity,” Toobin told Anderson Cooper on Friday. “People came up to him.”
Toobin explained that Avenatti floated the idea of a potential 2020 White House run at the height of his fame, even visiting Iowa and New Hampshire to test the waters.
“To call it hubris … doesn’t do it justice. I mean the craziness of this,” Toobin said. “When you look at this case and the three cases, he’s 48 years old, he could be looking at decades in prison… the total collapse of his life is really sort of extraordinary. Frankly, I feel kind of snookered because I took him seriously.”
While CNN addressed the awkward situation, MSNBC reported Avenatti’s conviction and quickly moved on.
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that it’s “noteworthy and appropriate” that some individuals in the media acknowledge they got duped by Avenatti but others should speak up.
“It is curious, however, that there has been no such acknowledgment coming from the hierarchy at CNN, MSNBC or other mainstream outlets that were enraptured by Avenatti and allowed him to dominate the news agenda for months,” McCall said. “The Avenatti publicity tour just couldn’t have happened without blessings from the highest levels of the media establishment.”
“The Avenatti publicity tour just couldn’t have happened without blessings from the highest levels of the media establishment.”
— Jeffrey McCall
McCall believes Avenatti “found it easy to ‘snooker’ the media establishment” that wanted to attack the president at all costs.
“He was slick, had Stormy Daniels as a client, and was going after Trump. The mainstream media found that combination irresistible and failed to carefully scrutinize Avenatti or put him in a measured context. This kind of performance by the media, following the sensational without due diligence, continues to harm media credibility,” McCall said.
CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter published a piece in The Bulwark headlined, “Trump is why you got Michael Avenatti,” which declared the Avenatti story isn’t about media malfeasance.
“There are plenty of problems with The Media — for instance, the gifting of $2 billion worth of free air time to Donald Trump in 2016 because it was good for ratings. But the rise and fall of Michael Avenatti wasn’t The Media’s fault. They didn’t make him,” Carpenter wrote. “They were just forced to cover him … if you hate Michael Avenatti, don’t blame the Media. Trump is the one who brought him into your life.”
Carpenter was widely criticized on social media for blaming Trump.
“This is embarrassing. The major media promoted a goofball political gadfly simply because he was attacking Trump,” Media Research Center vice president Dan Dainor told Fox News.
Meanwhile, not everyone in the mainstream media assigned blame elsewhere and MSNBC contributor Sam Stein was praised on social media for the way he handled the situation.
“I admit it. I gave Avenatti far more credibility than he deserved,” Stein tweeted. “I need to do better and will strive to do so. No point in trying to pretend otherwise.”
Fox News’ Marta Dhanis and Jennifer Olivia contributed to this report.