How the porn star lawyer is making the White House beat look sad

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti is the kind of creature that the modern media environment has created: An omnipresent, quippy, street fighter who is most definitely selling you something.

In an ideal world, this is not how a lawyer would conduct himself. We’d prefer decorum and subtlety, not a guy who tweets insults punctuated by “#Basta”

But at the same time, Avenatti is showing us how the compromises inherent in the White House press beat obscure public knowledge.

Avenatti is a mercenary. He understands that winning the public case for Stormy Daniels as she argues that Trump’s payoff of her to keep quiet about their affair is null and void, is as important as the private court case.

When he shows up on TV it’s in the tradition of other attention-seeking lawyers: The entire thing is an advertisement for his next client.

But why is he the vehicle through which the public learned that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal fixer and bag man, was the conduit for access bribes by some of the biggest corporations in the world?

How come he got that information before The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and the rest of the gang?

Because he doesn’t care.

His next client is unlikely to come from within politics, and certainly not the insular club of Washington, D.C. politics where both politicians and the media are engaged in an endless cycle of back and forth compliments that would make the human centipede look hygienic.

By contrast, political journalists care, deeply. They care about offending others within the D.C. club. They care about advancing their careers and fattening their bank accounts.

While this doesn’t mean every facet of journalism is hopelessly compromised, it also means they have an incentive not to push too hard. So surely (most of the time) when a bombshell story falls into their laps, they will report it – often because they know once they have it someone else has it too and they need to beat the competition.

But often the consensus is to take what you can get without pushing too hard against the rest of the club. Especially if they’re inside the club (and everyone at the top tier of the White House Correspondents is), why hurt yourself just to inform the public?

That was the reason you saw reporters from Politico – which is about as inside as you can get – pooh-pooh the Cohen cash for access deal. That corporations are paying off presidential hangers-on for access is newsworthy and should be troubling to every American, not the sort of thing you play off as “everybody does it.”

This is why you so rarely see real, serious news from the White House beat. Investigative journalists uncover information all the time, but the people who spend so much of their day interfacing with Sarah Sanders are unlikely to uncover big news.

They’re also far too chummy with the power establishment to push against the well-ingrained habits of the beat. Get a leak or two about the boss, trade it for a piece that puffs up another politician, back and forth, forever and ever.

In time, you end up getting scoops about the presidency that are 99 percent of the time just warmed-over gossip (Wow did you hear that someone “threatened” to resign again but didn’t? News!) but aren’t serious reporting of great significance. While their investigative reporter colleagues are breaking big news, don’t expect much from the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman or Axios’ Jonathan Swan. It isn’t in their best interests.

And the reporters who are on this beat know that down the line, they could get kicked upstairs, to do things like host Sunday talk shows like State of the Union and Meet the Press. Those guest lists have to be filled somehow, and if they pushed too hard while in the White House, guess who won’t be returning a call for you to Face the Nation?

Avenatti isn’t altruistic. He’s almost the epitome of a capitalist mercenary. He’s not trading favors in Washington, he’s in the business of exposure on TV to rack up a client list in the future. It just so happens that his personal interests align with digging up dirt on Trump’s inner circle right now.

That’s why he’s getting the information he’s receiving while journalists on the White House beat most recently spent more time fretting about how a comedian offended the administration.

Basta.

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