Fox News reportedly sat on the story of Donald Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels and the cover-up of it ahead of the 2016 election in order to protect Trump.
On Monday, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer published a detailed story on the relationship between the president and Fox News. The report contains a number of eyebrow-raising tidbits, including that Fox had the opportunity to publish a story about one of Trump’s alleged affairs but didn’t. Oliver Darcy first reported about the incident at CNN in 2018.
Daniels, a porn actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about it ahead of the 2016 election.
According to Mayer, as the 2016 presidential campaign was in its final stretch in 2016, FoxNews.com reporter Diana Falzone had “obtained proof” about Trump’s affair with Daniels and had confirmed it with Daniels’s manager and former husband. She also had emails between Daniels’s lawyer and Cohen about the hush payment and nondisclosure agreement to keep Daniels from speaking out.
But the story never came out. Editors kept punting on it, and former Fox executive Ken LaCorte reportedly told Falzone, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go,” referring to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who created Fox News.
Mayer’s reporting also says that Falzone pitched a story about an alleged “catch and kill” deal with Trump and the National Enquirer in which the Enquirer would buy Daniels’s story to keep it from coming out, but it didn’t go anywhere. (Cohen arranged a catch and kill with the Enquirer and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had an affair with Trump.)
Fox News demoted Falzone in early 2017, and she subsequently sued the network. The two parties reached a settlement, which required Falzone to sign a nondisclosure agreement, so she can’t speak out.
When Darcy first reported the Daniels story in early 2018, Fox said that Falzone’s story simply wasn’t solid enough to put out. Then-Fox News editor-in-chief and vice president Noah Kotch, who is no longer at the company, acknowledged in a statement to CNN last year that the outlet was working to report the Daniels story but “during our due diligence, we were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story.” LaCorte, who has also since left Fox, in a statement to Mediaite last year said he had made the call on the story, and not higher-ups at Fox. “If I had run that, I wouldn’t have been a good journalist,” he said.
On Friday, LaCorte, who is now launching his own news service, responded to Mayer’s reporting in a post on Mediaite. He claimed that Daniels and her associates “were playing a bizarre cat-and-mouse game with Fox News and other outlets, trying to get their story out without fingerprints and, ultimately, without enough proof to publish.” He said that the story “wasn’t close to being publishable” and that the decision to hold it was a “no-brainer” and had nothing to do with Trump. LaCorte also denies having told Falzone that she had done “good reporting.”
Of course, that the Daniels story was kept under wraps before the election has big implications. Had it come out, it could have potentially swayed the outcome. One of the eight federal crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to last year was for a campaign finance violation related to the Daniels payout.
More broadly, Mayer’s story paints a picture of a symbiotic relationship between Fox News and Trump and of a president who is often more influenced by what television pundits say than by the advice of his staff.
Trump reportedly once called Fox News to get right-wing commentator Ann Coulter back on the network. In March 2018, he almost refused to sign an appropriations bill because of what he saw on Fox, but advisers were able to talk him out of it. Late last year, they had no such luck — Trump’s refusal to sign a spending bill over his insistence on $5 billion for a border wall caused a 35-day partial government shutdown. He was going to sign the bill but was convinced by Fox News commentators not to.
Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive who is now Trump’s communications chief, has received millions of dollars from Fox since joining the administration as part of his severance package.
Trump tried to kill the AT&T/Time Warner deal
Mayer’s story also reveals that from within the White House, Trump tried to push the Justice Department in the summer of 2017 to squash AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.
Trump’s opposition to the deal was no secret — he criticized it as soon as it was announced, and his ongoing battle with CNN, which Time Warner owns, cast a heavy political shadow over the merger and the government’s objection to it. There have long been suspicions that Trump might try to intervene, and according to Mayer’s report, he did:
[I]n the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit [to block the deal], Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”
The government eventually lost its lawsuit to block the deal in court.
There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical about the AT&T/Time Warner merger. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained, other lawmakers opposed it, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), top members on the Senate’s antitrust committee. And Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal, a similar deal, has had some negative effects.
But the president isn’t supposed to weigh in on antitrust enforcement in order to exact some sort of revenge plot on a perceived enemy — in this case, CNN. And Trump isn’t some media monopoly skeptic; he reportedly congratulated Murdoch about 21st Century Fox’s deal to sell its entertainment assets to Disney.
Update: This article was updated with extended comments from former Fox News executives.