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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The President and the Porn Star

Posted by on Thu, Jan 18, 2018 at 9:04 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

This story broke on the Friday before the long weekend, so I haven’t had a chance to get into it. And frankly, the salacious details are less important to me than the fact that this story has barely made a dent, much less led to a full-on scandal, amid all of the other craziness going on. But since there are some new developments, I figured now was as good a time as any to discuss it.
  • The story: On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that a Trump associate had paid a porn star $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election—a time when allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct were in the news—to keep her quiet about an affair they had. Trump’s lawyer has denied the allegations, saying that the porn star has too.
  • What’s new: In a story out this week, In Touch Weekly has unearthed a seven-year-old interview with Daniels in which she says that, yes, she and Trump had an affair, the sex was “textbook generic,” and Trump offered her a spot on The Apprentice but then didn’t deliver.
  • Also: In Slate, editor Jacob Weisberg says he learned of the Trump/Daniels affair in 2016, shortly after the RNC: “Daniels told me she’d gone to Trump’s hotel room after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada in 2006. There they’d begun a sexual relationship, which continued for nearly a year. They’d met in New York and more than once in Los Angeles. … In our conversations, Daniels said she was holding back on the juiciest details, such as her ability to describe things about Trump that only someone who had seen him naked would know. She intimated that her view of his sexual skill was at odds with the remark attributed to Marla Maples. … She didn’t allege any kind of abuse, insisting she was not a victim. The worst Trump had done, she said, was break promises she’d never believed he would fulfill.”
  • “As an alternative to being paid for her silence, Daniels wanted to be paid for her story. She thought it might come out anyway, as one version did on the website the Smoking Gun in October 2016. (The site reported the allegation that Trump and Daniels had an affair, not that they had negotiated a settlement.) Daniels said she wanted, in her words, something to show for her experience. Another motivation to go public, she said, was her anger about Trump’s newfound opposition to abortion and gay marriage. … And then, about a week before the election, Daniels stopped responding to calls and text messages. A friend of hers told me Daniels had said she’d taken the money from Trump after all.”
  • From WaPo: “The Daily Beast’s executive editor, Noah Shachtman, said his publication decided not to go with a story despite having three sources confirming the affair, including one on the record, Daniels’s friend Alana Evans. (Evans recounted her story on the Today show on Tuesday.) Daniels herself was ready to confirm it as well, he said, but she backed out of an interview on Nov. 3, apparently after signing the nondisclosure agreement. That defection was critical; Shachtman said the Daily Beast would have published if Daniels had confirmed what other sources were already claiming.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Again, the interesting thing to me is not that Trump had a consensual affair. That’s not of our business, to be honest. I don’t care that he apparently slept with a porn star a decade ago. Trump buying her silence is newsworthy, but even that doesn’t bother me so much. He wanted to keep something potentially embarrassing out of the news, so he wrote a check. Lots of rich men have done that. And sure, his team is likely lying about the whole thing now, but the man lies about everything. So what? Instead, what’s amazing to me that this story has barely made a dent in our national politics; it’s a curious aside, rather than a national scandal. And that’s the rub of the thing.
  • A thought experiment: Imagine that, in early 2010, news broke that Barack Obama had an affair with a porn star—or, hell, any woman—just after Michele Obama gave birth, and then paid that woman six figures to keep her mouth shut. Imagine what the reaction would be from the moralists on the religious right and the conservatives in Congress. In 2009, Obama caught hell for suggesting (rightly!) a white cop screwed up when he arrested a black professor for entering his own home. [ABC] Is there any way House Republicans wouldn’t have already drawn of articles of impeachment, or that Fox News would be 24/7 with stories about Obama disgracing the presidency?
  • And yet, there’s been radio silence from the religious right and no condemnation from social conservatives. Perhaps it’s hypocrisy, people forfeiting their supposed morals in service of their political agenda. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, that we’ve become inured to this stuff in the age of Trump. Perhaps there’s just too much going on to keep track. Or perhaps it’s all of these.

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