Was Fox News protecting Donald Trump by hiding his affair with a porn actress? CNN seemed to make that case this week with an article headlined “Fox News shelved story on Trump and porn actress Stormy Daniels before election.”

The story is intriguing, but as the person at Fox who “shelved” it, I know that it’s false.

SOME BACKGROUND

In 2011, a user-submitted gossip site called “The Dirty” published a story alleging that in 2006 Donald Trump had an 11-month affair with a porn star named Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. E! News wrote a story based on it, which was denied by Trump’s lawyers.

Stormy has a penchant for publicity, including a short-lived U.S. Senate campaign. In this instance, though, her lawyer sent a threatening “cease and desist” letter to The Dirty’s editor, Nik Richie, whose real name is Hooman Karamian. The website pulled down the story, put it back up for a bit, and has since removed it completely.

THE FOX STORY

Flash forward to three weeks before the 2016 election. As the person in charge of the editorial at FoxNews.com, I reviewed a draft story written by Fox News entertainment reporter, Diana Falzone.

In short, we didn’t have much. In her report, Falzone wrote that Stormy’s unnamed spokesperson said “it’s true,” referencing the 2011 Dirty article, while Stormy herself refused to comment. The piece also mentioned one of Stormy’s friends who never confirmed a Trump affair but said she once dropped Stormy off at the Beverly Hills Hotel to meet him. Besides some quotes from The Dirty editor who defended his earlier story, that was it.

Was the story true? Since then, The Wall Street Journal has reported about a Trump payoff to Stormy, and in another newly surfaced 2011 interview, she says that they had a relationship.

As a news executive in 2016, though, I faced different facts:

  • Our story centered around a two word “confirmation” from the porn star’s manager. We had no details or backup.
  • Everyone who “knew” about the story was quoting Stormy Daniels, and she wasn’t talking.
  • She had earlier taken legal action to squash it, making her secondhand statements even more questionable.

In the end, it was an easy decision, and no legitimate news organization would have published what we had. It’s coming to light that other outlets came to the same conclusion.

Stormy Daniels in a 2009 file photo

ENTER CNN

I spoke briefly with the CNN reporter Oliver Darcy prior to the story’s publication. I know Oliver and like him.

He doesn’t print wrong facts, but when it comes to Fox News, I do have some issues with his fairness. There’s no love lost between the two organizations, though, so I don’t find it too shocking that CNN publishes articles putting Fox in a bad light.

It’s a combination of small things, such as “Falzone had an on-the-record statement from Clifford’s manager at the time” … two words, without using her name.

Or opening with “Fox News had a story at the height of the presidential election that detailed an alleged sexual relationship” when we didn’t have details of a sexual relationship.

Or citing an anonymous source who supported the Fox reporter saying, “She had the story and Fox killed it” … no, she didn’t.

In fairness to Oliver, when he called me about the story, I had forgotten about its details until I discovered some old emails afterward. I did make it clear that we definitely didn’t have the story and that I was the person who made that decision, but didn’t offer specific details of the story’s shortcomings.

All said, a reasonable person reading his story would come to the 100% wrong conclusion that Fox had a solid story, and spiked it for political purposes. That’s not even close to the truth.

AND THEN, THE MEDIA

The story exploded within hours across the internet. Dozens of outlets from Newsweek to the Daily Mail to Vice picked it up. But by “picked it up” I mean they literally re-wrote the story, publishing it as their own without adding even a tidbit of reporting.

In an age of “news as a political weapon,” this is a small battle but insight into how truth became a secondary value to a juicy narrative.

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