FIRST PERSON: Here’s the Stormy Daniels story I wouldn’t publish
by Ken LaCorte
In the wake of a recent article describing Fox News as essentially state propaganda, there’s been debate about why Fox News didn’t publish a draft story it had about porn actress Stormy Daniels’ affair with Donald Trump.
A congressman even hinted that they could subpoena those involved. I’m not a big fan of the government interrogating reporters, so I’ll save them some trouble.
As the editorial head of FoxNews.com, I was the person who made that decision. Here is my reasoning and, more importantly, here’s the story I wouldn’t run. You can judge for yourself.
At FoxNews.com, we had a reporter who for a while had been working on a story alleging that a 2011 post on a website called TheDirty was true. It alleged that Trump had slept with Daniels, after meeting at a golf event in 2006.
We would later learn that Daniels and her associates had also been speaking to at least Slate, The Daily Beast, Good Morning America and the Daily Mail, which reported that she was seeking a $200,000 payment to tell her side in the weeks before the election. None of these outlets published anything until well after the election when the Wall Street Journal broke the story of Trump's lawyer arranging a payment to Daniels.
The Story: On October 18, 2016, a Fox editor emailed me the latest version of the story. Here it is, in full, minus some URL links:
Porn star Stormy Daniels says 2011 story about affair with Donald Trump is true
A porn star says a 2011 report claiming she had an 11-month affair with Donald Trump while he was married to his current wife is true – despite the fact her lawyers at the time issued a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue the website that ran the story.
A representative for Stormy Daniels, who has appeared and directed in dozens of porn films since WHEN, told FoxNews.com the 2011 report in TheDirty.com, which detailed an alleged affair that took place in 2006 and 2007, was in fact accurate. “It’s true,” the spokesperson said, before adding Daniels “will not comment further” on the story.
The editor of the TheDirty.com continues to stand by the original story.
“I spoke with Stormy Daniels back in 2011 after following up on a submission by a source to TheDirty.com,” said Nik Richie tells FOX411. “The submission was about Donald Trump allegedly having an extramarital affair, which led to the breakup of the source's relationship. Stormy was very nice and open about her 11-month relationship with Donald.
“She said they met at a celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe in August 2006. She then told me they headed to the nightclub after with Ben Rothelisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who Trump requested that Ben walk Stormy back to her room so they wouldn't be seen together. Trump and Stormy exchanged contact information after the event and met up on other occasions.”
But when Richie published the story Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, hired a lawyer who sent a cease and desist letter to the website. FOX411 obtained a copy of the letter, which did not deny the facts of the story, but demanded TheDirty.com stop using Daniels’ name, stating: “Demand is hereby made upon you to immediately cease and desist, and cause all third parties to cease and desist, from any further unauthorized use of any materials containing Ms. Daniel’s [sic] name or identity.”
An attorney for Trump, Michael Cohen, issued a denial of the story after it was published. In a statement to E! News about Life & Style magazine’s version of the same: "The totally untrue and ridiculous story written by Life & Style Magazine about Donald J. Trump emanated from a sleazy and disgusting website which, upon strong notification, fully withdrew its posting.”
Richie said he pulled the post for less than a month due to threatened legal action by Trump, but then reposted the unedited story. He said Trump never again threatened legal action.
Another source contacted by FOX411 said of the events Richie detailed about Trump meeting up with Daniels. “I knew she met Trump at the golf tournament. She told me about it. She was not a sleep her way to the top type. She was at the hierarchy in her business, the top of the totem pole,” the source said. “She would tell me Donald Trump was calling. I never thought anything about it. I’m in entertainment. One night Donald was in town at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I drove her to meet him. I took her to the side entrance. Someone came out and met her. I know they stayed in touch.”
For an editor evaluating this story in the days before a national election, it didn’t come close to meeting journalistic standards.
1. The headline and first sentence were the first problems. Yes, Stormy Daniels’ then-manager said, “It’s true” but that wasn’t from Daniels herself. In fact, Daniels’ lawyer had previously sent a cease-and-desist letter to The Dirty and wasn’t willing to talk. She would maintain her denials of the incident for another year. Given that her lawyer earlier demanded a story be retracted and now another representative said it was true, there was an obvious conflict. Minimum journalistic standards demanded resolving that conflict.
2. The Dirty plays an outsized role throughout the piece and that was troubling. Fox and other outlets reported stories that started as posts from the site, which is usually called a “gossip” site but is truly an awful, misogynistic place for people to post awful things. You can’t fully appreciate that unless you visit it and see for yourself: www.thedirty.com.
Seriously, The Dirty is part of every paragraph of this story except the last. I wouldn’t consider staking my or Fox’s journalistic reputation on it, and you can’t get inside of my head if you don’t see it and understand how vile it is.
3. The other anonymous source offered some color to the story, but not much more. Again, we and others had people saying that Daniels had told them things in the past, but it was all secondhand, with Daniels unwilling to confirm.
Our reporter had some documentation from Daniels’ side which showed her lawyer was seeking a hush-payment. I didn’t see those documents but was told that they proved little since they were unsigned proposals from her lawyer. To get more insight, I highly recommend reading this piece by the editor of Slate, which details what Daniels told and showed him. Slate didn’t publish the story, nor did any of the other outlets the Daniels team contacted.
In short, we weren’t close to having this story and I have no regrets in holding it, even though it turned out to be true. Good journalists don’t publish what they “know”; they publish what they can prove. Would you have published this?
Even then, our editors had our reporter reach out to Daniels again, but she went radio silent. Apparently, when she signed her hush money contract and got paid, she hushed up. Again, of the multiple outlets who were digging into this, none published until many months later.
In these partisan times ...
Some will never believe anything from anyone who worked at Fox News or CNN or so much of the media. I created LaCorte News to help move beyond that — offering both aggregated and original news meant to enlighten you, not play to your partisan desires.
We’ve only been online for a few months. Please look around and let us know what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. We’re trying hard to bring fairness back into the news and are interested in your feedback.
A few notes ...
- Here is a screenshot of the email I received. I’ve blacked out the editors' names; my reputation has been smeared on this and I won’t have a hand in spreading that to my former colleagues.
- The time stamps make it look as though I received the forward email before the original was sent, but I was in California, so there is a 3-hour time shift.
- No one at Fox News encouraged me in any way, shape or form to publish this or speak out.
I’ll be answering questions in the comment section below, so feel free to ask.
Ken LaCorte is the founder of LaCorte News. He served as the Western Region Bureau Chief for Fox News starting in 1999, the Director of News Editorial, and Senior Vice President for Digital at Fox, where he headed online editorial from 2006-16.
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