Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who transfixed the media establishment because he sparred with Donald Trump, is headed to jail. He was sentenced to “two-and-a-half years in prison for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.” And yet, even with that, it’s not the end for Avenatti — his legal woes have barely started.
The Associated Press notes that “Avenatti’s legal woes are far from over. He also faces the start of a fraud trial next week in the Los Angeles area, a second California criminal trial later this year and a separate trial next year in Manhattan, where he is charged with cheating Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
If you recall, Avenatti rose to political fame by representing Stormy Daniels. In the prime part of his time on cable television, Michael Avenatti was everywhere in the media. During ten weeks in 2018, he was interviewed 147 times. There are only 70 days in that period, meaning Avenatti was on television multiple times a day across numerous networks focused on anti-Trump coverage, however they could frame it. On one day in May, he appeared seven times.
The press was obsessed with Avenatti. They brought him on not only to talk about legal cases and politics, but talk show hosts like Chris Hayes on MSNBC brought Avenatti on to talk about why Trump wasn’t talking about Avenatti or that story. Somewhat hilariously, Hayes had the nerve to say after Avenatti’s sentencing, “Put Michael Avenatti in the John Edwards category of ‘trust your instincts.'” It’s unclear if mirrors are available at MSNBC.
Brian Stelter at CNN went beyond anyone else, promoting Aventatti as a 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate. Stelter added, “I’m taking you [Avenatti] seriously as a [2020 presidential] contender is because of your presence on cable news.”
It’s the kind of praise you can’t make up. It’s impossible to invent this kind of peanut-brain asininity.
My favorite was probably Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine, who tried defending Democrats elevating Avenatti to Presidential contender status by saying, “Imagine how dysfunctional and broken a party would have to be to nominate a demagogue with no governing experience as president just because he went on TV all the time.”
This was meant as a “gotcha” over the Republican Party elevating Donald Trump to the White House. Maybe Chait forgot the column he authored in February of 2016 titled: “Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination.”
I’m having some fun here going through all these fail-takes from a media that placed the attacks of Avenatti above fact, truth, or reality. But aside from the deep-seated issues with the press regarding covering Donald Trump, or any Republican for that matter, there is one other issue.
Avenatti represents a favorite type of the American press: the telegenic, credentialed expert with an acidic tongue and loose morals.
Attorneys know that you can find an expert to say whatever you need in a given trial. It’s not that expert witnesses are liars; it’s just for a certain price, some of them are willing to interpret the data favorably for your case. But that’s litigation and the trial process. There’s usually a lawyer on the other side ready to poke all the holes in an expert’s take on the issue in a contentious case. There’s balance.
When it comes to handling experts, the media lacks this balance. And by balance, I don’t mean offering competing views. I’m referring to a willingness to offer up competent people to poke holes, show skepticism, and destroy faulty experts.
Michael Avenatti gives ambulance chasers a good name. When he rose to fame in the moment of the stories, he purposely elevated himself over his clients and the cases he was presenting. There was never a moment when he was representing his clients or even a case against Donald Trump. At all times, it was all about Avenatti.
Avenatti was a trendy kind of expert at the zenith of leftwing #Resistance theater on cable news television. The lawyer who painted a world without Trump. Former prosecutors would hop on the airwaves to proclaim everything they knew, things like the Mueller probe, or impeachment, or anything else relating to law. They never knew anything, but the walls were always closing in on Donald Trump. At every moment of every day, it was the worst day of Donald Trump’s life on a legal basis.
And yet, these people ultimately knew nothing, and this was readily apparent if you were willing to engage with the facts at the moment. Avenatti never had anything on Trump. The legal experts of MSNBC, CNN, and more often did more disservice to legal knowledge than anything else. Viewers would have been better informed had they never heard a thing from a cable television legal analyst.
Avenatti happened because the press values outcomes over knowledge, narrative above truth. There are always willing “experts” willing to subjugate their credentials to the narrative of the moment. And editors, producers, and journalists who desperately need a narrative to be true will elevate anyone to confirm their biases instead of providing a skeptical mindset.
That’s how we got served the presidential narratives of Michael Avenatti, a man guilty of blackmail and extortion and charged with stealing from his clients. A willing press gobbled up Avenatti. If they had any scruples, this never would have happened.