A dose of schadenfreude to brighten up your Sunday afternoon. Righties have been righteously dunking on the media for their relentless promotion of Avenatti since the verdict in the Nike trial was handed down a few days ago, but apart from Toobin’s sheepish admission here examples of self-reflection are hard to find. In almost 15 years of covering politics daily I can’t think of a person who achieved greater ubiquity as a guest on cable news than Avenatti did in the first half of 2018. Interviews every day, sometimes more than one a day, sometimes on multiple networks, day after day after day for months. Not always strictly related to the facts of the Stormy Daniels case, either; no one could sustain a media habit at that pace with a single topic. He was the perfect CNN subject — pugnacious, a news-maker, aggressively anti-Trump, and seemingly willing and able to do their archenemy in the White House some real damage legally. They were addicted.
But I don’t know that any of us understood at the time how addicted Avenatti was to the attention. Obviously he reveled in it — the dude showed up at the MTV Video Music Awards at the height of his fame, because of course he did — but some reporters’ recollections of their interactions with him make his narcissism sound even more pathological than we’ve all come to assume. Graeme Wood wrote at the Atlantic about meeting him once in the MSNBC green room after Avenatti had just finished an interview on Joe Scarborough’s show. What happened next has the vibe of a junkie who’s just injected himself and is suddenly lost in the high:
Even that morning, I saw signs that he was a strange man. When Avenatti came back to the green room, Sunstein and I talked with him, and I congratulated him on milking the segment for maximum drama. I’m quite sure I did not sound sarcastic; I was genuinely impressed. Then the commercial break ended, and the hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, began discussing the exciting news that Avenatti had just delivered. We heard them on the television in the green room. In mid-sentence, Avenatti stopped talking with us, turned his back, and approached the television, standing very close to it—utterly hypnotized by the clips they were running of his interview. I tried to talk with Avenatti and offered him a pastry, but his eyes had glazed over in a way that suggested a higher level of consciousness. All attempts to converse with him were in vain, as if we were trying to interrupt a monk in his third decade of silent meditation.
I would not have guessed when the Stormy scandal first blew up that Donald Trump wouldn’t be the most weirdly narcissistic figure in that drama.
Emily Jane Fox of Vanity Fair recalled interviewing Avenatti after everything had begun to fall apart for him, following his arrest and indictment in California on dozens of charges. You’d think a man in that situation would clam up, not wanting to risk further legal jeopardy. But he needed his fix, still clinging to fantasies of grandeur despite facing ruin:
In the interview, which we published last spring, Avenatti talked about why he would have made the right candidate to face off against Trump in 2020—a gutter fighter-meets-media-generator fit to handle this particular era and this particular president… He talked about how he felt like the government was going after him because he was “one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat” to Trump. “Anyone who thinks differently is a fool,” he said. We talked about the media attention he got, how he f***ing loved it and sought it out and bathed in it. “I couldn’t believe how unbelievably great everything was,” he told me, retelling stories he’d already told me, about the cable appearances he’d made and speeches he’d given and crowds he drew and compliments strangers delivered. And we talked about his own hubris or ego or narcissism or the cocktail of all three. It takes a certain type of person to be allegedly defrauding clients, extorting major corporations, failing to pay taxes, stealing money from one of the most public clients in history while contemplating a bid for the presidency and frequenting every greenroom this country has to offer.
Avenatti’s downfall resembles the downfall of an addict. First came the initial euphoria of celebrity; for him, that was the media attention to the Stormy Daniels case. He fed the developing addiction relentlessly with his cable news appearances. He began to disassociate, believing he might run for president — or maybe the presidential chatter was just another way to protect his supply of the drug, giving the media another reason to cover him. By late 2018, with Stormygate having lost some momentum and Democrats beginning to pay attention to more credible presidential contenders, he resorted to desperate action in search of another hit, barging into the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing with the dubious Julie Swetnick allegations. He was allegedly deeply in debt too, frantic to preserve a lavish lifestyle he seemingly couldn’t afford but which broadcast his VIP status. By the end, if all of the allegations against him are true, he was the equivalent of a junkie knocking over convenience stores to feed his habit.
And in a way, it was even more pathetic than all of that suggests. Avenatti’s mammoth ego was sufficiently fragile that he was known to reach out and lambaste random people for saying an unkind word about him. According to Ken “Popehat” White, Avenatti once called him out of the blue and proceeded to rant at him about how much better of a lawyer he was than White after White had said something critical of him somewhere. I myself was once the lucky recipient of an Avenatti-gram when I joked on Twitter that he and Michael Cohen would form one of the most bad-ass prison gangs in the federal system. He saw that somehow — possibly he was searching Twitter for mentions of his name, eager for any reminder that he was still an Important Person — and sent me a three-word direct message in response. The first word was “Go,” the third word was “yourself.” I’ll let you guess what the second word was.
I’m not going to be seeing him much on Twitter anymore, I think. Here’s Toobin, via RCP.