The New Yorker published a story in its latest issue which claims Fox News had the Stormy Daniels story before the 2016 election but chose not to publish it. The story by Jane Mayer claims the scoop, put together by Fox News entertainment reporter Diana Falzone, was passed around until an executive, Ken LaCorte, finally told her the story would not run:
That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.
But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.
Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.
Shortly after the election, Falzone was demoted and wound up suing Fox. She eventually reached a settlement which required her to sign an NDA. LaCorte, the executive who killed the story also left Fox News but doesn’t deny that he killed the story. He claims he did so of his own volition, i.e. that he received no orders from higher up because the story wasn’t solid.
The first thing to note about this is it isn’t new. CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported the outlines of this story in Jan. 2018. Here’s the opening of Darcy’s piece:
Fox News had a story at the height of the presidential election that detailed an alleged sexual relationship between porn actress Stephanie Clifford — whose stage name is “Stormy Daniels” — and Donald Trump, but opted not to publish it, four people familiar with the matter told CNN.
LaCorte admitted to killing the story but his account of why he did so makes the story itself sound less like a slam dunk. From Mediaite:
LaCorte explained that while Falzone’s report claimed in its introduction that Daniels had confirmed her relationship with Trump, it lacked the evidence to back that up…
Though CNN reported Falzone had an on-the-record comment from Daniels’s then-manager Gina Rodriguez, LaCorte told Mediaite that the story he rejected identified her only as an unnamed spokesperson — and that she only gave a two-word comment confirming the Dirty story on the relationship between Trump and Daniels: “It’s true.”
According to LaCorte, Falzone’s report also noted that Daniels herself would not confirm the relationship nor comment for the story…
“I was the person who made the call,” he said. “I didn’t run it upstairs to Roger Ailes or others. It was an easy call to make as a senior editor there. That’s what I did. I didn’t do it to protect Donald Trump. Even though we had a story written, it was nowhere near being something that would have passed muster.”
Obviously, that claim would be undercut if LaCorte did indeed tell Falzone, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” But of course, LaCorte denies saying it and the quote apparently comes not from Falzone herself but from someone she told about it afterward. It’s a second-hand account. That doesn’t prove it’s not accurate but it’s not as convincing as if Falzone herself were making the claim directly. Obviously, she has signed an NDA and is trying to avoid breaking it.
The rest of the New Yorker article is the usual attacks on Fox News backed by quotes from Media Matters. It’s not very interesting and the allegation about spiking the Stormy Daniels story is not new. As Mediate pointed out last year, there were other sites who were pursuing the Stormy Daniels story at the time who also didn’t publish it:
Fox News wasn’t the only outlet that passed on the Stormy Daniels bombshell. Both Slate and the Daily Beast were working on stories about the alleged relationship in October 2016.
Jacob Weisberg, head of the Slate Group, had an interview with Stormy in October 2016 in which she confirmed the relationship with Trump. But according to Slate editor in chief Julia Turner, Stormy requested payment for her account — which the website was unable to independently verify — and the report was eventually spiked.
Maybe there’s a scandal here or maybe the Stormy Daniels story wasn’t easy to pin down in late 2016 largely because Daniels herself wouldn’t confirm it (because of the NDA she’d signed). The real question is whether it would have mattered even if Fox News or Slate or some other outlet had published it before the election. I think that’s not so clear.
Trump was hit with the Access Hollywood tape before the election. Would the claim that he’d slept with a porn star, consensually, have killed his chances when his own words didn’t? Don’t forget too that Hillary Clinton would have been in an awkward position to capitalize on news of marital infidelity. What exactly would she have said that wouldn’t boomerang on her own husband? The idea that this was a decisive moment is a stretch.