Once Michael Avenatti got his first taste of national television coverage during the Stormy Daniels news cycle last year, he quickly became addicted to the attention. Cable newscasts gladly enabled him, spewing the Trump-hating celebrity lawyer across the networks, often multiple interviews a day. Now that it’s clear the “Creepy Porn Lawyer” is exactly the bad actor we thought he was, the media should be shamed for providing a scam artist with a megaphone and making him a household name.
On Monday, Avenatti was arrested and charged by federal authorities for attempting to extort Nike for millions of dollars. On the same day, the state of California filed charges against him for embezzlement and fraud. Thanks to CNN, MSNBC, and Avenatti’s thirst for attention, this was not just breaking news about your average sleazy scam artist, but news about someone that major networks propped up hundreds of times as a credible, authoritative source on several major stories over the last year.
By my count, Avenatti was interviewed on broadcast and cable news networks 214 times in 2018, spanning from March to November. Presumably, the only reason the invitations eventually came to halt was Avenatti’s November 14 arrest for allegations of domestic abuse.
The Media Research Center found that in a 10-week span last spring, from March to May, Avenatti was interviewed a whopping 147 times. Neither of those totals include additional segments about Avenatti, where he was the subject of news, but not interviewed. In 2018, CNN gave him the most airtime, with 107 live interviews. MSNBC came in a close second at 81.
Like a true addict, Avenatti always found ways to get his fix. The frequency of his appearances spiked anytime President Trump or Rudy Giuliani made comments about his former client Stormy Daniels. Once the Daniels-Cohen news cycle died down, he quickly found new ways to wedge himself back into the limelight.
In July and August, he began defending Central Americans who illegally crossed the U.S. border and were separated from their children in the process. Later in the fall he represented Julie Swetnick, a woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh of gang rape.
During these events Avenatti would often go on two- or three-day benders, appearing on cable news networks multiple times a day, for days in a row. Even if he couldn’t make it in studio, hosts would have him on over the phone.
On August 21, the day former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, Avenatti started his day on “MSNBC Live” with Steve Kornacki. In the afternoon he appeared on CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, followed by an appearance a few hours later on CNN with Don Lemon. The next morning, he appeared on CNN’s “New Day” with Alisyn Camerota, and again later that same day on “Anderson Cooper 360.” On the 23rd, for the third day in a row, he appeared on CNN, again with Blitzer.
Avenatti had a similar marathon run on Sept. 26, the day he revealed the identity of his client, the third Kavanaugh accuser. In less than 24 hours, starting on MSNBC and ending with an appearance on “Good Morning America,” he was interviewed on nine different television shows. At one point, he bounced from CNN at 9:00 to MSNBC at 10:00, then back to Don Lemon’s show on CNN in the same hour.
CNN hosts did not just reserve their affection for Avenatti to working hours. They invited him to their parties, and lauded his ambitions to run for president in 2020.
CNN reporter April Ryan shared this photo with Avenatti at a 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner party.
Avenatti went on to create his own PAC and even released a platform for a potential presidential campaign, all with the encouragement of his anchor pals at CNN. They never questioned his qualifications, but described him on air as a serious candidate.
“And looking ahead to 2020, one reason I’m taking you seriously as a contender is because of your presence on cable news,” CNN host Brian Stelter told Avenatti in September.
Flashback: CNN's @brianstelter touts Michael Avenatti as a "serious" contender for 2020.
"And looking ahead to 2020, one reason I’m taking you seriously as a contender is because of your presence on cable news.” pic.twitter.com/c5JEdVrLiJ
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 25, 2019
Avenatti, ever the glutton for attention, was even willing to do more contentious interviews, like when he sat down with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “You pose as a feminist hero because you are shameless and the other channels let you get away with it. But you’re an exploiter of a woman and you should be ashamed of it,” Carlson said.
Carlson is right. Avenatti exploited his clients Daniels, Swetnick, Central Americans, and others for hundreds of millions of dollars in free media coverage. Networks like CNN and MSNBC happily obliged his exploitation. They provided a platform for a shameless media grifter’s scams, and would have continued had federal authorities not stepped in. The same wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump, now done for an alleged criminal, will surely be done again with the next shiny object to come along.