On Tuesday evening, news broke that adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit to nullify an nondisclosure agreement surrounding a sexual relationship she says she had with Donald Trump.
The lawsuit is potentially a major development — it will make it more difficult for Trump to avoid answering questions about the alleged affair, and what he knew about a $130,000 payment that was made in exchange for Daniels’ silence about it just before the presidential election. Watchdog groups have raised concerns that the hush money payment to Daniels may have violated campaign finance laws.
But viewers of the president’s favorite TV network could be excused for knowing little to nothing about Daniels’ lawsuit. Fox News employed a variety of strategies to downplay and dismiss the story.
Change the topic to Monica Lewinsky
On Tuesday evening’s edition of Hannity, Daniels’ name was mentioned a single time — by guest Jessica Tarlov, who urged Hannity and Jesse Watters to stop scandal-mongering about the Clintons and Obama and instead talk about Trump.
“Why are we doing a segment about Barack Obama? Donald Trump is president,” Tarlov said. “Let’s talk about Stormy Daniels.”
Hannity immediately changed the topic to Monica Lewinsky.
Frame the Daniels story as a desperate attempt to distract from the economy
Laura Ingraham also mentioned Daniels a single time during the show following Hannity. She framed the story as a distraction from other more important issues.
While discussing Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, Ingraham said, “I think it’s time that people are actually held accountable. Trump is actually trying to do that and he gets trashed 24-7 by the media, who can’t stand to be proven wrong on an issue. That’s my point. And I think it’s a really interesting analysis that people want to say, ‘well let’s talk about Gary Cohn or Stormy Daniels’ — that’s ridiculous. America is going to make a comeback because this president actually wants to stand up for the American worker.”
Smear Daniels as just seeking “money and adulation”
The Daniels story was discussed more substantially during Wednesday’s edition of America’s Newsroom, but the show’s guests framed it as a salacious distraction that isn’t a big deal compared to the Lewinsky scandal.
“Now, Stormy Daniels — some people have compared it to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and I think that’s severely overstating it because the Monica Lewinsky scandal happened in the White House, it was an intern, it was a different different kind of thing,” said Chris Bedford of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Capri Cafaro of American University followed up by calling the Daniels story “tabloid fodder,” adding that “it’s not the first time nor will it be the last where we’ve see women in a controversial context with a sitting president.”
“I think a lot of this is about her, you know, trying to seek money and adulation,” Cafaro added, despite the fact that Daniels is in fact not seeking any money.
Start talking about something else as quickly as possible
Daniels’ name was brought up twice during the Wednesday morning edition of Trump’s favorite show, Fox & Friends — once during a brief news update, and a second time during an interview with Trump’s former personal lawyer, Jay Goldberg.
“Stormy Daniels is in the news. She apparently is saying that the nondisclosure agreement that she had with the Trump Organization was invalid because he never signed it,” host Steve Doocy said to Goldberg.
“Well, I think it’s true,” Goldberg said. “If it’s an agreement, you need the signature of both parties, and if there’s no signature by him,” it’s not valid.
Doocy quickly ended the interview.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News reporter John Roberts covered the Daniels lawsuit in more detail during Outnumbered Overtime’s White House news briefing. But as soon as he finished, host Harris Faulkner changed the topic.
“I want to talk more about the economy, so let’s do so,” she said, leaving the Daniels topic in the dust.
As you’d expect, in contrast with Fox News, the lawsuit has been a major topic of discussion on MSNBC and CNN, former Trump campaign senior economic adviser Stephen Moore was shut down for trying to shut-shame Daniels.
The irony is that Fox News actually had the Daniels story before other outlets, but decided to kill it. As ThinkProgress has previously detailed, in October 2016, a Fox News reporter filed a story about Trump’s relationship with Daniels — one that even included a statement from Daniels’ manager. But Fox News never published it, and the story didn’t become a topic of national discussion until January 2018, when the Wall Street Journal published a report about Trump’s personal lawyer arranging the $130,000 payment to Daniels shortly before the election.