Stelter: Was I Stupid to Take Avenatti Seriously as Possible 2020 Candidate?

February 16, 2020

CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter asked his Reliable Sources guests Sunday if he was "stupid" to take disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti seriously as a possible 2020 presidential candidate.

Avenatti, who was found guilty this week of trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike, was a media darling in 2018, making hundreds of television appearances as he promoted client Stormy Daniels's litigation against President Donald Trump. He used his newfound fame to flirt with a presidential run, and Stelter told him during one Reliable Sources appearance that he took his potential candidacy seriously because of his presence on cable news.

On Sunday, Stelter told Daily Beast reporters Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng that he got "grief" for that remark.

"Give me a media critique," Stelter said. "Was that stupid on my part? What do you make of how Avenatti was covered by CNN and MSNBC?"

Markay said Trump had succeeded at times in "Trumpifying" his opposition, allowing his foes to buy into conspiracy theories and get taken in by shady figures like Avenatti.

"By virtue of granting that, they were being played by that very strategy, his ability to manipulate the media," Markay said.

Stelter was hardly alone in boosting Avenatti. Panelists on MSNBC's Deadline: White House said the political novice should be given attention as a possible 2020 hopeful because he was a "fighter." Pundits called him a "beast," the "savior of the republic," and an "existential threat to the Trump presidency."

Avenatti constantly promised news nuggets that would bring down the president and promised several times Trump would not serve out his first term in office. It was not uncommon to see Avenatti on multiple programs in a single day.

In one two-month span, he earned $175 million in free media from CNN and MSNBC alone. He also made appearances on TodayCBS This MorningGood Morning AmericaThe ViewReal Time with Bill MaherThe Late Show with Stephen ColbertThe Circus, and other shows outside of cable.

However, his reputation began to fall apart when he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in November 2018. The charges were later dropped, but Daniels's lawsuit against Trump failed and the former porn star eventually accused Avenatti of stealing $300,000 from her.

In 2019, he was indicted in California and New York for multiple financial crimes, including tax evasion, fraud, and embezzlement.

Vanity Fair, which reported in 2018 on Avenatti's style and skincare routine, published a story in 2019 alleging he physically abused his ex-girlfriend and terrorized media figures behind the scenes.