Harvey Levin’s salacious gossip juggernaut TMZ reported Wednesday that Michael Avenatti, nattily dressed lawyer for femme fatale Stormy Daniels, had been arrested on domestic violence charges.
The article instantly set off alarms. Initially it claimed the victim of Avenatti’s alleged abuse was his estranged second wife, Lisa Storie. Storie soon issued a statement denying TMZ’s tale. For good measure, Avenatti’s first wife also said publicly he’d never laid a hand on her.
TMZ changed “estranged wife” to “woman” without flagging the correction. No woman has yet corroborated that Avenatti was violent with her.
Why pay attention to this kind of Jerry Springer stuff when our benighted nation seems to be slouching toward constitutional crisis or civil war or both?
Well, because — as usual in Trump times — salaciousness and statecraft are one. There is increasingly no difference in the carnies of TMZ, the carnies of pseudo-news and the carnies of the White House.
Indeed, Levin is a great friend of President Trump. Part of the reason the TMZ report on Avenatti seemed suspect, even to Avenatti’s many skeptics, is that Trump is known for enlisting his tabloid pals in nefarious schemes, and siccing them on his political and personal foes.
Time for a refresher. Reports are that David J. Pecker of American Media and the National Enquirer, Trump’s onetime bosom buddy, helped buy the silence of another of Trump’s adulterous skin-mag girlfriends in 2016.
Pecker was investigated by the U.S. attorney in New York for these payments — which may have counted as illegal contributions to Trump’s campaign for president — but then was granted immunity to testify. Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, of course, pleaded guilty on charges related to his own involvement in the porn star payoff racket, and he is now fully cooperating with federal prosecutors.
All of this is to say that an embattled Pecker, whose company is reportedly in disarray and lost its top outside counsel Tuesday, is for now not someone Trump can turn to for anything much.
But TMZ’s Levin may be. TV’s “Young Turk” Cenk Uygur calls Levin “a clear, biased, Trump-supporting clown,” and doesn’t put it past him to push a whole-cloth fictional hit job on Avenatti, Trump’s despised rival. Uygur isn’t alone.
Jacob Wohl, the outlandishly batty conspiracy theorist who recently tried to use his smoke-and-mirrors company Surefire Intelligence to frame special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for fabricated sex crimes, seemed to take credit for Avenatti’s arrest on Twitter. In a retweet Wohl’s company boasted: "Surefire Intelligence strikes again."
Now Avenatti tweets that he’s coming for Wohl. Others say he should bring down TMZ. Come for. Bring down. This is all very gentlemanly and professional.
What’s weird is that Avenatti and Levin are birds of a feather. They’re both California natives: from Sacramento and L.A., respectively. They’re unapologetically vain. They have BAs in political science, and JDs from venerable law schools. And they both regard the United States of America as a 3.797-million-square-mile reality TV set.
And with a reality TV president in place, both Avenatti, in Tom Ford suits, and Levin, in an overdeveloped gym body, have sighted a road to broader relevance: politics. Avenatti has suggested he’ll run for president. Levin has suggested he’ll get Kris Jenner elected president. (No kidding.)
Avenatti styles himself as “a fighter,” the president’s arch-foe and a “lawyer for the truth” who has signed up as clients everyone from victims of Trump’s family separation policy to people claiming to be witnesses to misconduct by Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. In short, he chases every ambulance smudged with Trump’s bronzer.
Levin, meanwhile, runs TMZ (with its edifying division on “celebrity butts”), hosts the hard-hitting “Objectified” for Fox News (about celebrities’ possessions) and, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, is keeping his brand relevant by hustling the Kardashians into politics, where the screen time really is these days.
All this crossing of streams — the future of the republic, the rule of law and the Kardashians — is not just morally unsanitary; it might be lethal for the body politic. And center stage are various tacky guys — including former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort — in overpriced suits with glittery cuff links. None of them could be trusted to Venmo you $10 for pizza.
Levin is said to be “casting” the next election, hoping to find the next president by her Instagram numbers. Avenatti is always telling a gaggle of microphones, just wait, I’ll reveal something big soon.
In this integrity desert, there’s a real opening for someone with a sense of history, keen intelligence, actual principles and an understated style.
So far, only one of Capitol players fits this bill, but he’s not auditioning. He’s not politicking. And he’s certainly not rolling with Kris Jenner. He’s Mueller. He wears what GQ called a “sartorial ‘no comment’ ” of gray or blue suits with white shirts and recessive ties.
On Friday, as hopeful citizens watched his office like the Delphic Oracle for an Trump-Russia indictment we had convinced ourselves was imminent, Mueller kept his own counsel. His timing is, as always, his own.
He’s never commented on Avenatti or Levin — or, for that matter, Cohen or Wohl or Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani — but he allegedly has some thoughts on their style. As a rule, he once told an FBI colleague, he believes French cuffs are the province of “drug lawyers.”
When this is over, I hope we see cuff reform, on top of everything else.