Resistance Grifter Michael Avenatti Gets What He Had Coming
But the networks that treated his clown show like serious business haven’t paid any price at all for offering this hustler as the hero we deserve.
The presidential plans of Michael Avenatti suffered a setback Thursday, as the anti-Trump lawyer-turned-self-aggrandizing sideshow was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for attempting to extort $20 million from Nike. When the sentence was handed down, the tough guy, who’s facing additional time on additional charges, cried.
Thirty months in prison sounds like a lot—it is a lot—but prosecutors wanted eight years and, quite frankly, an eight-year vacation from Michael Avenatti would be good for America. He is a charlatan, a scammer, a cheat, a rip-off artist, a fumbling legal loser who wrapped his self-promotion and grift in the sanctimony of a freedom fighter. He not only didn’t help, he made things worse. But have we learned our lesson?
We first got to know Michael Avenatti when he announced in March 2018 that he would be representing former adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against then-President Trump. Daniels wanted out of an NDA and hush-money payment that barred her from speaking about an affair she allegedly had with Trump back when Trump’s wife Melania would have been postpartum with Trump’s youngest son Barron. Every detail of the story is gross, even before we get to the part about Avenatti stealing from his clients and leaving visible bruises on a girlfriend.
Set designers working on future period films that take place in the spring of 2018 will lend veracity to their project by simply having Avenatti’s face above a cable-news chyron in the background. The man was everywhere, aided and abetted by the mainstream media.
If you watched cable news at all during his heyday, you’d swear that Avenatti was one of the world’s only lawyers. No, not a lawyer—a super-lawyer—a #Resistance hero! Straight from central casting from a David E. Kelley procedural where all the attorneys are suspiciously hot, fighting for the forces of good, too driven by justice to succumb to vice. The hero Gotham deserves. Maybe this country’s best hope for unfucking that which the Trump administration had fucked.
During an appearance on ABC’s The View, guest host Ana Navarro suggested Avenatti take a permanent seat as one of the co-hosts on the all-woman daytime talk show and compared his ubiquity to that of the Holy Spirit—which is ridiculous because during Avenatti-mania in mainstream media, Avenatti was more like a poltergeist: disruptive, loud, destructive, irritating, and impossible to ignore.
By late spring 2018, judges weren’t as horny for Avenatti’s antics as cable bookers were. One judge ordered Avenatti to step away from his “publicity tour” if he wanted to continue to make appearances in her courtroom. Avenatti opted to withdraw from the case in order to pursue his real passion, being on TV. One might think that would cause some raised eyebrows, but Avenatti was still a hyped primetime guest on news programs into the fall, when he inserted himself into the circus of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, introducing a serious accusation of high school sexual predation against the judge that completely fell apart under scrutiny and may have given forces in favor of Kavanaugh’s hasty confirmation the fodder they needed to paint every accusation with the same brush.
By the spring of 2019, Avenatti’s stock had taken a Black Monday tumble. In March, he was indicted in the aforementioned Nike extortion case. In April, he was hit with 36 more felony charges including defrauding clients, cheating on his taxes, and obstruction. When his then-former client Stormy Daniels weighed in, she said she was “saddened but not shocked” by the indictments.
In all, Avenatti’s fame cost just about everybody something. It made for good TV, though.
Between his debut as Daniels’ attorney in March 2018 and his indictments a year later, Avenatti appeared on the news 254 times. According to a count by the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, Avenatti appeared on CNN 122 times, and MSNBC 108 times. I’d surmise that most grown adults don’t have 254 conversations with their own mothers over the course of a year. (Avenatti told the Washington Post’s Eric Wemple that he turned down “60 percent” of the interview requests he received from CNN and MSNBC that year, for whatever that’s worth.)
Which brings us to an important question: Did everybody with power in mainstream news media fall for Michael Avenatti’s act simultaneously, or did they know the score and simply not care? It’s not like the warning signs weren’t there and reporters like The Daily Beast’s Kate Briquelet were reporting on them early and often.
Are the people who turned Avenatti into a star dupes themselves, or did they exploit their viewers who, more than anything, wanted to see somebody on TV yelling the things they wanted to yell during a time they felt powerless? Who got scammed here, and why was it so easy for somebody like Michael Avenatti, who, when you think about it, always gave off a bit of a slimeball vibe?
The Avenatti mass-duping reminds me a little of a mass-duping that’s currently taking place in right-wing media, where everybody from pundits to concerned Twitter eggs is wringing their hands over something that might not have even happened.
I live in Los Angeles, where, for the last couple of weeks, a place called Wi Spa has made headlines and inspired sputtering screeds over an alleged incident where a pre-op trans woman used the women’s locker room and nude bathing facilities, exposing nude female cisgender spa-goers of all ages to unwanted male genitalia. After the alleged incident, a protest and counterprotest took place outside of the spa, and some protesters were injured. This is exactly what people who push anti-trans bathroom laws warned us about, goes the line. It’s happening. Penises everywhere.
The problem is, it’s not clear that the original incident in question ever took place. Employees of the spa don’t recall seeing a trans woman enter the women’s locker facilities on that day. The video provided by the woman who initially claimed she saw a trans woman in the bathing facilities only shows the woman complaining to front-desk employees. We never see the trans woman in question, nor has that person been located. The woman who originally complained about the spa incident has an Instagram page dominated by Christian memes. (And, not to be nitpicky, but I’ve been to Wi Spa many times, and most of the media coverage characterizes Wi as “all-nude” when it actually isn’t, and “upscale” or a “celebrity hangout” when it’s a spa that caters to a wide range of extremely normal people and is located in a neighborhood pretty far from the places where celebrities live. It makes me think some of these screed authors have not only never been to a Korean spa, they’ve never been to Koreatown.)
There’s no evidence that the woman who complained about a “trans incident” at Wi Spa was lying, but there’s no evidence beyond her word that she was telling the truth, either. It’s not that the emperor has no clothes, it’s that there may never have been an emperor in the first place.
Until journalists or investigators can prove what allegedly happened actually happened, it is strange and irresponsible for a powerful media organization like Fox News to lend this incident so much credulity, as it was an embarrassing failure for the center-left news media to decide without evidence that Michael Avenatti was a solid dude, or for all of those politicians and media personalities to tweet support of Jussie Smollett.
One of the reasons that scamming is such a lucrative business in this country is that nobody wants to admit they’re a sucker. The hardest words for Americans to pronounce are “I think I’ve been had.”
That’s why the show Catfish lasted for eight seasons; we are more likely to believe that someone who looks exactly like Katy Perry wants to date us than that somebody who looks nothing like Katy Perry is lying to fuck with us. It’s why people keep cutting checks to Shaun King’s shady fundraisers, something organizers and activists have been warning people off of for years. I’m Not A Sucker Syndrome is why some COVID patients use their last breaths to deny that they’re dying of the disease that’s killing them. It’s why QAnon acolytes still think Trump is going to somehow be reinstated as the president, even though nothing that their sad little online cult has predicted would happen has come to pass.
The last few years should have taught us that our beliefs can be used against us by bad actors with an agenda and the tools to go viral. Will the media ever learn its lesson? Will anybody?
Or is the next Avenatti out there right now, duping clients and biding his time until the media makes him a god before we all discover that he’s a scumbag? Is the next incident that reinforces all of conservatives’ fears about trans people being staged in a Zoom meeting of TERFs and zealots?
As somebody who was once on the news all the time might say: basta!