For Penn State, Davis sought to temper alumni outrage over the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno following the Jerry Sandusky scandal by trotting out school trustees to tell the media how badly they felt about the whole thing. He got a few sympathetic articles.
Yet Davis’s toughest client may have been himself. When bloggers and news organizations began raising questions in late 2010 about his $100,000-a-month retainer from Ivory Coast, then on the brink of civil war, Davis became his own “crisis” case. To this day, he says his motives in representing the African nation were misunderstood, that he was on a “secret” mission designed to defuse tensions. But he concedes, “I had only myself to blame. . . . I was representing myself, and I had a fool for a client.”
For this article, Davis did his own vigorous image management. He checked in by phone or e-mail for progress reports on the story at various hours of the day and night and on weekends. He fired off multiple e-mails about his work, suggesting, among other things, which chapters of his latest book to read (“Intro, Ch. 13 and Penn State probably most insightful”). And he volunteered a list of friends and colleagues who could speak about him. It contained 93 names. “I know,” he appended, “it’s excessive.”
The list is a bipartisan cross section of the near-famous and the mega-famous, as well as a few friends and family members. Besides his fellow Yalies — Bill and Hillary and a fraternity brother named George W. Bush — there are congresspeople, TV personalities, CEOs, news-media stars and old MoCo political cronies.
As you’d expect, many of those on Lanny’s List speak fondly of him and his work. They characterize him as a hard-working advocate for his clients, an articulate liberal voice, an all-around mensch.
Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, said Davis “made the case” to reluctant White House officials that they had to be more forthcoming when questions arose about Clinton’s fundraising practices after the 1996 election. Davis, he recalled, pushed Clinton’s lawyers to release White House visitor logs. “Lanny can wear you down at times,” said McCurry, “but he always believes he can get people to a better place.”
Fox News chief Roger Ailes, another name on Lanny’s List, recalls watching Davis on “The O’Reilly Factor” several years ago and being struck by his civility and smarts. “He’s candid, but he’s not a guy who comes in looking for a fight,” Ailes said. “A lot of cable news deteriorates into fights. I prefer a conversation.”
On the other hand, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward is a little mystified by why he’s on Davis’s list. The legendary investigative reporter said Davis was helpful when Woodward was researching “Shadow,” a book about presidential scandals published in 1999. Since then, they’ve had little contact. Davis has been in touch on behalf of clients “hardly a handful of times,” Woodward said.