Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak received the Megyn Kelly treatment last night on Fox News. Along with Brandy Zadrozny, Mak is co-author of a story looking back at a long-ago rape allegation leveled by ex-wife Ivana Trump in a long-ago divorce proceeding: “Not only does the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination have a history of controversial remarks about sexual assault, but as it turns out, his ex-wife Ivana Trump once used ‘rape’ to describe an incident between them in 1989. She later said she felt ‘violated’ by the experience,” notes the story. The piece landed right on top of a weeks-long coverage bubble for Trump, whose mix of straight talk, ignorance and offensiveness has appealed to people.
“Why did you think this was relevant?” Kelly asked Mak to kick things off.
That’s an easy one, as Mak made clear: Trump had called “many of the people who cross the border … rapists.” So why not excavate his own history? Kelly responded to that justification with words that veered toward a defense of Trump: “So, did you look to see whether anybody had ever accused him of murder or committing other crimes?” asked Kelly. “I mean, this is, it is a statement of fact that some of the people who cross the southern border are rapists and murderers, so why does that suddenly draw into — make relevant any allegation that’s been made against the presidential candidate?”
Again, easy. “Well, look … Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner. He deserves to be looked at.”
The next level of Daily Beast scrutiny stemmed from Kelly’s background as a lawyer. Ivana Trump had made her “rape” allegation against Trump in a deposition as part of a divorce proceeding, though she later softened it, saying that she didn’t mean it in a “literal or criminal sense.” And in light of the Daily Beast’s report, she issued a statement saying that the story is “totally without merit” and expressing support for Trump’s presidential campaign. So Kelly asked Mak: “As I pointed out here on the air last night, having practiced law for ten years, divorce proceedings are notoriously ugly. And spouses often — often — say things that aren’t true and that they later live to regret. And how did you account for that reality in your reporting?”
Look, Megyn Kelly, journalists aren’t magicians. We can’t stuff statements into a Messy Divorce Proceeding Algorithm and reveal the airtight results to the public. Ivana Trump said these things in a sworn deposition. Trump and his lawyers later secured a statement in which she backed away from her remarks in the deposition. People can reach their own interpretations as to how that all evolved.
Fox News media correspondent Howard Kurtz blasted the Daily Beast: “This is an appalling story that never should have been published,” he said. “To take a 25-year-old single allegation by an ex-wife during a hotly contested divorce and try to make it as if Trump raped his wife, when she said in a statement subsequently that was included in this 1993 book, Megyn, that she didn’t mean rape in a criminal or even literal sense, is just the epitome of a cheap shot.” More from Kurtz: “This is what people hate about the media and why Trump has had such success in beating up on the media. What is the relevance of this old contested allegation now walked back by Ivana Trump to whether Donald Trump should be the Republican nominee or president of the United States?” Kurtz’s outrage was so out of step with the journalism in front of him that he sounded jealous of his former employer’s scoop.
Just to settle this whole relevance question — take a look at recent coverage of Donald Trump across the U.S. media, whether it’s Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, NBC News, the Erik Wemple Blog or any of the hundreds of Web sites out there. A good 93 percent of it is recycled blather, commentary and clickbait. Now, that’s the stuff that has trouble withstanding Kelly’s relevance standard — as opposed to a deeply sourced and balanced story about the character of a presidential candidate.