And it seems certain that Stormy Daniels — also known as Stephanie Clifford — now takes her place in this strange pantheon.
Her brisk, matter of fact and, at times, humorous Sunday evening interview with correspondent Anderson Cooper about what she says was a sexual relationship with Donald Trump in 2006 produced some news. The adult-film actress said she was threatened, apparently with physical harm, in a parking lot by an unidentified man if she didn’t keep quiet.
But it also included an unforgettable exchange, as Daniels described Trump’s trying to impress her by showing her how he was featured in a magazine. (Mother Jones reported a version of this in January, but did not quote Daniels directly.)
Stephanie Clifford: And so I was like, “Does this — does this normally work for you?” And he looked very taken — taken back, like, he didn’t really understand what I was saying. Like, I was — does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?” And I was like, “Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it.” [Laugh] And I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was like —
Anderson Cooper: What — what was his look?
Clifford: Just, I don’t think anyone’s ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me. And I said, you know, “Give me that,” and I just remember him going, “You wouldn’t.” “Hand it over.” And — so he did, and I was like, turn around, drop ’em.”
Cooper: You — you told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants.
Cooper: And did he?
Clifford: Yes. So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know had underwear on and stuff and I just gave him a couple swats.
CBS’s iconic news magazine is celebrating 50 years on the air, but in those five decades (even longer than Streisand was in therapy at the time of her interview), there’s never been a moment quite like that one.
Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of Gawker, the shuttered gossip site, wryly observed afterward: “We pretty much live in a never-ending Gawker post now.” Gawker, though, would have had the Daniels story a long time ago, she told me.
Also reacting to the program, Nancy Erika Smith — the lawyer who represented Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment suit against Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes — called Daniels “very credible.” She found her believable even though Daniels readily admitted to Cooper that she has lied about the relationship in the past to protect herself and her family.
“She’s put herself out there for the truth in the face of very powerful enemies,” Smith told me. “She’s risking a lot.” She could be dragged into legal proceedings and fined heavily for breaking a nondisclosure agreement, Smith said, adding: “I think that would be against the public interest.”
Trump, through his lawyer and White House spokesmen, has steadily denied the affair, but — so far, at least — he hasn’t taken it up on Twitter.
What the “60 Minutes” interview initially offered in salaciousness, it lacked in providing the absolute proof of the affair that seemed to have been promised in recent days.
The actress’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti — a showman with Twitter chops of his own — seemed to be laying the groundwork for photos or text messages to be revealed. He even posted a picture Thursday of a compact disc in a safe, tweeting: “If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ how many words is this worth?????”
No such “receipts,” in the current vernacular, appeared, although they may still show up. And that caused some observers to compare the much-hyped show to Rachel Maddow’s even more built-up presentation last year of a partial Trump tax return.
“Viewers probably came to this with an expectation that it would be all about ‘the president and the porn star,’ ” American University journalism professor Jane Hall told me by phone after the program’s conclusion.
But, after the tawdriness of the spanking story, “it fairly quickly turned to the legal and political aspects.” The $130,000 in hush money Daniels allegedly received from a company linked to one of Trump’s lawyers, Michael Cohen, has become the subject of complaints to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
The program explored the money issue but turned up nothing definitive.
That was the right story journalistically, Hall said, “but it may not have been what people were tuning in for.”
The Stormy Daniels story is certainly about sex but it’s also — and more importantly — about financial and emotional intimidation. Spanking notwithstanding, that may be what it’s remembered for.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan