The controversies spinning around the Trump White House exert a relentless gravitation tug — anyone and everyone gets pulled in eventually.
On Monday night, for example, the New York Times published a deep dive into Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page. The reporting drilled in on a comment on the page — “Renate Alumnius” — that traced back to high school boasts about the pursuit of a Catholic girls’ school student named Renate Schroeder. The news came as an unpleasant surprise to Schroeder, now Renate Schroeder Dolphin, as described on the Times’s homepage. She told the Times she did not know about the yearbook page and also contradicted a statement from Kavanaugh that the two shared an innocent high school kiss.
“I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue,” she told the Times. “I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”
The story landed Dolphin right into the high drama of Kavanaugh’s confirmation following allegations of sexual abuse from Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University. Others — such as second accuser Deborah Ramirez or Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge — have also been similarly pulled into the frantic news cycle, elevating individuals from once comfortable obscurity to the front page.
News stories in the Trump era are ravenously hungry monsters, gobbling up otherwise unknown or little-known people into the national narrative. Anonymous government employees and high school acquaintances, nobody campaign aides and shady fringe characters — all have been turned into household names over the last two years, despite their relative degrees of separation from Trump himself.
There’s nothing new about unknowns becoming famous, or infamous, thanks to White House controversies. How many people had heard of Susan McDougal, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s partner in a land deal called Whitewater, before the scandal called “Whitewater” broke over some property near Flippin, Ark? But in the Trump era, there’s just more of everything, a much larger cast of characters and greater opportunity to become famous — suddenly.
Much of it is a product of the relentless churn of modern media, where new stories are produced at an hourly pace. The Internet has also made it easier to connect the dots between newsmakers and their outer orbit of friends and acquaintances.
The Trump era is also supercharged with partisan feeling; each new character on the stage is another ready-made hero or villain depending on your political stripes. Ford is either a brave woman confronting her attacker or a pawn in a Democratic guerrilla war against the nominee. Judge is either a loyal friend or fratty enabler of bad behavior. Georgetown Prep is either an honor-bound institution or a hotbed of privileged misogyny.
Dolphin has now been pushed into the same polarized public fray, albeit in a cameo that appears likely to fade, since nobody is suggesting she’s done anything one way or the other that’s relevant to the controversy of the moment.
Compare that with the cast of previously anonymous government lawyers and officials who were suddenly turned into bold-faced names following the May 2017 firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.
In the months following the dismissal and the launch of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe — public officials to be sure but little known outside of their own orbits — were splashed across the news cycle as main players in the situation.
As the investigation marched on, the FBI’s Lisa Page and Peter Strzok were accused of swapping anti-Trump texts. The pair was also catapulted into the headlines. The scrutiny branched out even into families when McCabe’s wife, Jill, a failed 2015 Virginia state senate candidate, was targeted by the president in Twitter attacks. Mueller himself has become an object of endless fascination and interest, in part because of his refusal to speak since starting his investigation.
While working as White House staff secretary, Rob Porter was largely unknown outside the administration or Republican Party circles. Then last February rumors of past complaints about domestic violence broke regarding the official, and his name was splashed across media accounts.
Porter’s two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, were in the public spotlight speaking about their painful pasts.
Both women eventually detailed emotional and physical abuse from Porter, and he resigned from his White House position.
Scrutiny of Michael Cohen also flushed out a new cast of figures for public scrutiny. As Trump’s personal lawyer drew headlines over his handling of a $150,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, reporters began digging into Cohen’s associates.
The attorney’s former business associate, Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, a Soviet Union-born businessman known as the “Taxi King” of New York City, was pulled into the investigation.
David Pecker, the chairman of the National Enquirer owner American Media Inc., was similarly thrust into the headlines over the practice of catching and killing stories that may have embarrassed the president.
These connections to Cohen were either simple business relationships or evidence of the amoral climate the Trump loyalist operated within.
As with past situations, the relentlessness of the media cycle is likely to continue for individuals connected to Kavanaugh. The attention has even spurred some to flee their homes to avoid, among others, reporters.
But Judge, the nominee’s high school friend, was tracked down Monday by The Washington Post to a friend’s house in Bethany Beach, Del.
“How’d you find me? he said.
More from Morning Mix: