Last week, The New Yorker came out with a major story about the far-reaching influence Fox News wields within the Trump administration. On Friday, former Fox News executive Ken LaCorte published a rejoinder on Mediaite, challenging a central assertion of the piece: that Fox News had squashed the story of Stormy Daniels’s affair with Trump just before the 2016 election because it might damage the network’s’ favored candidate. LaCorte, who was pushed out in 2016, and is currently in the process of launching a digital-media start-up, made the decision not to move ahead with the story — and he maintains that his decision was all about journalistic merit, not partisanship. (Jane Mayer, who wrote the New Yorker piece, responds: “This complaint is unfounded. I interviewed LaCorte extensively, quoted him four times, included his assertion that Falcone’s story ‘hadn’t passed muster.’ Any claim I didn’t tell his side is false. Falzone can’t defend herself - she’s under an NDA, but three sources corroborate her.”)
Intelligencer spoke with LaCorte about how he thinks The New Yorker misrepresented the details of Fox’s role in l’affaire Daniels.
You say that the reason you spiked a story that was shopped to Fox News about Stormy Daniels having an affair with Donald Trump was not that it might hurt Trump’s standing, as Jane Mayer had reported — but that because it was shoddy and poorly sourced. Mayer has you telling the reporter Diana Falzone, who was then at Fox: “Good reporting, kiddo, but Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So, just let it go.” I was wondering how you remember your interaction with Falzone at the time.
I know I would never have said anything that comically stupid. But it was a two-year-old conversation, and one of many stories that we were working on at that time, so I don’t pretend to know exactly what we did talk about, and what phrases I used. I wouldn’t have said that, although I do use the word “kiddo” sometimes. What I know is that several editors had gone through this story. What I was looking at was a story that — and I’ve described it in other places — it didn’t have any mention of money or contracts or any of that. And, in fact, as we’ve later discovered, there was no hush money until after this event. The story that I was looking at was on October 18. The Wall Street Journal reported that she signed her agreement with Trump about a week later, and then went radio silent. So, I know that Diana was trying to get some more information from her, and that just stopped. And again, if you take eight minutes on the internet, you can see that jibes very closely with [former Slate editor] Jacob Weisberg’s story. You really have to read that to understand the kind of weirdness of the story that was going on behind the scenes.
Because it was being shopped several different places and none of them published it, including Slate.
Yeah. Another thing that shockingly didn’t make it into Jane Mayer’s piece was that multiple other news organizations, not pro-Trump news organizations — Slate, the Daily Beast, Good Morning America — were in talks with Stormy Daniels. Weisberg had talked with her directly several times. She had shown him and given him screenshots of what she said was a draft agreement for the Trump side. But, again, it was all hinky stuff. So, there was no mention in our article of hush payments, but we were told that Stormy Daniels and her side were trying to get that from Trump and his side. And again, what we learned later on from the Journal reporting — and that Slate article, which you really should read — is that Stormy had what she believed was a verbal agreement with the Trump side on this. But they were dragging their feet. As the Journal reported, they were trying to figure out “how do we get her this money while both being legal and keeping our fingerprints off of it.” And, of course, it’s gonna be a healthy debate whether that was legal. That’s why they were dragging their feet. She didn’t want to come out and tell the whole story, because she wouldn’t get money. So she was asking multiple news outlets to give her money for her story, to see if they could outbid Trump, but she didn’t want to give out her side completely. She wanted enough pressure to be built on the Trump team to get her dough, which is exactly what happened.
Diana Falzone no longer works at Fox News, and she’s under a nondisclosure agreement after a settlement from a lawsuit she filed against the network accusing them of disability and gender discrimination. You say that the stories about Fox quashing the story came out “perhaps coincidentally” at the same time as she was suing the company last year. What are you implying about her motives there?
I see information that an outsider would say — “Well, that’s probably coming from her or someone she knows,” but she’s presumably under this nondisclosure agreement, which, again, I’ve never read. But we’re hearing about conversations that people had with her. So, I’m just saying this happens to be the exact same time that she was in the midst of filing a lawsuit against Fox.
You said you’d like her nondisclosure agreement to be lifted, right?
Oh, I’d be fine with that. I would rather have this conversation instead of lawyer sniping and anonymous leaks and this and that. I think it would be a good conversation to have. And I feel fairly clearly that the decision I made would be seen to be a good one, because it was an easy call.
In a recent tweet, Jane Mayer says she quoted you four times and included your assertion that the story didn’t pass muster, and she implies that Diana Falzone would corroborate her version of events if she weren’t prevented from doing so by the nondisclosure agreement. What’s your response to her rebuttal?
On Chris Hayes’s show, she said the same thing when she was asked if she ever talked to me about this incident. And I would say that what she gave was a true yet disingenuous answer. Because she did talk to me for well over an hour, she did quote me four times. But she never talked to me about this aspect of the story, despite devoting 600 words to it. The quote that she had of my denial she pulled from a year-old Mediaite story. I don’t believe that Jane Mayer was trying to find out the truth of whether we spiked that story for good reasons or not. I think she was digging to find good, anti-Fox nuggets, and put in a requisite denial, and then painted the picture that she wanted to paint. Think about it for one second: I am the only person on the planet who knew why Fox News didn’t run that piece. Because I unilaterally made this decision. And she interviewed multiple people about it. She spent 600 words of her story about this issue, yet didn’t have the curiosity to ask me one question about it.
That’s not even my biggest problem with Jane Mayer’s piece. My biggest problem is that she left out a lot of exculpatory information that would have painted a much different picture. Yes, she put in the requisite, “I didn’t do this” that she had pulled from an earlier story from me. But to not mention that multiple other news outlets were going after the same thing; to not mention what I say was actually in the story versus the way she describes it; the fact that the story made no mention of hush money. Jane Mayer’s piece was one of those pieces of journalism that told a false picture by properly talking about facts and accurately quoting people. And, in my opinion, journalism is supposed to be about finding the truth, not about finding a way to spin the truth and paint the wrong picture.
You wrote that not publishing the story was such an easy call that you never even informed your direct boss or anyone in management about it.
I do find it a little difficult to imagine FoxNews.com publishing a big story that could be very harmful to Trump’s election prospects in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. Do you think that if you had wanted to publish it you would have gotten pushback from the higher-ups?
For all of the stuff that was being thrown at Trump at that point, this was a medium-level story, in the sense that, if I recall, there were a dozen women who were, at that point, were alleging unwanted touching.
Sure, but …
Alleging that he had grabbed them on a plane. No, no, I’m just trying to put this in position of where we were. So, I don’t want to answer a hypothetical, but I can certainly tell you that had we moved forward, I would have brought my direct boss into it before publishing. I also would have spent some time with the legal department making sure that we were 100 percent solid on this, because you had Stormy, who was filing cease-and-desist letters, and you have Trump, who can be litigious. We certainly would have looked at it closely, and I would have informed management, informed my boss, if we were moving forward. How they would have reacted to that — it’s situational.
Just so you know, the journalists at Fox News took pride in the fact that we were the ones that reported on George Bush’s past drunk-driving arrests weeks before the election.
That was a different era of Fox News, you have to admit.
Well, it certainly has changed since then. I would say it’s a different era, radically, in the last two years.
Do you recall much anti-Trump stuff they did then that no one else was doing? As you said, it was odd that Stormy Daniels shopped it to Fox News in the first place, because they weren’t running much stuff like that, and they continue not to run much stuff like that. Would you agree with that?
I think that they were trying to create as much smoke anywhere as they could to send signals to, I guess, Michael Cohen, that she would be problematic if she didn’t get her money. So yeah, the concept that they would only go to a news organization perceived by most people in America as pro-Trump — that kind of belies believability.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.