It was one hell of a ride, from a bankrupt law firm and fending off disciplinary complaints to being a media darling. All it took was a sordid client available to take down a sordid president, and the boldness to play show pony to the hilt. It’s not that serious people took Michael Avenatti seriously, but that the desperate and disaffected would seize upon any hero they could find. For reasons they neglected to consider, lawyers tended not to be as easily swayed by his bluster as MSNBC pundits.
But Avenatti is now being blamed, to some extent, for undermining the significance of Christine Blasey Ford’s “credible” accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Has he lost his luster? Did he overplay his hand. Is this the end of the Avenatti show?
The spotlight-stealing lawyer, who also represented Stormy Daniels, is responsible for drawing the media’s attention to Julie Swetnick, an alleged victim of Kavanaugh who told an inconsistent and unpersuasive story. Swetnick’s wild accusation provided cover for fence-sitting senators to overlook the more plausible allegation leveled by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, and to declare that Kavanaugh was being subjected to false smears.
Indeed, in her speech announcing her decision to vote for Kavanaugh, Collins explicitly made note of Swetnick’s allegation, which she described as “outlandish.”
There is a saying, “under promise and over deliver.” This doesn’t describe Avenatti’s approach, which was so absurdly over the top as to make even Rachel Maddow wince. By pushing the Swetnick claims as not merely the equivalent, but the conclusive, nail in Kavanaugh’s coffin, and then not merely falling short but becoming a laughingstock for how ridiculous her accusations were, he beclowned himself and destroyed any credibility he had built in the eyes of the unduly passionate.
But is Avenatti really to blame for any damage other than to himself and his client?
Avenatti—and to a lesser extent, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, who ran with a story so thin The New York Times wouldn’t print it—took the narrow question of whether Kavanaugh or Ford were more believable, and raised the stakes by asserting he was a serial sexual abuser, rather than an inconsiderate, sexually aggressive teenage drunk. It was always going to be easier to poke holes in the grander narrative. This very well may have been a gift to those who were looking for cover to vote for Kavanaugh.
This reflects a gap in the evidence in the court of public opinion, where ludicrous claims sucked the credibility from more serious claims, contributing to both the circus-like atmosphere of disingenuous, belated attacks and the view that these were lies, politically-motivated and thus all part of a scheme to undermine a judge.
But each claim, each accusation, stands alone as well as, at least to some, together. That Avenatti seized upon the opportunity to leap into the limelight with an absurd accusation doesn’t mean that Ford’s allegations are any weaker or stronger, or that Ford’s motivation for coming forward is tainted by Avenatti’s motivations for playing the fool.
The ability to separate claims, to distinguish issues, is one of those lawyer things people can’t stand. After all, what are the chances that three accusations, out of the blue, suddenly materialized against a judge hated by one tribe? That’s certainly one way to look at it. But the other way is that these were three individuals, each with their own particular accusations, and each of which may be true, or not, without regard to what some other crazies may throw into the mix.
Of course Avenatti screwed up the mix by dirtying public perception of the accusation en masse with his ridiculously over-the-top claims. Politics is all about perception, and what Avenatti did certainly blew the perception that the accusations were legitimate.
It’s unfortunate for the anti-Trump resistance, and for Ford, that Avenatti couldn’t help but make the story about him.
It’s unfortunate that so many failed to appreciate that Avenatti’s clown show was about Avenatti, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Ford accusation, which should rise or fall based on its own merit.