When Will We Take Stormy Daniels Seriously?

When will we take Stormy Daniels, born Stephanie Clifford, seriously? Her 60 Minutes interview last Sunday broke ratings records. In that interview, Daniels outlined an affair with the now President of the United States. She explains how she has been threatened with financial ruin, as the NDA agreement stipulates she must pay $1 million every time she violates it. The affair has brought up great questions about the practice of “catch-and-kill.” Her lawsuit has raised questions about whether President Trump was aware of this financial arrangement during his campaign. Federal campaign law is very strict in these matters. Comparisons, at the most extreme end, are being made to Watergate.

There is more. The hush money, revealed by Stormy Daniels, has opened the floodgates to other dalliances the President prefers remain hidden. The woman's persistence and stamina dealing with the Teflon Don cannot be underestimated. More than any of the sixteen candidates that ran for President in 2016, Stormy Daniels has inflicted lasted damage on the President, who has joked he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and not lose a voter. Team Daniels has actually filed petition to depose the sitting President of the United States. If it is found that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, coordinated the hush money to Daniels during the Trump campaign, it could be game over for the 45th President of the United States. And yet, despite all this, late night comic use Stormy Daniels as the punchline for their jokes. Why is this?

This state of affairs is because Stormy Daniels appeared in adult films. At the most basic level, her job offers cable networks, news programs, and tabloids with irresistible catnip, that is tantalizing images of an attractive woman dressed provocatively. Even 60 Minutes, the dean of television journalism, on Sunday could not resist festooning the interview at various points of transition with pictures of Stormy Daniels at her appearances as a feature dancer. America is not used to treating sex workers in a serious manner. This might ultimately be Stormy Daniels’ great contribution to American pop culture — that, and taking down a sitting President of the United States.

America, at its core, is still a very puritanical nation, not having come very far from its founding. Most of the punchlines on late night television, a media precinct ruled almost entirely by men — we cannot fail to note, almost all involve her sex work. They are demeaning remarks aimed at belittling her, and all who work in that industry. “To pretend her employment is more scandalous than a potential crime committed by the president is both misogynistic and a textbook example of what sex worker advocates call whorephobia, when we treat women who have sex for money as if they are somehow lesser, worse, or more tainted, as if they don’t quite qualify as ‘real’ women,” writes Sadie Doyle for Elle.com. “Stormy Daniels isn’t accused of breaking any laws —Donald Trump is.” But that is beside the point, isn’t it?

The media, which is largely male and heterosexual, has a certain slant when dealing with women in these situations. Sydney Leathers, who also made highly publicized sex-related claims against a man in political power (former Congressman Anthony Weiner, aka, “Carlos Danger”), knows how the media portrays these women. She has said publicly that as a result of the media, she received a barrage of rape and death threats. “What people don’t see are the stress, threats, and harassment that come with being associated with a sex scandal, especially if you’re a woman,” Leathers writes for the Washington Post. “There’s so little to be gained by revealing the sexual misconduct of a powerful man, as I tried to do and as Daniels has done.” While the claims are deemed credible, there is this odd thing that happens in American media – the women are cheapened, in public, are made to be seen as to be in it only for the money and fame. But any media story that emphasize the money, fame, and notoriety would be biased without pointing out the risks and public opprobrium. Salacious images are posted in the papers and cable news reports. But the truth is always more complicated than that, more grey than either black or white. An attractive woman making sex claims against powerful, married men in power gains as much notoriety as she gains fame, and that should not be.

This is precisely why perhaps we should take the claims of Stormy Daniels more seriously. The media is still stuck in this puritanical loop of diminishing the costs of women making such claims against powerful men in public. Daniels has been wholly transparent about the notoriety and money that has come to her since she came forward with these claims against the President of the United States. She is transparent about the hush money — $130,000 — and about the fact that she might have to pay about a million dollars each time she violates the NDA and that she makes many times more money for appearances as a result of the notoriety. And as the case of Sydney Leathers, Daniels is claiming that she was threatened for coming forward.

The threats and belittling will continue to happen until we take the victims in these situations more seriously, no matter what they do for a living.


Cover photo via Entertainment Weekly