Anderson Cooper walked a fine line on “60 Minutes.”
For a newsman proud of visiting disaster zones and bringing attention to the dispossessed, Cooper risked embarrassment in his interview with porn star Stormy Daniels, but soldiered through with a deadpan stare and a furrowed brow.
The ultimate verdict on his interview – almost certainly the most highly watched moment of his career – will be whether viewers accept his claim that this is serious news.
He could’ve easily gone the tabloid route given the subject matter: an adult-film star describing an alleged affair with the president of the United States. And the 39-year-old Daniels did offer some salacious details in the highly anticipated interview, such as how she spanked Trump with a magazine with his picture on the cover.
Cooper didn’t shy away from sex completely. He asked Daniels directly if Trump wore a condom; she says he didn’t. But he also framed the exclusive interview as story with ramifications that go well beyond what did or did not transpire between a porn star and a then-reality star in a hotel room in 2006.
The lengthy “60 Minutes” segment covered claims of intimidation, non-disclosure agreements and lawsuits, while exploring the possibility that Michael Cohen -- who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence before the 2016 election -- violated campaign finance law.
“60 Minutes making this a campaign finance story — exactly why the whole country is watching right now,” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted.
Cooper said on “60 Minutes Overtime” -- an online CBS piece that accompanied the television interview -- that “there are many, many tawdry details which we did not include in the story because it's just, you know, that's not our interest.”
“For us, it wasn't so much ‘there was an affair,’ ” Cooper added. “That's not as much the headline. For us, it's everything that has happened since and how we've gotten to this point.”
The biggest headline Sunday night was Daniels’ claim that a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011, a few weeks after she agreed to sell her story of the alleged Trump tryst to In Touch magazine. “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story," the man said, by her account. She claimed the man also looked at her daughter, who was present, and said, “That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom."
That 2011 In Touch interview finally saw the light of day last month. The 5,000-word transcript included Daniels’ description of the alleged spanking, along with other provocative details, and her recollection of Trump’s fondness for “Shark Week,” a more comical detail that also appeared in the “60 Minutes” interview.
It remains to be seen if viewers walk away remembering the segment as tabloid fodder about “a porn star and the president” or something bigger. That goes for the TV news junkie sitting in the White House. “Standout part of this interview is Stormy Daniels saying she wasn’t attracted to Trump,” the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted. “He was incredibly proud of the ‘Best Sex I Ever Had’ NY Post front page. That won’t sit well.”
For political reporters and others who have been closely following the twists and turns in the Stormy Daniels’ saga in recent months, including the many interviews with her media-savvy attorney, Michael Avenatti, the "60 Minutes" segment may have been a letdown. Some journalists had already concluded that there wasn't much to the "60 Minutes" interview before it even aired, as CBS posted the transcript at 7 p.m. The actual broadcast was then delayed more than a half hour because the Duke-Kansas NCAA tournament game went into overtime.
But Daniels’ claims in a transcript -- whether in 2011 to In Touch magazine or now to “60 Minutes” -- aren’t the same as seeing a woman, credibly, accusing the sitting president of infidelity and one of his lawyers of trying to buy her silence. Sopan Deb, a New York Times culture reporter who covered Trump’s presidential campaign for CBS News, dismissed the yawns from some on Twitter.
“Someone goes on camera for the first time to discuss details -- on the record -- about her affair w/ the current president and possible threats (an affair Trump has denied but his lawyer has admitted a payout to said someone) -- and we’re all on here saying BUT WHAT IS THE NEWS?!” he wrote.
Cooper clearly tried to make more news, such as asking Daniels if she has text messages or other items tied the alleged affair. “My attorney has recommended that I don't discuss those things,” she said. Cooper mused to Avenatti that he may be “bluffing” about having more materials, but the attorney didn't bite. “You should ask some of the other people in my career when they've bet on me bluffing,” he said.
After the broadcast, Avenatti tried to raise the stakes, tweeting: "Any claim that ‘There was nothing new other than the details of the threat’ is not only false but is also similar to asking 'Other than the short interruption Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?' ”
In the post-interview segment, Cooper said he thinks “there’s more to come on this story.”