One can certainly understand why Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox wanted to talk with Michael Avenatti last month. Rarely has anyone had the public-relations arc that Stormy Daniels’ attorney achieved. Even Avenatti described it as “Icarus,” presumably if the Greek legend involved alleged embezzlement, fraud, and domestic violence.
But with massive federal indictments hanging over his head, why on Earth would Avenatti — a trial attorney himself — talk to the media? His attorneys wondered that too, Avenatti admitted:
The day after the government handed down the indictment, Avenatti sat across a table from me in an appropriately all-glass building on Santa Monica Boulevard. He was dressed in his usual custom suit, even on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, with no plans to set foot in a cable-news station or courtroom, or in front of a podium for a press conference. Typically, he was his own media strategist. “My attorneys thought this was a terrible idea and that I should not do it under any circumstances,” he told me.
The closest explanation for this decision comes indirectly from a media booker who spent some time in Hurricane Avenatti. The booker refers to Avenatti’s temper, but it explains much more:
His temper often flared when producers and bookers tried to vet stories he was involved in. “It felt like we were enabling a total rage-oholic,” one booker told me. “It was pathological.”
Fox’s Vanity Fair profile doesn’t actually make much other news than “Avenatti can’t shut up,” but it does provide a little more depth into Avenatti’s pathologies. Multiple women have now accused him of domestic violence, and of course we already know about the federal indictments. What may have been missed is Avenatti’s manipulative personality, which comes across not just in Fox’s interviews with others around him but with Avenatti himself. One gets a distinct impression that Avenatti’s manipulations are constant and purposeful.
For instance, Fox notes how Avenatti cried no less than four times during their interview:
During the interview, Avenatti cried on four separate occasions, including when he talked about the call he made to his mother after he was arrested. “You never want to call your mother and tell her that you’re in custody,” he said, his voice dipping into a near-whisper as it broke. “And you especially don’t want to call and tell her you’re in custody when she’s already seen it all over the news because they’ve had a fucking press conference.” He paused. “But live by the sword, die by the sword.”
This, however, starts looking strategic later to Fox. Former girlfriend Mareli Minuitti recalled other times Avenatti would tear up around her, and another former girlfriend diagnosed it more specifically:
In April, Avenatti started telling me what he told himself in the mirror before every trial. But his voice broke. For a good 10 seconds, he couldn’t manage a word. “I feel like this is Jerry Maguire, you know, when Cuba Gooding Jr. is on set and says, ‘I told myself I wasn’t going to cry.’ ” He laughed and drained a plastic cup of water. Miniutti would later tell me that Avenatti cried, often, particularly when she was upset with him after he got hotheaded and she would want to sleep elsewhere, or in front of her friends who were skeptical of him. “It was his way of manipulation,” she told me. “Or maybe that was the realest Michael I’d ever seen. He could be like a little puppy dog. Or, maybe, he’s just not mentally O.K.” The other woman whom he was romantically involved with told me a similar story. “He could cry on command,” she said. “He’s a narcissist and narcissists can always cry on demand.”
That’s also a pretty good answer to the main question of why Avenatti did the interview at all. Needless to say, he doesn’t come out looking too good in Fox’s profile; it paints Avenatti as exactly the man we saw implode on television over the last year or so, and maybe a whole lot worse than that.
The Vanity Fair article raises a lot of other questions, although not explicit in Fox’s presentation. Media outlets like CNN — maybe especially CNN — turned Avenatti into a folk hero entirely for his efforts to embarrass Donald Trump. If Avenatti is a master manipulator, these media outlets certainly matched him stride for stride over several months, lifting Avenatti’s profile so high that he became a semi-legit presidential contender. And yet behind the scenes, these media outlets had ample view of Avenatti’s narcissism and other pathologies:
Behind the scenes, his behavior was even more volatile. “He had a terrible temper,” one prime-time anchor told me. “He never lost it with me, or really with any of the talent, as far as I know, because it was mostly for the bookers or the people who were behind the scenes. But he would tell people, ‘I’m going to fucking bury you. Why the fuck would you do that?’ if he didn’t like something.” A number of reporters recalled that he would physically invade their space. “His nose gets millimeters from your face and it’s clear he knows no boundaries,” one broadcast reporter and producer told me.
Isn’t it curious that they’re willing to talk about these issues now, and not when Avenatti was moving into rarified political-celeb status when it might have mattered more? And isn’t it curious that these outlets continued to provide Avenatti these platforms, even though they saw how unstable and strange he was?
Perhaps that’s why these media figures won’t go on the record with Fox. That would raise too many questions about their own complicity in Avenatti’s pathologies and narcissism — and too many questions about their own.