Given all the hype, adult film performer Stormy Daniels’ appearance on “60 Minutes” was a little anticlimactic. In classic newsmagazine style, the segment was buttoned-up and practiced, with very few spontaneous facial expressions or blurted-out words. Interviewer Anderson Cooper focused the last half of the segment not on Daniels but on the campaign finance regulations that the Trump campaign appears to have flouted. It’s a morass of fine-grain detail and paperwork; the exact opposite of a splashy scandal. Cooper stated that the final aired interview left out many “tawdry details”: “That’s not our interest,” he said, speaking on behalf of the reporting team.
I understand where “60 Minutes” is coming from, but it’s a pity, because those details are of interest. Not because anyone is desperate to learn about Donald Trump’s seductive stylings — please. It’s rather that the details of Daniels’ story, the ones that made it to air, said a lot about the gendered expectations around sex that both men and women bring to the bedroom. It’s so telling that Daniels submitted to sex, even though she wasn’t attracted to the 60-year-old man making love to her; it’s so skin-crawling that minutes before they had sex, he compared her favorably to his daughter. It’s revealing that he offered her a role on “The Apprentice” as an enticement to get her interested in him. And it is absolutely horrifying that, as she alleges, when she would not comply with his terms of how to keep it secret, Trump and his organization began a systematic effort to overpower her autonomy. It’s a range of transgressions, from hush money through legal threats to mobbishly, thuggishly cracking wise about the well-being of an infant. But the overall attempt is the same: To retrieve from her, by any means necessary, her right to tell her own story.
For this reason alone, it was important to see Daniels onscreen. But it was awkward, too. Daniels is playing one kind of public relations game, and “60 Minutes” another. The CBS News program was noticeably hesitant in offering Daniels too much credibility, and similarly, Daniels appeared reluctant to come across as too serious; she joked about getting paid for the affair, and delighted in sharing details about Trump’s peccadilloes. Cooper was in a different show entirely. He, like the whole show, treated her quite gingerly — as if she might transform from respectable interviewee to salacious porn star at any moment. He was so uncomfortable saying the words “adult film” that instead of looking her in the face, he kind of muttered it into his hand.
If the space where they met was strange, though, it doesn’t much matter. I wouldn’t say that the “60 Minutes” interview made for amazing television, but it was perfectly calibrated for maximum effect — just daring enough to be noticed, and just staid enough to be taken seriously. That story of Daniels forcing the future leader of the free world to drop trou, so she could spank him with a magazine with his picture on it — that’s already the stuff of pop cultural legend. The way “60 Minutes” looked, when she said recounted these details, was banally commonplace. But that made it possible for the mind-exploding things she said to take up enough space to reverberate. It lives in our imaginations now, and it’s going to take quite a few “Saturday Night Live” sketches to exorcise it.
No wonder the president was so worried about what she was going to say.