CNN once helped make a star out of embattled attorney Michael Avenatti, but now the network’s in-house media guru Brian Stelter has been caught misinforming his followers on Thursday about his coverage of the in-the-news former porn lawyer, even deleting a tweet in the process.
Vanity Fair published a lengthy feature story on Tuesday about the “epic fall” of Avenatti. It’s the type of story that would typically find itself with prime real estate in CNN’s “Reliable Sources” media newsletter. But Stelter omitted the negative story about Avenatti altogether -- and media watchdogs took notice.
“Weird how MEDIA reporter @brianstelter doesn't mention the Vanity Fair story on MEDIA darling Avenatti in his nightly newsletter,” Free Beacon media analyst Cameron Cawthorne tweeted with a link to Wednesday's newsletter. “So weird!”
Stelter responded with a snarky claim he covered the Vanity Fair story in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter on Tuesday. However, this was not true and Avenatti was not mentioned in the newsletter on either night.
“This is false. I looked at the last two newsletters before I tweeted my original tweet. You did not include anything about Avenatti or the Vanity Fair story,” Cawthorne fired back.
Once Stelter was confronted about the erroneous claim, CNN's senior media correspondent deleted the inaccurate tweet and chalked it up to getting “mixed up.”
“You're right, I'm wrong, I got mixed up. Now the trolls have a legit reason to dunk on me… Will include it tonight,” Stelter wrote.
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year a Media Research Center study revealed that Avenatti appeared on CNN a whopping 74 times over a 10-week period. At the height of Avenatti’s fame, he spent his rare time away from CNN’s greenroom partying with the network’s anchors while regularly appearing on late-night shows, MSNBC and “The View.”
Last year, Juanita Scarlett, a former aide to Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Governor of New York and brother of CNN host Chris Cuomo, tweeted -- and then deleted – a photo of herself with Avenatti and another CNN host, Dom Lemon, who apparently hosted a bash at Lemon's posh Hamptons home. It’s unclear how many other CNN personalities were at Lemon’s “Sag Harbor soiree,” but it’s clear Avenatti had a cozy relationship with the network prior to his drastic fall from grace.
As a result, Stelter famously told Avenatti on air last year, "One of the reasons why I'm taking you seriously as a [2020 presidential] contender is because of your presence on cable news.”
It’s now safe to assume Avenatti won’t be residing in the White House anytime soon.
Avenatti was charged by federal prosecutors in New York Wednesday with defrauding adult-film star Stormy Daniels. He faces one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft and is looking at up to 22 years in prison if convicted of those charges.
Avenatti allegedly stole $300,000 belonging to Daniels from a book deal advance, which prosecutors claim he used to "maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari.” Avenatti already faces dozens of other criminal charges, and is looking at the possibility of more than 300 years in federal prison.
Stelter isn’t the only CNN host to overlook negative Avenatti news, as the network completely ignored the news during primetime on Wednesday, according to Fox News research. CNN aired four segments dedicated to Avenatti on Wednesday but none came during the 7-11 p.m. ET hours anchored by Erin Burnett. Anderson Cooper, Cuomo and Lemon.
CNN was also accused of downplaying Avenatti’s Nov. 2018 arrest.
In an emailed statement to Fox News, Avenatti said: "I look forward to a jury hearing all of the evidence and passing judgment on my conduct. At no time was any money misappropriated or mishandled. I will be fully exonerated once the relevant emails, contracts, text messages, and documents are presented."
Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain and Joseph Wulfsohn contributed to this report.