Accuracy in Media

TMZ got one fact wrong in its original rush story on Michael Avenatti being arrested for felony domestic violence – and quickly corrected it.

But that gave the rest of the mainstream media enough room to discount the allegations against the attorney.

In “Michael Avenatti Arrested for Felony Domestic Violence … I’LL BE ‘FULLY EXONERATED,’ the celebrity/show-biz-focused outlet originally reported the woman Avenatti allegedly struck was his former wife.

“We were initially told by our sources the alleged victim was Avenatti’s estranged wife,” TMZ wrote atop an updated piece. “We now know it was not. The incident involved a different woman.”

Not long thereafter, CNN’s Erin Burnett brought in reporter M.J. Lee to discuss the developments as they emerged on Thursday.

Burnett started by assessing the damage to the 2020 primaries. “Michael Avenatti … arrested,” she said. “The lawyer for Stormy Daniels, a frequent critic of President Trump, a guy who went to Iowa, currently being booked on charges of felony domestic violence in Los Angeles.”

She then brought in Lee, who confirmed Avenatti had been arrested for felony domestic violence and was being booked.

Lee then proceeded to spend nearly two minutes explaining why the charges might not be so believable.

“Now, just to clarify something, and this is important,” Lee said. “TMZ originally reported that this incident involved his estranged wife. He’s currently in the process of getting divorced. TMZ subsequently changed that story to say just a woman, not the wife.

“And we actually spoke with Michael Avenatti’s wife earlier this evening when this story was breaking. This is Lisa Storie Avenatti. And when I spoke with her on the phone she said she hasn’t seen Michael Avenatti in three months, that she was not at his apartment. And she also said that he is somebody who wouldn’t ever hit anyone.”

She then informed us it wasn’t just Avenatti’s wife saying this but her attorney as well.

“Now, his wife’s lawyer actually proceeded to put out a statement too just to clarify that this article pertaining to their client is not true, that she was not subject to any incident on Tuesday night and that she was never in Michael Avenatti’s apartment,” Lee said. “Also, just a key sentence here from that statement: ‘My client says that there has never been domestic violence in her relationship with Michael and that she has never known Michael ‘to be physically violent toward anyone.’”

She then admitted “the news is that Michael Avenatti has been arrested for domestic violence. We don’t know right now the identity of the person involved,” and CNN put on its screen a graphic of Avenatti’s statement denying the allegations.

Snopes, the liberal website that purports to “fact-check” claims by politicians, journalists and others, also defended Avenatti in “Michael Avenatti Was Arrested on Domestic Violence Charges, And Then Things Got Weird” by Bethania Palma.

Palma claimed the accusations – the Los Angeles Police Department said the woman had visible marks of physical abuse – should not be taken too seriously because Jacob Wohl, a political operative who claimed recently to have a woman who accused special counsel Robert Mueller of raping her and who has sparred with Avenatti in the past, taunted him with a tweet after the arrest. “Surefire Intelligence strikes again,” read the tweet.

Thus, the lead on Palma’s story read: “California attorney and Trump antagonist Michael Avenatti was arrested on 14 November 2018 in what police described as a felony domestic violence case.

“But since the story broke, it’s come to resemble an ugly political mudfight as much as a crime story. Avenatti claims he was set up by a political opponent – an opponent who appeared to openly take credit for his arrest.”

Wohl said the tweet was in jest, but Avenatti responded with a tweet that read: “First Mueller and now me. When we are fully exonerated I am coming for your Jacob Wohl aka Surefire.” Wohl responded by reporting the threat to the police.

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