Ronan Farrow On 'New Yorker' Story Of Trump Affair With 'Playboy' Model
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The New Yorker has a story out this morning detailing allegations of an affair between President Donald Trump and a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal. This affair allegedly happened a long time ago, in 2006. And according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported on this a couple years ago, the tabloid magazine the National Enquirer bought the exclusive rights to McDougal's story and then never published it. The CEO of the Enquirer's parent company, American Media Incorporated, is a longtime friend of the now president.
For more on this story, we're joined by Ronan Farrow who wrote this piece for The New Yorker. Ronan, thanks for being with us.
RONAN FARROW: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So as mentioned, the Journal reported on this a couple of years ago. But you have gleaned more information about Karen McDougal and this alleged affair. What have you learned?
FARROW: Correct. McDougal is speaking on the record for the first time. And you know, the reason that we thought this was an important story was not because of the underlying affair per se - although there are certainly pertinent details in her very detailed account, which is a combination of comments right now and a written account from around the election. You know, there are some racially charged comments in there that I think will attract some attention. There are some details about apparent patterns in the way that he treats women.
But really, you know, the important ramifications of this story are the way in which it illustrates a system used by some of the most powerful men in this country that includes leveraging tabloid media institutions to what employees of AMI called catch-and-kill stories. And in this case, one of the new things that we learned is that that effort is ongoing as of a few days ago...
MARTIN: So let's back...
FARROW: ...To the benefit of a sitting president.
MARTIN: Let's back up just a moment. And before we get to this idea of catch and kill, explain how you came into this new information. McDougal herself wrote an account of this alleged affair, and you got your hands on this.
FARROW: Karen McDougal, I think, like many women who sign up for silence in cases like this, where there is this sort of massive power imbalance - and, in this case, a powerful media company, AMI, this tabloid media institution that you mentioned - working to secure that silence, felt frustrated, began to feel some of the moral compromises of her legal commitment to stay quiet and essentially hide infidelity leading up to the election.
And that, you know, came to the fore recently because in the wake of the emergence of reports about Stormy Daniels and other instances of infidelity in the president's life earlier, some of which overlapped with her experiences timeline-wise. She especially began to feel, you know, that this company was trying to keep her quiet again and that she didn't want to do that anymore in the wake of so many women speaking out over the past year about other abuses of power by other men.
MARTIN: So what does this mean for a media organization to use something called catch and kill?
FARROW: It's a well-known practice in tabloid media. And it involves essentially catching, acquiring the rights to a story, in order to bury it. And, you know, many employees of AMI said that this was a standard practice that they used not infrequently with a number of celebrities.
And here's why it's important that we know about how that system works. Those employees all said over and over - there are six of them in this story - that this system affords the person who catches the story, in this case the executives that American Media, leverage over the celebrity. And in this case, that leverage is with respect to the sitting president of the United States. You know, in the words of one employee at that company, they know where the bodies are buried. They can hold this story over the president.
MARTIN: What has the White House said about this story when you asked them for comment?
FARROW: The White House has issued a full denial and calls this fake news.
MARTIN: Ronan Farrow - he's got a new piece out for The New Yorker magazine this morning about an alleged affair that Donald Trump had with a woman named Karen McDougal.
Ronan, thanks so much for sharing your reporting this morning. We appreciate it.
FARROW: Always a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.