Newly reported facts about Trump’s former White House staff secretary, who was publicly demonized and the subject of a sabotage campaign in 2018 at the height of #MeToo, have shed new light on the weaponized media during Trump’s presidency.
An investigation by The Daily Wire into the “extraordinary smear” of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter has highlighted a need for greater public accountability for the media’s tendency to ignore facts and caricature conservative officials as they seek scandalous narratives.
The White House #MeToo Scandal of 2018
Rob Porter had a behind-the-scenes role in the White House, coordinating policy and briefing President Trump on key issues. He resigned from his position as staff secretary after his ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, accused him of domestic abuse in early 2018.
Stories featuring these allegations appeared in outlets such as The Daily Mail, The Intercept, and CNN, crafting and perpetuating a sensational narrative fueled by the #MeToo movement—a narrative that has since been discredited by testimony and public records.
The claims made to the media by Porter’s ex-wives ultimately resulted in a full-blown character assassination, which reached beyond Porter as an individual and casted doubts about security procedures in the White House itself.
Former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter Is Vindicated
The Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow has since interviewed Rob Porter and many people who knew him well during his marriages, including his ex-wives. Schow’s investigation looked in-depth at the allegations that produced a media frenzy and #MeToo scandal in 2018, to uncover the full truth after many years.
Porter’s friends, associates, work colleagues, family members, and even ex-wife Jennifer Willoughby, have testified that the reality of his marriages was essentially the opposite from the media narrative that first appeared in the tabloids during the White House #MeToo scandal. Through her investigation, Schow shed light on a series of facts that disprove and discredit Holderness and Willoughby’s sensational accounts of alleged abuse.
Schow’s investigation, which concluded that the claims were ultimately inaccurate, was corroborated by public records. Massachusetts and Virginia divorce settlements, further reviewed by American Pigeon, show that neither of Porter’s wives made any complaints of domestic abuse during the marriages or throughout the divorce proceedings, which ended in August 2008 and August 2013, respectively.
Furthermore, Mr. Porter is listed as the party who filed for divorce in termination of both marriages. This fact is in direct conflict with statements made by each of the ex-wives, who claimed to have filed for divorce because of Porter’s alleged abuse.
Challenges in each marriage paint a very different picture than what was later sensationalized in the media accounts. Close associates of Mr. Porter described a lone incident in which police were called during Porter’s marriage to Jennifer Willoughby, but that the roles of abusive spouses “were reversed.” Associates claimed that after formally separating and moving out, Mr. Porter returned to the couple’s shared residence to collect his remaining personal items, after alleging that Willoughby was verbally abusive.
This account was corroborated by a police report dated June 19, 2010. The report described a police response to a Virginia residence shared by Porter and Willoughby. After responding to a call regarding a domestic dispute, the police determined that it was “a verbal dispute only” and that “no physical injuries were documented.”
Furthermore, associates of Porter cited numerous entries in Jennifer Willougbhy’s blog, “The Pull of Grace,” that contradicted her subsequent statements to the media about Porter’s character. Willoughby did not return American Pigeon’s request for comment.
The Media’s Cloud of Doubt Over White House Security Processes
During the media scandal, coverage shifted from focus on Porter’s alleged abuse to speculation over whether he had qualified for a security clearance.
However, Porter was vindicated of this narrative when attorney and security clearance expert, Mark S. Zaid, who previously wrote an opinion piece, which appeared in USA Today in February 2018, walked back his own opinions of a “broken White House” during the #MeToo scandal, and chose to represent Porter legally.
Contrary to media reports, documentation of the Trump White House security clearance processes showed that Porter’s interim security clearance was never revoked.
White House internal audits and FBI inquiry documents indicate that no disqualifying information was discovered during Porter’s background check. These documents for Porter’s clearance status showed that he was audited without incident or cause for concern in 2017.
Should the FBI have found problematic information in his file, Porter’s interim security clearance would have been suspended at the time of the standard procedure audit. But they did not, and Mr. Porter continued without issues in his role as White House staff secretary until he chose to resign in February 2018 amid the media frenzy.
The Lethal Saga of Sensationalism Continues
The FBI search of Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago has drawn more media attention to the 45th president. The focus now falls on how Trump and his public statements allegedly weaponized his influence against the FBI.
Headlines are falling under the same political trends that have characterized the last several years of American politics. In the wake of such tabloid features, political figures have been swept up in gossip rags reminiscent of Hollywood. In the case of Rob Porter, a legitimately occupied public office was obstructed.
Celebrity and sensationalism have mixed as a cocktail of distraction from the process of unbiased information gathering. In 1983, Ronald Reagan lauded the “free, strong, and independent” press as a fundamental element of American life. As the modern press in the Americas is economically incentivized to fuel controversy for content sales, especially as it relates to public figures, the press is stripped of independence from the conglomerate of “content and entertainment.” It is also stripped of strength as a force of accountability.
The media’s partisan prevention of an unbiased, forensic procedure for gathering information has prevented the American people from fully understanding what is going on within their government. From the analysis of the Porter case, American Pigeon has compared and seen a potential for the same scandalizing cycle to repeat in the political climate of 2022.
The American Relationship With Media Has Reached The Inflection Point
Coverage of hot-button political issues has transcended permitting the blog-like partisan debate. Issues such as the FBI investigation into Donald Trump, ongoing investigations into the Hunter Biden scandal, the Hillary Clinton “email acid wash” scandal, and Congressional oversight into justice institutions, demand a higher degree of journalistic accountability.
The American public is entitled to self-determining information. This right has been obstructed by its media to the point where the inner due processes of public offices have been blurred in media frenzy and oftentimes sabotaged.
Steering external influences away from our political processes is the feat of our day. While corporate interests might lobby the government to perform and behave in this or that way, political interests have lobbied the media to cover and narrate what expediently suits it best. In effect, the interests of the state and the media have become a shallow, yet very deep chasm in American civil life. Demanding that journalists shoulder greater accountability for what and how they report falls on deaf ears.
But it is still true that American journalism, as a fundamental aspect of the American nation-state, must be revived—yet even if it were always dead and we have merely become more conscious of how broken it is, it is not enough to state that “facts matter,” when facts themselves are thrown into the abyss of ideological meaning. Facts are, in fact, sacrosanct. Facts are the life-blood of self-determining information.
Rather than holding the powerful to account, a failure to implement accurate and just reporting will ultimately obstruct the highest offices in the nation, as we observe in the case of Rob Porter. Failure to forward journalism’s revival is enabling the cycle of sensationalism to continue.
Failure to demand a revival of fact-driven reportage en masse is a forfeiture of the pursuit of equal and transparent public access to understanding government. This will even ultimately result in an obstruction of voting rights. Should accurate information be absent from the polls, every election will become a shadow campaign where the public is beholden to interests determined, not by themselves, but by others.
It is for the integrity of government that accurate and just reportage must retain integrity, and not only for the exposure of corruption.