Stormy Daniels has known a few different types of fame across her 39 years. There was the small-town celebrity she acquired while working as a stripper in Baton Rouge. There is the wider attention she achieved in her early porn career, which began back in 2002 with a girl-on-girl scene in the film American Girls, Part 2.
There is the notoriety she’s claimed within that community, both as a performer and as a director, as well as the reputation she’s built through guest appearances in mainstream movies like 40-Year-Old Virgin, where she briefly starred in Steve Carell's wet dream. And let’s not forget the attention she garnered during her bid for Louisiana Senate in the late aughts, when she ran against the Republican incumbent under the tagline: “Stormy Daniels: Screwing People Honestly.”
But on Sunday night, Daniels—whose given name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford—will reach a new echelon of public recognition. She’s queued up for an appearance on one of America’s longest running, most respected news hours: 60 Minutes. Daniels will be interviewed by Anderson Cooper about a subject that’s been impossible to avoid even if you’re barely paying attention: her alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Daniels claims that she received hush money from Trump’s personal attorney to the tune of $130,000 in advance of the 2016 elections; she’s now suing the president, seeking to be released from a nondisclosure agreement that she claims is invalid because Trump never actually signed the documents.
The president denies both the affair and any knowledge of the payoff. His team has aimed to discredit Daniels in the press, to make her seem like a money grubbing fame seeker. It might hurt Trump’s case that she’s not the only adult entertainment star to come forward with details about sexual encounters; though, whatever the truth might be, it’s not unreasonable to speculate about Daniels’s motives. She does stand to profit from the rights to tell her story.
What’s more interesting is the fact that she’s captured our attention and kept it—and that the media and the public are willing to hear her out. In the past, we’ve written off women who have claimed to have had affairs with high-ranking members of the political establishment, on both sides of the aisle. In most cases, cultural allegiance remained with the men, in a way that was sometimes hypocritical. Consider the women who came forward during the Clinton administration, claiming to have been sexually harassed by the president. While the Democratic establishment of 2018 might have been more willing to stand by them, at the time it elected to side with the president. Imagine if Paula Jones had been a porn star instead of a state employee, there’s no way, in the ‘90s, that she would have gotten the same credibility as Daniels is being granted today. Sex positivity might have roots in Third Wave feminism, but it didn’t get into full swing until the new millennium, and even now it’s still relatively fringe—including the way it impacts our attitudes about sex workers and the women of the adult entertainment world.
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It’s not just that we’re prepared to listen to a porn star talk about the president on national television either. It’s that the 60 Minutes interview seems like evidence that we’re finally willing to place value on what women have to say about powerful figures. It took decades of allegations against other famous men—from Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose and Bill Cosby—to pile up to an aggregate picture that was finally impossible to ignore. Daniels is one of 19 women who have come forward with allegations of various stripes against the president. And while their voices may have been muffled over the past several years, Sunday represents an attitudinal shift: a willingness to hear out women whose integrity would have been undermined in previous eras.
Sure, some of that willingness has to do with the man accused himself. Trump’s approval ratings continue to plummet, and the interest in the women coming forward to speak against him shares some of the same DNA with rubbernecking at a car wreck. But the point is less the content than the platform. Here we are, handing Daniels the mic, and likely tuning in by the millions to listen to her speak. Here we are, treating her as a human being instead of an object to be ogled, objectified, and discredited. After tonight, Stormy Daniels will have another kind of fame to add to the collection: as a whistleblower Americans are taking seriously.