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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Stormy Daniels captures big ratings for CBS despite no smoking gun

News magazine programme 60 Seconds achieved its highest ratings in a decade

Stormy Daniels's interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was seen by a reported 22 million people. CBS News/60 Minutes via AP
Stormy Daniels's interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was seen by a reported 22 million people. CBS News/60 Minutes via AP

An interview with Stormy Daniels delivered for 60 Minutes, giving the long-running CBS news magazine its highest ratings in a decade. But the story wasn’t a slam dunk either in the reaction it produced or getting on the air in the first place.

An estimated 22 million viewers tuned in on Sunday to see the actress who has appeared in pornographic films tell 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump and the aftermath, which she said included efforts to silence her.

“I think people thought there was going to be a smoking gun here. Did we miss something?” Moderator Whoopi Goldberg asked Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, on ABC’s The View talkshow on Monday.

Mr Avenatti responded that his client’s account of being threatened to keep quiet about the affair represented a “big, big accusation” and was a “critical” fact. In other TV interviews, the lawyer said he was holding back certain details of the alleged affair, including the contents of a CD or DVD he tweeted a picture of last week, for strategic reasons.

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Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, said the report included meaningful aspects of Daniels’ story, including what the $130,000 payment to her by Mr Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen might mean in the context of federal election regulations.

She received the money days before the 2016 presidential election and is seeking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement she signed. Mr Cohen has said he made the payment out of his pocket while asserting the president had never engaged in sexual relations with Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.

“I do think people probably had an expectation there would be more details of the affair, for example, which is not something we do at 60 Minutes, not fitting for us,” Fager told the Associated Press. “We told her story in one part, and we examined why it matters in another.”

“If people were expecting more sensationalism, they probably were a little disappointed. ... but 22 million people stayed with us, so I don’t think they were,” he said.

The White House on Monday said Mr Trump has consistently denied the allegations and does not believe her claim that she was threatened to stay quiet over their alleged affair. White House spokesman Raj Shah declined to say whether the president had watched the broadcast.

During Monday’s press briefing, Mr Shah said neither the White House nor the president had violated campaign finance laws that restrict political contributions.

Daniels, who said she has turned down money for her story, was far more open and serious than when she appeared in her first TV interview with ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, mostly giving him brief one-liners in response to his questions.

Fager said the decision to accept the interview was carefully weighed and came after show producer Andy Court and associate producer Evie Salomon met with her and after time-consuming reporting.

“We weren’t in automatically. We wanted to know ... whether there was a bigger picture question and not just a tabloid affair, and we found that,” Fager said.

If the Nielsen company’s audience estimate of 22.06 million for the 60 Minutes interview holds, it would mean more people watched it than the one aired with president-elect Trump and his family on November 13, 2016. CBS says that interview drew 20 million viewers.

The interview with Daniels garnered the show’s highest viewership since November 2008. That’s when an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama aired shortly after his election as the country’s first African-American president, drawing 24.5 million.