On Monday, the adult film actress and performer Stormy Daniels will arrive in DC for another evening of intimate performances. But before that, she will sit for a public colloquy with Sally Quinn at Politics and Prose on Monday at 6 PM.
How did Quinn—the longtime journalist and author, wife of the late Ben Bradlee and storied matron of Washington’s social scene, and who has been repeatedly profiled in these pages since the ’70s—become so interested in the woman at the center of the Trump era’s daffiest sideshow?
Quinn spoke to Washingtonian about Stormy Daniels’ memoir, the key value of humor in political opposition, and what she’ll expect during her (second) interview with a porn star.
The high priestess of Washington social nobility sits down with a porn star. Sounds like the beginning of an interesting joke.
Or a novel.
So how did it come about?
Well, my astrologer, Caroline Casey—she loves Stormy—called and told me that Stormy was going to be in town for one night for the show, and did I want to go with her? And I said yes.
She’s doing her strip show.
And you’re going?
Of course I’m going. And I’ve got VIP tickets.
So then I thought, well, if she’s going to be there, I should interview her. First I called Politics and Prose and asked if they’d be interested. They said absolutely. So I called [Daniels]. So we’re going to do the interview. And then she has her performances later in the evening.
What compelled you to interview Stormy Daniels?
I thinks she’s a really interesting person—very smart, very funny. I read her book. It’s hilarious. She’s clever, and I think she’s got a lot of insight. And she’s unbelievably honest. It’s a really interesting life, and I just wanted to know who she was. She’s sort of a cartoon in most people’s life. And when your read her book, you see she’s just a real person. She’s not a cartoon.
What leapt out from the book?
Oh, there’s nothing left out. Nothing.
I said “leapt.”
Aha. [Laughs.] Her childhood. She had a really tragic childhood. Her father abandoned the family, her mother was crazy, they had no money. But the most important thing was that she was sexually abused for two years when she was a child by a next-door neighbor. And she finally left home before her senior year in high school, although she made straight A’s and was editor of her class newspaper. I think what saved her was riding—she got into riding horses. That’s what saved her life, really.
And then the marriages, and how she fell into stripping, and then fell into the porn business. None of it was planned. And then comes the experience with Donald Trump, which she’s very, very funny about, and which was sort of random. It was a one-night stand, and that was sort of the end of that. She was asked to sign this non-disclosure agreement, and then, suddenly everything hit the fan when it came out—Trump denied it, she’d had this agreement, but then it turned out Trump hadn’t signed it. She really got screwed by the lawyer. Then [Michael] Avenatti comes along, and suddenly she’s on 60 Minutes. And the rest is history.
Oh, and the work she does, she’s very proud of it. She’s one of the top director of adult films in Hollywood, and wins all these awards, and she loves what she does. [Laughs.] She really loves the work.
Is that what intrigues you about Daniels’ personality? You see her as a sympathetic character? Or something more complex?
I’ve never met her before. I’ll meet her for the first time [Monday]. But she’s just unbelievably honest about everything in her life, and the way she conducts her life. From a business standpoint, she’s very ethical. There may be people who say, well, I don’t think being a porn star is an ethical way to live. But then they might be guilty of bank fraud. [Laughs.] Or to many of the evangelicals who are supporting Donald Trump, would you say he was ethical? No, I would not.
She’s also a good writer—it’s her voice, all the way. I mean, she clearly wrote it herself. And it’s well done, it’s well written. It’s very fast, it’s very straight. No spin on it. No guile. There’s no agenda. These are the facts. This is what happened. And there’s no self-pity at all. She’s very likeable in the book.
And there are moments where you just laugh out loud—her asides are hysterical. She says her favorite book growing up was Little Women. And she writes, “If you’re reading this right now instead of Little Women, you need to really rethink your literary tastes.” [Laughs.]
One thing gives me pause. And that’s Daniels’ denigration of the President in physical terms—his sexual dimensions, so to speak. If someone had described in vivid detail the sexual demerits of Barack Obama, we’d be justly outraged. Does that make you uncomfortable at all?
It’s funny. I think a lot of men have a hard time with this. Women love her. I mean, every single woman I know is so excited that I’m interviewing her. And the men sort of go, Oh my God. Because of course it’s, “There but for the grace of God go I.” But women really like her. And by the way, her descriptions are hysterically funny. I mean, I read this one part out loud to a friend of mine, who was just screaming with laughter. It doesn’t seem cruel. It just seems straightforward.
And you know, nobody can be more cruel than Donald Trump. When you’re reading this, you’re just thinking, this guy has sexually assaulted so many women, that the idea of not describing him, I would think, is almost derelict.
Somebody once asked me, “How do you know a Style Section story?” A Style story is any story that’s interesting. And I’m interested in Stormy Daniels! She’s an international figure, who has taken on the President of the United States. Who is this woman? And she’s a lot more interesting having now read her book, than when you just read, “Porn Star Takes on President.”
So I’m interested in somebody who has the guts to do that. She has no fear. Bob Woodward‘s book is called Fear, and Trump said that power is all about fear. But Trump has no power over Stormy, because she’s not afraid of him.
That’s interesting. It reminds me of Rick Hertzberg, who has an unforgettable argument against the death penalty: “In cheapening a murderer’s life, we debase our own—and we are far more important than any murderer.” I think the model of opposition offered by the left in opposing Donald Trump has been deeply unsatisfying for most Americans—very thick on doomsaying, very thin on humor, to the effect of shouting down bureaucrats in restaurants, say. The problem there was never “civility.” The problem was about debasement—the open question about whether we can emerge from the Trump era, as Hertzberg might put it, without debasing ourselves.
Not to get too deep about Stormy Daniels, but I wonder if the Stormy model has something to offer here—opposition to Trump that has room for humility, and humor, and without pulling a single punch.
I totally agree with that. And I think the screaming in restaurants is just horrible. I think that it debases all of us. I totally agree with that. But I don’t think that’s what she’s doing. I think she’s just laying it out. This is what happened. And, you know, the whole book is not about Trump. There’s one chapter about Trump. It’s about her life, and her life is really interesting. I can’t believe somebody hasn’t bought it for the movie, because I think it would be a fascinating movie. Of course, we don’t know what the end to the story is yet.
Sally Quinn interviews Stormy Daniels at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave, Northwest, at 6 PM on Monday, December 3. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.