Rob Porter On Experiencing A Media Smear

Rob Porter On Experiencing A Media Smear

Former Trump White House Official Rob Porter, who lost his job and reputation in a “MeToo” case that he claims was driven by angry ex-wives and a scandal-hungry media, said he waited years to tell his side of the story because he refused to take an expedient path to doing so.

Friends familiar with Porter’s marriages wanted him to immediately counter the claims and try to correct the egregious reporting.  He said that a crisis communications specialist told him to fight back as if his life depended on it. But the coverage was so intense and one-sided, Porter saw little upside to engaging with the media mob. “Mobs don’t care about facts or context or even the truth,” he explained. “You can’t reason with people holding torches and pitchforks, all they want is destruction.” 

He said he was also approached by an agent to write a book, which in a moment of extraordinary demand for Trump tell-alls could have garnered a seven-figure advance. A longtime Washington veteran suggested doing so would provide a well-trod path to political redemption, but Porter said publishing a gossipy memoir of his time in the White House was incongruous with his view of public service.

Others suggested defamation lawsuits to seek damages for false reporting, but the legal standard for proving “actual malice” toward public figures typically makes such cases extremely difficult, and it would have involved friends and family in years of litigation and continuing media attention. Even victors — like the actor Geoffrey Rush, who ultimately won a defamation suit over dubious #MeToo allegations — insisted there are “no winners” in such cases and that the proceedings are “extremely distressing for everyone involved.”

In the months after leaving the White House, Porter said he spoke several times with two New York Times reporters who seemed sympathetic that much of the true story remained untold — but he said their editors ultimately wouldn’t devote resources to anything beyond an interview focused on Trump. Porter said the same thing happened after working with a writer for a top political magazine. “It became obvious that most of the media didn’t care about the truth,” he told me. “It was all just political to them.” 

Porter began to wonder if he had erred in rebuffing calls and texts from a primetime Fox News host who he said encouraged him to come on TV and “tell your side.” But partisan cable news didn’t seem an appropriate venue to respond thoughtfully and “would have only further politicized things,” he said.

After many dead ends, an acquaintance in the media suggested he simply “eat a s*** sandwich” and offer emotional public apologies in a televised interview. Admitting to things that were untrue, however, was a non-starter for Porter. “I care a lot more about my integrity than what some people may think about the tabloid stories,” he told me. “I wouldn’t sacrifice that for some PR ploy, even if I thought it might help.”

At some point in the months that followed, Porter decided that he needed to make peace with the injustice and move on. 

Prioritizing his family and close friendships, as well as re-engaging with his faith, provided consolation and perspective. “There’s so much more to life than politics,” he told me. He eventually joined an economic consulting firm where he could work on substantive issues without the divisiveness of partisan politics.

He also volunteered at a local women’s shelter, tutoring women who wanted to get their GED and teaching a weekly SAT prep class for disadvantaged students. In 2020, he said was asked to join the shelter’s board of directors. Friends say such service has little to do with the allegations and reflects who Porter has always been, but by his own account the experience provided new insight and greater empathy. 

After more than four years since the media frenzy, his energy seems directed toward the future. Of course, he’d like to correct the public record — anyone in such circumstances would  — but he hopes his experience will serve as a lesson and reminder: “That mob justice is often profoundly unjust. That salacious, politicized narratives divide society and really destroy trust. And that the only answer to tribalism and toxic public discourse is goodwill and civility.”

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