By comparison, CNN and MSNBC were averaging about 10 seconds. At least until March 30, when the New York Times broke the news that the Justice Department was investigating Gaetz for his interactions with a 17-year-old girl that may have included her traveling across state lines. The story metastasized quickly, ballooning to cover a truly impressive collection of allegations: sex with minors, a Florida politician indicted on a charge of sex trafficking, an alleged extortion attempt targeting Gaetz, a CIA officer who went missing in Iran, a $25 million payout, Gaetz’s dad wearing a wire. Gaetz denies the allegations against him.
But despite all of that excitement, Gaetz vanished from Fox. From April 1 through April 3, CNN and MSNBC covered Gaetz for a total of 10 minutes. The equivalent metric in the Stanford data indicates that Gaetz appeared on Fox for 15 seconds.
As of writing, Gaetz has not been charged with any crime, much less been convicted of one. But the Gaetz story is moving along two tracks: one dangerous and condensed; one distasteful and expansive. Into that latter category falls a number of allegations that have emerged since the first Times report, including a CNN story about his sharing nude photos of his purported sex partners with other members of Congress (including while on the floor of the House), a Times follow-up report alleging that Gaetz took illegal drugs and the release of a bizarre voice mail Gaetz and the aforementioned indicted politician, Joel Greenberg, left for a Florida state legislator.
Multiple reports have suggested that Gaetz was not loved by other congressional Republicans and that some were expecting a Gaetz-centered scandal to break. But while few have risen to defend Gaetz, none has called on him to resign his position.
It’s worth contrasting both the Republican caucus’s response to Gaetz and Fox News’s relative to their treatment of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). Cuomo has been accused by numerous employees, both named and unnamed, of inappropriate touching or harassment. Multiple members of New York’s congressional delegation, Democratic and Republican, have called on him to resign, including Reps. Lee Zeldin (R), Claudia Tenney (R) and Elise Stefanik (R). Fox News has spent 1,234 minutes covering Cuomo this year, according to the Stanford tool.
By contrast, Republicans have been mostly mum about Gaetz. Certainly part of this is that the more serious component of the allegations, that Justice Department investigation, is largely under wraps and, again, Gaetz hasn’t been charged with anything. But it’s hard to imagine Republican legislators staying quiet about the other allegations being made against Gaetz were they leveled against a Democratic representative.
There have been a handful of public statements about the Gaetz allegations to date. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered an early, brief statement: “I believe Matt Gaetz.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) compared the reporting against Gaetz to the media’s (accurate) reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth,” the first-term legislator best known for her embrace of the QAnon extremist ideology tweeted. “I stand with @mattgaetz.” On Monday, she also made the above point contrasting Gaetz and Cuomo: the latter faces specific allegations from women that Gaetz doesn’t.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested that Gaetz might lose his position on the House Judiciary Committee if the allegations at the heart of the Times report were found to be true.
“If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that was the case,” McCarthy said last week. “Right now, Matt Gaetz says it’s not true, and we don’t have any information.” (This statement, it’s worth noting, was covered as part of a brief segment by Fox News’s Bret Baier on Friday.)
Again, that wait-and-see, which is the backbone of Cuomo’s own defense, is completely legitimate. But it’s also worth noting the ways in which Gaetz is otherwise insulated from critique by his colleagues.
For example, there’s Gaetz’s approach to the job. He, like Greene, has embraced a pugilistic, media-first approach to the job. He’s aggressive about being part of conservative culture-war scraps, which is itself a lot of the reason that he’s on Fox News so much. He’s part of former president Donald Trump’s political universe, with Trump reportedly being advised against weighing in on Gaetz’s behalf. (The irony of Greene doing so aside, not coming out in defense of someone who might eventually be charged with sex trafficking is Political Tail-Covering 101.) But just as Republican legislators have been loath to cross Trump, there seems to have been a decision that crossing Gaetz is similarly not worth the agita.
Then there’s the party’s approach to such claims over the past, oh, six years or so. Greene’s line about the media being out to get Gaetz is very much in keeping with the position of Trump and others as allegations of various kinds were made against the former president. No Republican wants to side with the New York Times over another Republican, both for the inconvenience of having to later reject Times reporting and because of the signal that would send to the Republican base.
On Monday, FiveThirtyEight noted that “being ‘anti-media’ is now part of the GOP identity,” pointing to polling showing how confidence in media has slumped in recent years (again, thanks in large part to Trump). So why would a Republican go out of his way to act as though press reports are accurate?
Despite the Category 5 hurricane that’s already been whipped up by this story, there’s still a lot we don’t know. It may be the case that the Justice Department investigation — which began under Trump, despite Gaetz’s recent attempt to blame the Biden administration for it — determines that no charges are warranted. It may be that Gaetz’s behavior was exaggerated or nothing more than distasteful in a way that would have violated House norms decades ago but which now earns shrugs. As it stands, though, Gaetz’s position as an ally of Trump in a party conditioned to reject allegations like those he faces is a good political position in which to be.
The references to Fox News were updated to clarify the difference between the Stanford analysis and the network's coverage.