Days ahead of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, it remains to be seen if and how Fox News will cover the annual right-wing confab amid CPAC boss Matt Schlapp’s alleged groping scandal.
Over the past few years, the conservative cable giant has not only aired the entire multi-day conference on its digital streaming platform Fox Nation, but the network has also been a “Featuring Sponsor” of the event. In 2021, for example, Fox Nation paid $250,000 to help underwrite the overtly partisan political gathering. The year before that, the Fox streamer paid $28,000 as a sponsor.
As of publication, Schlapp and his annual convention have all but disappeared from the Fox News universe. None of Fox News Media’s outlets are listed among CPAC 2023’s list of partnering sponsors, which includes the network’s conservative arch-rival Newsmax as well as far-right competitors like Real America’s Voice. Additionally, Fox staffers told The Daily Beast they have yet to receive any guidance on how they will cover CPAC.
An apparent Fox News blackout on CPAC would present a stunning break from previous years, which reliably demonstrated a symbiosis between the cable giant and the right-wing confab. Fox’s biggest stars like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham often delivered headline speeches or hosted panel events, all of which were carried on the network. Outside the ballroom, Fox personalities—both major and minor—could be seen roaming the hallways, often given the hero’s welcome awarded to conservatives lucky enough to have the network on their résumé.
Reps for Fox News Media and CPAC did not respond to requests for comment.
Last month, The Daily Beast first reported that Schlapp had allegedly groped the crotch of a male staffer on failed GOP senate candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign. The individual claimed the American Conservative Union president grabbed his “junk” and “pummeled it at length,” an incident the staffer called “scarring” and “humiliating.”
Through his attorney, Schlapp has denied “any improper behavior” while calling the allegations an “attack” on him and his family. The accuser has since filed a lawsuit against the conservative icon, accusing Schlapp of not only sexual battery but also defamation, alleging that the CPAC power broker and others have attempted to “impugn” the accuser’s character.
Amid the controversy, Schlapp and his wife Mercedes Schlapp—a former Fox News contributor and Trump administration official—have been absent from Fox airwaves, despite having both appeared on the network dozens of times before the allegations.
The right-wing channel has also virtually ignored the sexual-assault accusations against Schlapp, providing no on-air coverage of the scandal while offering up just one online write-up about the lawsuit.
Fox’s ghosting of the Schlapps has also meant no promotional hype for CPAC on the network. As of publication, the digital site has no recent stories up about the upcoming event, which is slated to start on March 1. According to a transcript search via media monitoring site TVEyes, there have been no on-air mentions of CPAC since the allegations against Schlapp became public, even though 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are scheduled to speak at the conference.
Fox Nation’s website currently makes no mention of this year’s CPAC. The streamer has not only previously provided round-the-clock coverage of the annual event, but also some of the regional CPAC offshoots, such as in Texas. Additionally, Fox Nation has previously offered its subscribers “All Access Live” options starring Fox News personalities like Kayleigh McEnany, Pete Hegseth, and Lawrence Jones. (These past broadcasts are still available for rewatch on Fox Nation.)
On top of that, Fox News stars have frequently spoken at the event in the past, even before the network became a CPAC sponsor. Aside from Hannity and Ingraham’s frequent appearances, Tucker Carlson was a featured speaker in 2013, for example, and Jeanine Pirro took the stage in 2017.
This year, however, the only Fox News personalities slated to appear are contributors like Katie Pavlich and Mollie Hemingway, or talk radio powerhouse Mark Levin—all of whom have conservative media careers outside their Fox affiliations.
With the Schlapps currently not welcome on Fox airwaves, and the network apparently looking the other way as CPAC approaches, the conservative power couple has found a willing partner in Fox’s wannabe rival Newsmax.
In recent weeks, Matt and his wife—who also serves as a CPAC senior fellow—have made regular appearances on the beleaguered cable channel. With Newsmax hosts blithely ignoring the groping allegations, the couple has been able to hype up the confab while simultaneously gushing about the “secret” behind their marriage in sympathetic segments.
At the same time, the Schlapps have also joined other conservative allies of Newsmax in decrying pay-TV provider DirecTV’s decision to drop the pro-Trump channel during a license fee dispute. Earlier this month, CPAC urged DirecTV to reinstate Newsmax, claiming the channel’s removal “directly targets conservatives” while Schlapp called it “another example of woke CEOs” engaging in “information warfare to silence those with whom they disagree.”
Fox News isn’t the only conservative brand seemingly distancing itself from CPAC following the sexual assault allegations against the event’s chairman.
ABC News reported over the weekend that former Vice president Mike Pence, who is currently weighing a White House run, declined an invitation to CPAC. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen as Trump’s most formidable GOP competitor for the party’s presidential nomination, is also not slated to attend the conference and has two other events scheduled in Texas at the same time CPAC kicks off in the D.C. area. (CPAC is returning to the National Harbor in Maryland this year after spending the past two years in Florida.) A spokesperson for CPAC confirmed to ABC News that neither Pence nor DeSantis are scheduled to appear.
“It’s a missed opportunity for any potential Presidential Candidate to not address the thousands of grassroots activists at CPAC this year,” CPAC spokesperson Megan Powers said. “Luckily, CPAC attendees will get to hear from every announced Presidential candidate and over 100 premiere speakers, including over 30 elected officials.”
Outside of Haley and Trump, the event will prominently feature far-right election denialist Kari Lake and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who recently proposed a “national divorce” between blue and red states.