How Scandal-Plagued Matt Gaetz Became ‘Excommunicado’ at Fox News
Not only has Fox kept sympathetic coverage of Gaetz to a minimum, but it has also put him on an informal blacklist of sorts—at least for the time being.
At the end of March, MAGA congressman Matt Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s primetime Fox News show in an attempt to exonerate himself from the allegation of a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. It was an appearance on a network that had for years been very friendly to Gaetz and has in many ways served as an open forum for him to attack the left and to hail then-President Donald Trump as a hero.
But almost immediately following the interview, the conservative cable-news giant seemingly began putting the screws to its pal, the scandal-plagued Florida Republican. Not only has the network seemed to keep reporting on or sympathetic coverage of Gaetz to a minimum, but it also put him on an informal blacklist of sorts—at least for the time being.
“It’s highly unlikely you’ll see him on again anytime soon,” one Fox News insider emphasized to The Daily Beast when asked about Gaetz personally returning to any of their TV programming.
Honchos at Fox were annoyed—and in some cases infuriated—by their perception that Gaetz, in his first big television interview after the “Gaetzgate” broke, had used two different parts of his Tucker appearance to try to rope the Fox News star into the congressman’s scandal. Multiple people at Fox described it as Gaetz seemingly trying to turn Carlson into an exonerating witness, which caused Carlson palpable discomfort on air. The immediate internal backlash at the Fox News empire quickly rippled up the chain of command, reaching a similarly displeased Murdoch family, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Several other well-placed and highly knowledgeable Fox News insiders concurred that the congressman was abruptly placed in the penalty box, with a current staffer adding, “Gaetz is going to be excommunicado for a while,” and another current employee saying, “I imagine they won’t book him until things wrap up with the investigation.”
Last month, CNN reported that Carlson was personally “livid” at what Gaetz did during their on-air exchange, citing a source who bluntly declared: “It pissed him off.”
Among the other factors at play in the Fox calculus, according to knowledgeable sources, is that much of the staff and talent there were not in the mood to do Gaetz any favors at the moment—but also did not want to risk dip in ratings or angering their fan base by seeming to try to tear the MAGA loyalist down.
It is unclear how long the informal blacklisting will last, or what the chances are for a potential resurrection in the coming days or weeks. Gaetz and his spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on this story, and didn’t answer questions on whether or not he’d received any invitations to come back on Fox News or Fox Business since the Tucker hit.
Since the Carlson segment aired in late March, Gaetz has not returned to Fox’s airwaves, and the cable channel—which for years has served as a reliable engine for running interference for Republicans drowning in scandal—has barely mentioned his name. The influential right-wing network and its Trumpist on-air talent have almost entirely left Gaetz to fend for himself in his hour of crisis, just as various Trumpworld and GOP luminaries have moved in the past two weeks to wash their hands of Gaetz, a top ally to the ex-president and a leading MAGA stalwart.
Gaetz's Carlson interview was so widely panned, inside and outside of the conservative media giant, that one of Fox's most dedicated viewers and collaborators—former President Trump—was perplexed by it.
In the days that followed the televised interview, in which Gaetz at two points bizarrely appeared to try dragging Carlson into the story, Trump harshly critiqued Gaetz’ performance during conversations with those close to the twice-impeached former U.S. president. “What was he thinking?” and “What the hell was he thinking?” were two questions that the former president had in the days immediately after Gaetz went on Carlson’s highly rated show, according to one person with direct knowledge of the matter.
However, according to another source familiar with the situation, Trump has privately expressed in more recent days a greater willingness to tactically stick his neck out to weigh in on Gaetz—largely to trash news outlets and criticize stories, involving both him and the congressman, that he wishes to brand as “fake.” This happened early this week with a CNN article the ex-president called “a very dishonest story claiming Congressman Matt Gaetz asked for a meeting with me at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, and was denied.”
Shortly after news of the federal probe first broke, via The New York Times, Gaetz told The Daily Beast that he has in the past had conversations with conservative media outlets about a potential career shift.
“There is not a single conservative television station I haven’t had a passing conversation with about life after Congress,” he said, the day after his Tucker Carlson Tonight appearance. “I have neither received nor solicited offers from any of them. But yes, I’ve talked to either executives, producers or hosts at Newsmax, OAN, Fox, Fox Business, Real America’s Voice and probably others I’m forgetting in this moment as I focus intently on refuting false accusations against me.”
A Fox News Media spokesperson shot back at the time, stating: “No one with any level of authority has had conversations with Matt Gaetz for any of our platforms and we have no interest in hiring him.”
And in the aftermath of the fateful Carlson interview, Fox News has devoted relatively scant coverage to the Trump-boosting congressman’s explosive woes and the federal investigation that has ensnared him.
Fox News Digital, for its part, has provided basic coverage of the Gaetz scandal, publishing a fair amount of aggregated write-ups of the latest developments in the ongoing saga. At the same time, however, the website has generously peppered in articles criticizing the rest of the media’s coverage of the congressman’s troubles, including one piece taking at face-value a Project Veritas “sting” operation that purportedly revealed how CNN is hyping its Gaetz coverage because he’s a “problem for the Democratic Party.” (Gaetz himself has appeared eager to promote the Project Veritas video, having tweeted about it multiple times on Wednesday.)
After covering the Carlson interview across several daytime programs on March 31, the network didn’t mention Gaetz’s name once between that day’s broadcast of Special Report and the April 2 airing of late-afternoon panel show The Five, which featured co-host Greg Gutfeld making a quick joke about the MAGA lawmaker.
Following a segment that same day on Special Report, detailing the allegations against the congressman at that time, Fox News has covered Gaetzgate roughly 19 times on its airwaves through Wednesday afternoon. The majority of the coverage has been quick headline readings and reports on the network’s ostensible “straight news” programs. At the same time, weekend media analysis show MediaBuzz devoted two lengthy segments to the subject on back-to-back Sundays.
Over on Fox’s Trumpy sister channel Fox Business, Gaetz coverage has been even scarcer since the Carlson interview. The Florida congressman has only been mentioned a handful of times in the past couple of weeks, with most coverage relegated to offhand jokes on evening show Kennedy. Morning anchor Maria Bartiromo gave a brief recap of Gaetz’s Carlson appearance the day after it happened, focusing on the lawmaker’s extortion claims.
But the Fox News primetime opinion shows, which is the network’s most-watched block of programming, has largely ignored the Gaetz saga. Two of the only three mentions since March 31 both occurred on April 9—the day after The Daily Beast broke the news about Gaetz sending money to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then made Venmo payments to three young women.
During that night’s broadcast of Fox News Primetime, guest host Mark Steyn brought up Gaetz only as a way to complain that mainstream media has not paid enough attention to Hunter Biden’s pornographic photos.
Later that same night, longtime Gaetz ally and Trump confidant Sean Hannity’s show provided an update on the story—but it wasn’t delivered by Hannity himself. Instead, reporter Jeff Paul patched in to deliver a quick report, noting that the House Ethics Committee was looking at several allegations into Gaetz, including claims that he shared nude photos of women on the House floor. Paul’s report was also labeled a Fox News Live segment, revealing that it was broadcast separately from Hannity’s Friday night show, which was pre-taped.
Project Veritas’ supposed CNN sting, however, gave Hannity his fresh opportunity to express some on-air sympathy for his friend—but, again, with a heavy pretext of bashing media foes.
“It’s even worse because the same CNN technical director totally blows the lid on how the network targets and smears people they don’t like and, in this case, it’s Congressman Matt Gaetz,” the Fox News star bellowed on Tuesday night after playing a clip of the Project Veritas footage, adding that CNN has “zero integrity, zero credibility.”
Beyond that, Hannity has seemingly all but left Gaetz for dead since the scandal burst into public view. Outside of Tuesday's brief mention, he has not personally uttered the congressman’s name on-air since late-March, even though Gaetz—whom the Fox host has colloquially referred to as “Firebrand”—had appeared on Hannity’s show 127 times since August 2017. The two were so close, in fact, that Gaetz even turned to the conservative cable star for legal advice after the Florida lawmaker made an apparent threat to one-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen.
Through it all, Gaetz has publicly argued that he has not, in fact, been left for dead. At a speaking engagement on Friday evening, the congressman insisted that he was encouraged by support he had received from Trump and others as the scandal swelled. But the alleged support from the twice-impeached former U.S. president that Gaetz had cited was a single, brief, primarily self-serving statement released by Trump.
Despite the years of Gaetz vigorously defending Trump on virtually every major controversy, outrage, or scandal that enveloped the ex-president, his administration, and his inner circle, Trump has not leaped to Gaetz’s rescue, under the repeated urging of several of his advisers and close associates to keep his distance. Further, none of the 18 former senior Trump administration officials, 2020 campaign brass, longtime Republican operatives, and sources close to the former president recently contacted by The Daily Beast were willing to go to bat for Gaetz on the record. None of them would even do so anonymously, either.
In the upper echelons of Trumpland, there has been a concerted, at times coordinated, effort to rapidly insulate themselves from Gaetz, involving a variety of phone calls (including some with Trump himself) and group messages, some of which have been reviewed by The Daily Beast. These private conversations make it very clear that officials and advisers close to Trump and other MAGA leaders want their people to stay far away from the Gaetz mess, and to avoid saying, or posting to social media, his name as much as possible.
“[Matt Gaetz] used to be a useful idiot. Now, he’s just an idiot to us,” said an individual involved in some of these recent conversations.
However, not every MAGA media ally has completely turned their back on Gaetz. Some say they would still gladly host him on their TV programming.
“I would invite him on because I'd like to talk to him about it; I still have a lot of questions, everyone's accusing him, but we have yet to see the proof of whether or not he did anything; we haven't seen anybody who's 17 years old come out and say anything,” One America News Network founder and CEO Robert Herring told The Daily Beast this week. “At this point, I’d like to talk to him and find out what's going on. Also, he was incredibly helpful to Trump, trying to help Trump in every way he could, so people are gonna try to take him down.”
Herring added: “He's still welcome to come by and talk about it. I haven't reached out to say, ‘come on,’ but I'd like to have him on. Personally, I haven't seen any evidence proving the allegations, and I would welcome him to come on [our network] to tell us what his side is.”
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.