April 1, 2021

Still trying to wrap your head around this Matt Gaetz story? There’s a lot to unpack. The Republican Congressman from Florida, something of a Trump wannabe, is being investigated by the Justice Department for sexual activity with an underage girl. That’s just the short version.

For a full explainer, check out Philip Bump’s piece in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, when you thought the whole thing couldn’t get any weirder, Gaetz went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and tried to drag Carlson into the mess about having dinners and past allegations against Carlson. Carlson put on that dumbfounded face that has become something of a trademark and then acted like he didn’t have the first clue as to what Gaetz was talking about. The headline on the story by Vox’s Aaron Rupar called the interview “disastrous.”

After the interview, even Carlson said, “That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

The Hill’s Thomas Moore also has a story: “Five of the oddest moments from Carlson-Gaetz interview.”

Then, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Stephanie Ruhle Reports” on Wednesday, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner discussed Gaetz’s semantics when Gaetz told Carlson he was the “subject” and not the “target” of a DOJ investigation. Kirschner said Gaetz trying to separate the two to make it sound like “subject” was not bad was like “grasping at straws.”

“‘Target’ means exactly what it sounds like,” Kirschner said. “You are the person we’re investigating and intending to indict. ‘Subject’ is almost as bad. ‘Subject’ means that you have potentially engaged in criminal acts. And your criminal acts are within the scope of the Department of Justice investigation. … ‘Subject’ is not a badge of merit. It’s like: ‘target’ minus one.”

One more Gaetz story to mention, this one with a wild headline from The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett: “Gaetz investigation complicated by overture to his father about ex-FBI agent who went missing.”

Gaetz’s next move

Right before The New York Times’ big story about the DOJ investigation involving Gaetz, the buzz around Gaetz was the scoop by Axios’ Alayna Treene that Gaetz was thinking about stepping away from public office to take an on-air job at Newsmax.

On Wednesday, Gaetz told The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Justin Baragona that he has been talking to more than just Newsmax.

“I’ve had many conversations with many people about life after Congress. These conversations have been very general in nature and have never included me soliciting or receiving an offer of employment,” Gaetz said. “There is not a single conservative television station I haven’t had a passing conversation with about life after Congress. 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 spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “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.”

The Daily Beast story indicated OAN isn’t looking for any show hosts right now.

Meanwhile, a career in TV likely also hinges on what happens with the current controversy and investigation involving Gaetz

What’s in a name

Speaking of the Matt Gaetz story, take a moment today to say a quick prayer for Matt Gertz. He works for Media Matters for America. As you can see from his name, it’s just a couple of letters off from Gaetz’s name. And his Twitter handle also is just a couple of letters off.

So every time Gaetz the politician does or says or is involved in something controversial (and that’s somewhat frequently), Gertz the journalist gets mobbed by the internet. His go-to response is “wrong guy” — something he has had to use over and over and over again in the past two days.

In a 2019 Twitter thread, which he dusted off and put out again Wednesday, Gertz wrote, “Also my Twitter handle very closely resembles that of a particularly dumb congressman, which often turns my mentions into a hellscape. Fun times!”

I can feel for Gertz. I share my name with the famous singer. I’ve always enjoyed my name because the worst I ever get is someone saying, “It’s not unusual” or, “What’s new, pussycat?” I can live with that. In fact, it helps people remember my name. But I must admit that, deep down, I’ve held my breath that the singer never does anything awful to stain the name “Tom Jones” forever.

For example, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Ravens is a man named Gerry Sandusky. That was fine until a former Penn State assistant football coach named Jerry Sandusky was convicted for molesting children in a case that started making big news about a decade ago. Gerry and Jerry aren’t related, but Gerry has received his share of internet attacks simply because people confused him with someone else.

Now Matt Gertz is going through another round of internet harassment because of Matt Gaetz. So keep him in your thoughts.

Best shot

The editorial board of The Star Tribune in Minneapolis has launched an occasional series called “Our Best Shot,” which will take on the issue of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. Here’s the first installment — “The big risk is not getting vaccinated” — which looks at the side effects of vaccines. This is the kind of work news outlets need to be doing to inform their audiences about the vaccine.

On that topic, my Poynter colleague Joie Chen held an On Poynt discussion about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Poynter’s Angela Fu has a recap of the conversation.


Two $10,000, non-residential fellowships will be awarded to working journalists by the Lipman Center For Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at Columbia Journalism School. Work with Jelani Cobb to report a significant civil or human rights story supported by the center’s resources. Deadline: April 30. Click here for details.

Opening Day

A view of a sign promoting social distancing for fans during a baseball team workout in Cincinnati, where the Reds will play the St. Louis Cardinals today. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Today is Major League Baseball’s opening day. Here are some stories to get you ready:

Dropping the ball

Rachel Campos-Duffy is filling in this week on “Fox News Primetime.” The 7 p.m. Eastern show continues to rotate guest hosts for the time being. Campos-Duffy, however, might not be considered as a permanent host if she has many more moments like Tuesday night.

Peter Navarro, the former trade adviser for President Donald Trump, unleashed a wild claim during a rant, saying, “(Dr. Anthony) Fauci is the father of the actual virus. Fauci’s the guy. And basically, we had Fauci not only funding that lab with American taxpayer dollars. He authorized this thing called the gain of function research. He allowed the Chinese Communist Party … to genetically engineer a virus.” He later called it the “Fauci virus.”

And Campos-Duffy just sat there, never interrupting. What was she thinking?

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” blasted Campos-Duffy. Yes, it’s true, MSNBC is a competitor of Fox News, but Campos-Duffy’s decision to let Navarro go on with no pushback deserves criticism.

“Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough said, “I’m really shocked with what that guy got away with saying.”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski was even harsher, saying, “If you’re a news operation, that’s fireable.”

MSNBC’s Willie Geist ripped into Campos-Duffy and Fox News for giving Navarro a platform for “complete, utter conspiratorial nonsense.”

The NCAA and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court building (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Supreme Court justices grilled the attorney for the NCAA on Wednesday. The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes wrote, “Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed highly skeptical of the NCAA’s arguments that it is protecting the integrity of amateur college athletics by opposing greater compensation for athletes, but also leery of ‘blowing up’ the organization’s authority with long-lasting results.”

The Supreme Court is hearing the case after a lower court ruled the NCAA could not limit benefits tied to education for Division I football and basketball players. As The New York Times’ Adam Liptak wrote, “The decision allowed payments for things like musical instruments, scientific equipment, postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad, academic awards and internships. It did not permit the outright payment of salaries.”

The timing of this case is intriguing considering that the push is greater than ever among college athletes to be able to profit off their own names, images and likenesses. And for years, there have been those who believe college athletes should be compensated.

The Court’s decision is expected at the end of June.

There were a couple of light moments during the 90-minute arguments made by phone. One was that Justice Clarence Thomas asked questions — something that doesn’t happen often. Incredibly, he once went 10 years without asking a question during oral arguments.

In answering Thomas, NCAA lawyer Seth Waxman referred to Thomas as “Mr. Chief Justice.”

Thomas said, “Thank you for the promotion, by the way.”

Waxman laughed and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m sure you would be terrific at that.”

To which the actual chief justice, John Roberts, said, “There’s no opening, Mr. Waxman.”

Going to the dogs

Biden dogs Champ and Major (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

Wow, controversies certainly are different in the Biden White House compared to the Trump White House. Two stories making the rounds Wednesday involved the Biden dogs.

Major, Biden’s 3-year-old German shepherd, apparently had his second biting incident in a month. He reportedly nipped someone during a walk this week. Then either Major or 12-year-old Champ reportedly left a, uh, mess in the hallway outside the Diplomatic Reception Room.

A few on social media climbed up on their high horses and started bellyaching about the media having more important things to cover than dog poop. But come on. Lighten up, people. It’s not as if other truly important stories are going uncovered. And, you know, not every story coming out of the White House has to be Watergate. We’re allowed to smile a little, too.

Media tidbits

  • Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes about Fox News’ streaming service in “Streaming Outlet Fox Nation Expands Beyond Fox News.”
  • Vice has a new podcast out called “The Crisis,” which is described as “an investigation into the deadly fight over the environment and who controls it.” In season one, Vice looks into “the murders of three Colombian coal miners who were working for an Alabama coal company, and unravels a decades-long saga of bribery, scandal, civil war, and death.”
  • In Wednesday’s newsletter, I wrote how Jen Psaki seems to be doing a better job as White House press secretary than her predecessor, Kayleigh McEnany of the Trump White House. Here are some numbers to add to that conversation. Former CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted that as of Tuesday, Psaki had held 42 official White House press briefings — the same number McEnany did during her entire nine-month stint as press secretary. The average length of Psaki’s briefings is 47 minutes. The average length of McEnany’s briefings was 23 minutes.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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