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Rep. Matt Gaetz: Reporters 'threatening people' to get them to lie about him

"The reporters are literally threatening people to say stuff that isn't true, so that people don't get brought into a web of controversy," said the Florida Republican.

Updated: June 17, 2021 - 9:57am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Reporters from Mother Jones and the Daily Beast have contacted and allegedly threatened people who know or have met Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in an effort to obtain confirmation of wild accusations against him, the congressman charged in an interview Tuesday.

"[T]ime and time again, what a reporter will do is contact someone that maybe I've had a relationship with, maybe I haven't had any relationship with, maybe I've only been in the same room with one time," Gaetz told the John Solomon Reports podcast. "But they'll say to a person, 'You know, look, we are going to write your name into a story that will have sex trafficking and Matt Gaetz in the headline, unless you provide us some bad information, some embarrassing conduct about Gaetz. And if you do that, well then your name will be protected, your reputation will be protected.'

"And so I have now seen in writing that actually play out, where a reporter from the Daily Beast, you know, wrote to someone and said, 'You know, I know you were at a political function with Matt Gaetz in Florida. And if you, you know, have something to say about him, well then we'll take your name out, otherwise, we'll smear you.'

"It really strikes me," Gaetz continued, "the extent to which there is now no line between advocacy and journalism. You know, we wanted to believe that there was sort of, you know, opinion journalism, and then there was fact-based journalism. And then there are people who rightly go exercise their First Amendment rights to participate in direct advocacy.

"But now what you have are people who wear the imprimatur of mainstream media entities, you know, like CNN, like the New York Times, like the Washington Post, and they're not really there to collect the facts and display them to the people, they're there to achieve a particular outcome."

Working on a freelance article about Gaetz for Mother Jones, reporter Matthew Phelan contacted a young woman from Gaetz's district and a former Florida state legislature staffer regarding allegations against the congressman.

The young woman sent Phelan an email recapping their conversation from earlier the same day, saying that she had "never been harassed by Matt Gaetz … Any interaction with him or his office has always been respectful and kind. You stated someone told you I received some kind of death threat and that’s just a false accusation."

Phelan replied to her email: "To be frank, I don't want to tip my hand too much here, but I think you're going to want to revise this response, or maybe just spend some time jogging your memory a little bit more. But, there's time to get that in order. I look forward to circling back with you closer to publication time."

Gaetz responded to this exchange, saying: "Unfortunately, I've had experiences that have shown the dishonesty of the press, but I hate when that's visited on regular people. This particular person was not a staffer of mine. She was a staffer, I believe in the [Florida] state legislature after I had already departed the state legislature. But I think it's someone ... I might have met a time or two at a Florida political event, but certainly not someone I had any sort of close association with. And here she is telling a reporter, 'What you've heard about me is wrong. My relationship, you know, any interaction I've had with Congressman Gaetz or his team has been appropriate.' And then literally, the reporter comes back and essentially says, 'If you don't change your story, you will regret having not changed it.'"

Phelan, who identifies himself in his Twitter bio as a "journalist-type," also left a voicemail for a former Gaetz staffer, saying that he was following up on stories of Gaetz being "secretly bisexual" and "occasionally hooking up with men." Phelan asked about rumors of Gaetz "potentially accidentally killing someone" as an undergraduate student at Florida State University and "conspiring with his father and some other people to move the body to Jacksonville." He also referred to "a handful of sex tapes that have been used to blackmail [Gaetz] dating back to his college years" and asked the former staffer if he had any knowledge of these accusations.

Phelan then texted the former staffer several days later: "I just hope you are more cooperative with the FDLE and the FBI when I turn over everything I have to them after publishing this article. As a one-time paid staffer of Matt Gaetz, helping them keep this story quiet is a great way to catch charges in a wider criminal conspiracy probe."

Meanwhile, a Daily Beast reporter, Jose Pagliery, texted a female who's a good friend of Gaetz: "I understand Megan Zalonka brought cocaine to Matt's hotel room after the Lincoln Dinner in Oct. 2019. I'm doing a story on her. If you call me and confirm, I will not use your name. You were there, and I've seen a photo."

After explaining how a former staffer was visited by the FBI after the bureau received a tip from a journalist, Gaetz said: "So even in my case, we're living in a world in which the FBI is out running down rumors from the media. And that would be one thing, I guess, if a reporter uncovered some evidence of wrongdoing. But now we see what the reporters are doing. The reporters are literally threatening people to say stuff that isn't true, so that people don't get brought into a web of controversy that is uncomfortable."

Phelan initially hung up the phone when reached for comment, but then followed up with a text saying, "Heading into a tunnel on the subway…I can't comment on any aspect of this until the article is published."

Mother Jones Enterprise Editor Tommy Craggs confirmed Phelan was on assignment for the publication in an email Tuesday to Gaetz's chief of staff.

Phelan "isn't making any claims on his own — he is reporting on allegations made by others," Craggs wrote. "All that said," he added, "Matthew and I have spoken about the email you're alluding to, and I've urged him to use more discretion. He said he would do so."

Pagliery did not respond to a request for comment.