Piqua, Ohio, U.S.A. – Despite the old adage, ¨There is no such thing as bad publicity,¨ being investigated for child sex trafficking is an exception to the rule, as U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz recently discovered.
Gaetz, a Florida Republican, has seen his notoriety slide gracefully into infamy, as lurid details of his alleged sexual proclivities make headlines.
Whispers about underage girls and illicit payments have filled the air, and what little remained of his pathetic and brief career has become a rancid glob, which the Republican Party is more than willing to scrape off its boot.
These allegations should surprise no one. From voting against an anti-human trafficking bill in 2017 to lecherously saying he would ¨swipe right¨ on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Gaetz´s casual boorishness is well-known.
He built his persona on being a waste dump of repulsive ostentatiousness, hoping to become so toxic the radioactive glow would attract far-right voters like moths to a flame.
More unexpected was the news media’s reaction.
The right-wing press – usually giddy to defend the indefensible – have largely stayed away. Any rumors about Gaetz angling for a position at one of the prominent conservative news outlets was quickly nipped in the bud, as both Fox News and One America News apparently turned down the offer.
Liberal stations largely reveled in the scandal, each taking turns admonishing Gaetz and the Republican establishment, which enabled his behavior. Nowhere was there an acknowledgement of their role in creating the monster they decried.
Gaetz is best understood not as a politician or legislator, but as a construct, a creation of our morally bankrupt media ecosystem, without which he would never have risen to the highest echelons of power.
As a congressman, his record is embarrassing, with barely any legislation to his name in a career spanning four years. Yet according to Forbes, he has appeared on Fox News 180 times and became a close advisor to Donald Trump on that basis.
So enraptured were the media by Gatez that even left-wing networks like HBO – which houses Bill Maher and John Oliver – made him the hero of a documentary, and Vanity Fair wrote a scintillating profile on his ¨media mastery.¨
By giving Gaetz a platform to separate himself from his reprehensible public persona, journalists ignored the possibility that they were one and the same.
When punchy sound bites outweigh substantial analysis, the vacuum is filled by meaningless bombast. Our media institutions are swarming with bad faith actors. Those telegenic, conscienceless hucksters are willing to say anything – no matter how baseless or offensive – because they know they’ll be given a microphone.
Spectacle is a poison, which enters the bloodstream of failing democracies and rots them from the inside out.
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 is proof that a big enough lie, consistently repeated, can bring a nation to the brink.
Howard Beale – the newsman protagonist of the 1976 film Network – spoke of ¨humanoids,¨ ¨creatures that look human but aren’t,” people who live their lives in the third person, and view spectacle not as a means to an end, but an end unto itself.
Gaetz is the worst realization of Beale´s dark prophecy. He may be gone soon, but Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert – the humanoid caucus – are not far behind. Beaming out at us through our phones and televisions like suspects viewed from a one-way mirror, they deceive and obfuscate, safe in the knowledge we cannot see them for who they are.
If we could, we would discover they are like the screens they’ve dedicated their lives to inhabiting: hideous amalgams of bad wiring and inhuman calculations beneath a shiny, enticing veneer.
Zurie Pope is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.