NYT Painted Matt Gaetz as a Child Sex Trafficker. One Year Later, He Has Not Been Charged.

On March 30 of last year, The New York Times published an article that was treated as a bombshell by the political class. Citing exclusively anonymous sources — “three people briefed on the matter” — the Paper of Record announced that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) “is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.”

The headline chosen by Times editors was as inflammatory and provocative as possible: “Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.” The paper, high up in the article, emphasized what grave crimes these were: “The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.” The article was extremely light on any actual evidence regarding Gaetz, instead devoting paragraph after paragraph to guilt-by-association tactics regarding “a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.”

Only in the seventh paragraph — well below the headline casting him as a pedophile and sex trafficker — did the Times bother to note: “No charges have been brought against Mr. Gaetz, and the extent of his criminal exposure is unclear.” Exactly one year after publication of that reputation-destroying article, this remains true: while the DOJ may one day formally accuse him, Gaetz has not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a single crime which The New York Times stapled onto his forehead.

From the start, the GOP Congressman vehemently denied these accusations. And he went further than mere denials: he claimed that these allegations arose as part of a blackmail and extortion scheme to extract $25 million from his family in exchange for not publicizing these accusations, which his father promptly reported to the FBI. While many scoffed at Gaetz’s story as fantastical and bizarre, that part of his story was vindicated last August when a Florida developer and convicted felon “was arrested on a charge that he tried to extort $25 million from the father of Rep. Matt Gaetz in exchange for a presidential pardon that would shut down a high-profile, criminal sex-trafficking investigation into the Republican congressman.” In November, that developer, Stephen Alford, pled guilty to trying to extort $25 million from Rep. Gaetz and his family.

In other words, the only component of this story that has thus far been confirmed — a full year after the NYT first trumpeted it — is the part of Gaetz’s denial where he insisted that all this arose from an extortion attempt. Yet none of that mattered, and it still does not matter. As I wrote in the aftermath of the Times story, designed to warn of the perils of assuming someone’s guilt without any due process: “That Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is a pedophile, a sex trafficker, and an abuser of women who forces them to prostitute themselves and use drugs with him is a widespread assumption in many media and political circles.” CNN celebrated the fact that one of Gaetz’s arch political enemies — the liberal icon Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) — said that “as the mother of daughters, the charges certainly are sickening.”

In sum, Matt Gaetz has now spent a full year with millions of people believing he is guilty of pedophilia and sex trafficking even though he has never had the opportunity to confront witnesses, evaluate evidence or contest his guilt in a court of law because he has never been charged. Instead, he has been found guilty by media-led mob justice, all from unethical and possibly illegal leaks by “people briefed on the matter.” As a result, not only did Gaetz become radioactive due to crimes that have never been proven, but so too did anyone who argued that he is entitled to due process before being assumed guilty. For writing that April article and producing an accompanying video advocating the need for due process before assuming someone’s guilt, I spent two days trending on Twitter due to widespread accusations that, like Gaetz, I too must be a pedophile who was only defending him because I am guilty of the same crimes. That is the core evil of mob justice: it triggers the worst instincts in mob participants, who become drunk with righteous rage and bereft of reason.

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