The future of Fox’s relationship with the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and CPAC Chair Matt Schlapp is in question after a former Herschel Walker staffer claimed that Schlapp “fondled” his crotch.
Schlapp is chair of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. In a lawsuit seeking $9.4 million from Schlapp and his wife, former Trump adviser and CPAC senior fellow Mercedes Schlapp, the GOP staffer is suing under four civil counts related to sexual battery and allegations that the Schlapps knowingly tried to discredit his claims. The staffer told The Daily Beast in early January that the incident occurred while he was assigned as Matt Schlapp’s driver for a Walker campaign event in October 2022, and provided the outlet with text messages, call records, and videos corroborating the allegations.
CPAC 2023 is scheduled for March 1-4, and the organization is currently taking applications for sponsorships. Fox Nation has sponsored every stateside CPAC since 2019, one year after the streaming network launched. In 2021, Fox Nation was a “Featuring Sponsor” at the event, paying at least $250,000, and it was a top donor again in 2022. Even before Fox Nation started sponsoring the event, Fox News hosts often spoke at CPAC: Jeanine Pirro in 2017, Sean Hannity in 2015, and Tucker Carlson in 2013.
Schlapp has a longstanding relationship with Fox News as a commentator, appearing on the network’s weekday programs at least 29 times in 2022 alone, according to Media Matters’ internal database. His wife, Mercedes, was previously a paid contributor for the network. Since the story broke on January 5, the Schlapps have been absent from Fox’s cable shows and Fox News Digital has released only one story on the case, after the lawsuit was filed on January 17.
Fox has its own history of attempting to sweep sexual assault and harassment allegations under the rug. In 2016, former Fox host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-CEO Roger Ailes, and after an internal investigation, at least 24 more women came forward accusing Ailes of sexual harassment, forcing him to resign. Ailes had harassed employees for decades without repercussions as part of Fox’s culture of “innuendo, propositions and fears of reprisal.”
There have also been misconduct allegations over the years against many other Fox News employees, including former hosts Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle, former correspondent James Rosen, and others. In the case of O'Reilly, Fox’s parent company paid $13 million in settlements to five women before he was finally fired in 2017. Fox contributor George “Tyrus” Murdoch was quietly removed from his Fox Nation show after co-host Britt McHenry filed a sexual harassment complaint against him, but still hosts a Fox News Radio podcast and remains an on-air regular on the network.
As some Republicans are ignoring the report, the question remains whether Fox will continue to support CPAC and its chair after the sexual misconduct allegations against him. But given the network’s long history of harboring and protecting abusers, Schlapp may be betting on it.