Have we arrived at the "let's troll high-school classmates" phase of Gaetz media coverage?

Indeed we have, thanks to Business Insider’s explosive scoop on Rep. Matt Gaetz, the gist of which is that some of his former teenage classmates don’t think highly of him. According to BI’s behind-the-paywall report, Gaetz used to brag about his sexual exploits back in the day, and kept up that habit at least for a few years afterward. The main allegation of the latter comes from former pal Erin Scot, who became furious at Gaetz for his double-talk on gay marriage:

Erin Scot was at a friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner in 2009 when her old pal from high school, Matt Gaetz, pulled out his phone to show a group of friends a picture of a woman. Scot was surprised.

The photo was “definitely sexual,” Scot told Insider in a recent interview.

It was like a “night vision” picture, and Scott said it was clear to her that Gaetz was showing the photo to brag about his relationship with the woman.

“I feel like she was on a bed and maybe as she’s looking at the camera like on all fours,” Scot said. It felt inappropriate, she said, for Gaetz to be showing off the photo to a group of friends on the deck of a Destin, Florida, rental house. The photo, she added, seemed to depict “a private moment.”

Oddly enough, this is the only such adult-years anecdote in the entire piece that gets mentioned in BI, other than a DUI from 2001. Scot has been blogging her opposition to Gaetz ever since 2010, including discussion of that incident, but mainly because of an abrupt about-face he made on same-sex marriage, which Scot shares with BI. At the same event, Gaetz had pledged to her that he supported the idea, but flipped when he ran for office the next year. That makes Gaetz a politician who will tell everyone what they want to hear and say what’s necessary to get elected, I suppose, but that’s hardly news in the Beltway.

Perhaps everyone can remember what started this dogpile in the first place: an allegation that Gaetz trafficked at least one underaged girl for sex while traveling. Even assuming the cell-phone story is true — and it certainly sounds similar to other anonymous allegations about Gaetz’ behavior from fellow legislators — it still has nothing at all to do with sex trafficking. (Being a cad? Sure.)  BI, in fact, puts Scot’s recollection in direct connection to these allegations, linking the sex-trafficking probe to Scot’s anecdote directly four paragraphs later. Nothing in this piece has anything at all to do with the original allegation, however, nor does BI produce a single valid piece of evidence that would establish that allegation.

The rest of this dirt-trawling exercise from Gaetz’ teen years has even less to do with the sex-trafficking allegations. BI talked to 21 of Gaetz’ classmates to get a picture of a nerdy kid with some apparent inferiority issues, like many teenagers, and who had trouble fitting in, again like many teenagers. It’s put together to somehow demonstrate that Gaetz hasn’t changed since then, even though most of them apparently haven’t had any real contact with Gaetz since then except Scot, whose last contact was 12 years ago. It’s very reminiscent of the Brett Kavanaugh dogpile, in which we are expected to believe that our teenage selves are who we are forever more, and that we can judge people based solely on those years.

This is at best a media dogpile, attempting to wring every last click out of Gaetz. If he violated the law as an adult, then report on those facts as they emerge. If we get to the “let’s ask high-school classmates for their dirt” stage of a story, it’s dead. And I write this as someone who considers Gaetz’ nihilistic intranecine-warfare and grandstanding poisonous — an issue that also doesn’t require us to troll high-school classmates to establish.