When Falling in Love Becomes a 'Scandal'
'Good Morning, America' co-anchors Amy Robach & T. J. Holmes were hounded by the tabloid press for having an affair. They're off the air now, but why were they targeted in the first place?
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Television has been trying to get even with Hollywood ever since Norma Desmond uttered that famous line in Sunset Boulevard: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Perhaps the getting-even started by turning the late Barbara Walters into a star by paying her the first million-dollar salary. Which eventually led to multi-million-dollar deals for other network news anchors. Google the net worth of any name you recognize, and the salaries will make you salivate. Most of the morning news hosts rake home anywhere between $10 and $20 million…a year.
Technology has followed suit with flat screens that get larger with every iteration. We were just beginning to get used to 1080p High Definition when 4K came out. Now the techies have come up with 8K super-duper golly-gee-whiz HDTV. But we need all those little dot-per-inch to appreciate television’s other attempt to even the score—the streaming movie. To say nothing of eyeball-popping closeups of professional sports.
But even though the pictures on TV have gotten larger, its world remains plagued by smallness.
Consider that far-flung corner of the multiverse
known as Good Morning, America, where the interracial love affair between co-anchors Amy Robach and T. J. Holmes has become the story that refuses to die. Even though the anchors parted company with the ABC network last month after news of their relationship became public, they remain the center of a tabloid feeding frenzy.
If you don’t watch commercial TV news, there’s a good chance you never heard of Amy and T. J. And even if you have heard a little about their so-called “cheating scandal,” you might be asking yourself, Who cares?
That might have been my take too. Until I started asking myself why their romance turned into a controversy. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito may not think much about the right to privacy. But I certainly do. Especially when it comes to consenting adults.
I also think there’s good reason why we should care about the Amy & T. J. story. Though not, perhaps, for the reason you may think.
To bring you up to speed
Amy Robach is white, and T. J. Holmes is Black. For the past two years, they co-hosted the third hour of ABC’s Good Morning, America, called GMA3: What You Need to Know.
The on-air chemistry between the two was refreshing. They conveyed a relaxed but professional air, laughed a lot, and their witty banter was a noticeable cut above the fakery of most on-air happy talk. In addition to GMA3, Amy & T. J. often filled in for George Stephanopoulos, Michael Strahan, and Robin Roberts on the primary edition of GMA. Which is either the top morning TV news show or in a dead-heat with NBC’s Today—depending on which numbers you believe and which ratings cycle you happen to check. Amy Robach also shared co-hosting duties on ABC’s 2020 with the network’s nightly news anchor David Muir.
One reason you may not know Amy and T. J. is that only a few million Americans watch these morning news shows. Around 3.5 million viewers each for GMA and Today and about a million less for third-ranked CBS Mornings. That works out to a lot of eyeballs between the ages of 25 and 54, the most sought-after TV demographic—and the reason that a single 30-second commercial costs around $50,000 not counting production costs.
This is London
Last year, ABC snagged an enviable deal with Great Britain’s BBC for exclusive coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th anniversary as monarch. To capitalize on the coup, the network sent Amy and T. J. to co-anchor the event in London, along with several other recognizable network correspondents.
But Amy and T. J. were the centerpiece with an elevated boxed seat outside Buckingham Palace. Naturally, they brought their A-game. They’re both really good at their jobs. Among other things, each of them has that hard-to-find quality called presence, the ability to get past the camera lens and connect with viewers on the other side. While in London, the pair delivered the same charismatic chemistry that worked so well for them back in New York.
Several months after they returned home
—at the end of November 2022, a right-wing British tabloid called the Daily Mail “broke the story” that the two married co-anchors were having an affair. The newspaper had “obtained” photographs of the couple holding hands in an Uber and unpacking their car outside a secluded cabin in upstate New York.
They were far away from their homes, work, and anyone else who might be watching. Except, of course, for a stalker with a long-lens camera out to make a buck. In one of the photos, T. J. is seen patting Amy’s rear end as she stows luggage into the trunk of their car. Not exactly something you’d do with a co-worker unless you were more than that.
Oh yes, Amy and T. J. also committed the unpardonable crime of sitting too close together in a public coffee shop.
After that, the tabloid press had a field day with the story.
Most of it driven by right-wing UK publications like The Sun and the Daily Mail which then found US outlets in the right-wing New York Post and its gossip sheet Page Six.
The rest of the media couldn’t leave the story alone after that. And all of a sudden Amy and T. J. became the central figures in stories routinely framed as the “ABC Cheating Scandal.”
Although the network tried to write the story off as a matter between two consenting adults at first, who hadn’t broken any company rules, it reversed itself a few days later and announced that the couple’s affair was “under investigation.” Amy and T. J. were taken off the air for the duration. However, their names remained on the recorded lead-in to their shows.
For the next two months the tabloids ran a story about the couple every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Stalkers with cameras followed them to Atlanta and Miami during the holidays, “caught them” kissing in an airport, and even photographed Amy leaving T. J.’s New York apartment with a cup of coffee. It was as if every little thing they did was magic. And in a way, it was. Gossip sells.
But here’s the worst part
The narrative surrounding this love affair focused on T. J. as a really bad guy, a sexual predator who has cheated on his wife numerous times, often with co-workers. The Daily Mail even ran a headline calling him a “horndog.”
Last year, in a different publication, I wrote an essay about all this called “The High Tech Lynching of T. J. Holmes.” Shortly after the piece was published, a former employee of Good Morning America wrote to me, confirming my belief that the Amy and T. J. situation was full of hypocrisy. The former staffer said that during his time with the network, extra-marital affairs involving executives who kept their girlfriends stashed in apartments near work were common.
I felt then and continue to feel that T. J. and Amy were singled out. Especially when they had taken steps to be discreet about their relationship until their divorces could be finalized. Amy’s divorce from actor Andrew Shue was already in the works when the affair began—perhaps as early as March of last year while they were both training for the New York Marathon. T. J. had not yet told his wife about Amy.
All of this was complicated by T. J.’s previous affairs.
I don’t applaud anyone for being dishonest with a spouse. In my book, infidelity is an act of violence. T. J.’s affair with Amy doesn’t sit right, in part, because he left a beautiful, intelligent, and successful Black wife—a lawyer—for a white woman. That is the kind of thing that will get your BMW set on fire with all your clothes inside.
However, T. J. was never linked to the kind of behavior that led to Matt Lauer’s departure from the Today show. All of his partners were consenting adults. Although more than one admitted to having intimate relationships with him, none of them came forward to say they had been harassed or abused by him.
Difference of treatment
What bothers me about this story is that Amy and T. J. were treated differently from others, and I wonder if I’m wrong to think race had something to do with it.
For example, married co-anchors Mika Brezinski and Joe Scarborough flirted a lot during their morning news program (Morning Joe). So much so that they were spoofed on Saturday Night Live and profiled on 60 Minutes. But eventually the couple divorced their spouses, married each other, and have continued working together. Nobody cares.
Although Robach and Holmes came nowhere near the level of on-air flirting of Morning Joe, they were taken off the air while an investigation took place.
Admittedly, MSNBC which broadcasts Morning Joe is different from Disney-owned Good Morning, America. But Mika and Joe are white, while Amy and T. J. are an interracial couple. I see difference of treatment, and I can’t help but wonder if that difference was based on race.
The network’s overreaction and mishandling of the affair seems suspect. The Washington Post even ran an Op-Ed called, “ABC Offers a Masterclass in How Not to Handle a Workplace Romance.”
The fact is, workplace romances are incredibly common. People who work together often share mutual interests and spend a lot of time together, with predictable results. Surveys conducted find anywhere from one-third to half of us have dated a co-worker at least once. Somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of us will find ourselves in a long-term relationship with or married to that person… A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 75 percent of respondents said they were comfortable if their co-workers became more than professional colleagues. And, yes, while we are on the subject, a 2017 Harris Poll found almost one-quarter of workplace relationships involved adultery.
Amy and T. J. were really good at their jobs. They did nothing that doesn’t happen in other workplaces and which reportedly happened quite a bit at ABC.
Here’s another reason I wonder about racism
The story of their love affair broke in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid known for its racist stories about Meghan Markle. Stories complaining that Meghan’s mother lived in gang-scarred Compton were just the beginning. The audience for the Daily Mail consists primarily of older, conservative women. I guess they like reading that kind of thing.
The other outlets that pushed the story, framed it as a “cheating scandal,” and hounded the couple every day were also right-wing. Surely, they knew that if they made the story seem ugly enough, long enough, the network owned by family-centered Disney would be forced to cut ties with the couple.
But why would right-wing media in another country want to do this? And why would right-wing media in this country gleefully bang the drum on a daily basis? Someone definitely wanted to take the couple down. And given the narrative that continues to paint T. J. Holmes as a Black sexual predator, I’m concerned that there’s racism in all this.
I wish T. J. hadn’t had so many other affairs. He put a target on his own back that made it easy for others to shoot at. But after the investigation, the network did not dismiss Amy and T. J. for cause. They reportedly negotiated a release and bought out their contracts—with a bit of extra money thrown in to keep them quiet, also known as a Nondisclosure Agreement.
None of this is important in the larger scheme of things
To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Nothing that happens with T. J., Amy, or at Good Morning America will end the year-long war in Ukraine. It won’t reduce tensions between the US and China. It won’t rid the world of COVID-19. Or reverse the devastating effects of climate change. Despite the increasing size of its super high-definition flat screens, television is still small.
But we should care that someone went gunning for Amy Robach and T. J. Holmes out of spite, jealousy, or sheer racism. We should care that these two people did their jobs well and may have been targeted because somebody in a position of power doesn’t like to see a Black man and a white woman together. There are lots of people online, who complain about the number of interracial couples and blended families in today’s advertising. This is still a hot-button issue for some.
We should also care because who among us has not had a crush on a co-worker? Work is where people meet and often fall in love. Some folks act on those feelings. Others do not. But if you come to work every day and do your job well, you should not lose your job because you fell in love. Your private life away from work should be your own.
All this publicity has undoubtedly increased Amy & T. J.’s market-value. I fully expect them to reappear on some other network, probably as a couple co-hosting a news/talk program.
Love is a great disrupter and no respecter of boundaries. T. J. and Amy have said theirs is no passing fling. The poet Kahlil Gibran says when Love beckons, follow it. But Shakespeare sets a higher bar in Sonnet 116.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
Only T. J. and Amy know if what they have matches Shakespeare’s definition of love. But I’ll set my sail to that sonnet any day. In the meantime, I wish T. J., Amy, and everyone a Happy Valentines Day!
©2022 Andrew ‘Jazprose’ Hill
Thanks for reading.
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Thanks for calling out the hypocrisy in this story. I don't follow the morning shows but when this came to light I saw through the whole thing. My first thought was what about Mika and Joe. Totally agree with your assessment.
I found myself agreeing with your opinions here, Andrew. I don’t like the vilification of TJ and the pass for Amy that seems to be the theme of most articles. I hope this is the real thing for them - they certainly seem to be all in, and willing to do what it takes to be “out there” as a couple.
Good for them!