What makes a scandal truly scandalous as opposed to just something to gossip about over morning coffee?
Ever since a Daily Mail exposé outed Good Morning America anchors Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes’s alleged secret affair on November 30, the pair have been under scrutiny for taking their onscreen chemistry too far offscreen. On January 27, ABC announced that the pair would be leaving the network in the wake of the scandal. The couple, who’ve since reportedly each broken up with their spouses, were initially temporarily suspended from the show while the network undertook an internal investigation to ensure the relationship didn’t violate company policy. However, “After several productive conversations with Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes about different options,” the company stated, “we all agreed it’s best for everyone that they move on from ABC News.”
The decision to part ways might be a boon for the couple, whose romance sparked an unusually high degree of public interest. Though Robach and Holmes may briefly be minus jobs as morning show anchors, their newfound celebrity might prove beneficial to their careers in the long run, especially if they can continue to ride the wave of public delight in their relationship.
Isn’t this the same general public that engaged in angsty soul-searching outrage and hand-wringing over the end of a YouTuber relationship barely two months before the GMA scandal broke? Why is the alleged cheating of a Try Guy the kind of scandal that invokes a groundswell of negative emotion, while the alleged cheating of two network news anchors garners titillation and gleeful popcorn-chomping? Is it because the latter two are just that cute together?
There’s a lot going on here that makes this cheating scandal feel different from other cheating scandals of late — more like a throwback. Or, as one Twitter user put it, “a 2004-esque scandal. I’m talking pearls clutched, my niece and my mama know and they have 40+ years between them.”
To understand why we’re considering this a throwback and what that means, we have to look at where this particular cheating scandal came from. We also have to examine how Robach and Holmes, and their roles as journalists and network TV personalities, differ from those of a YouTube star, the stars of Don’t Worry Darling, or even a parasocial wunderkind like John Mulaney — you know, the other kinds of celebrities whose cheating scandals have been big news lately.
So let’s hop in.
If you’ve been keeping up with the cheating scandals of 2022, you might have noticed that the reaction to most of them has involved a fair amount of eye-rolling and a certain air of, “who are these people and why should I care?” In the case of the Try Guys scandal, many fans of the YouTube collective went through an additional amount of grieving for the breakup of a public marriage and for the irreparable damage suffered by the group of creators as a whole.
But even though Robach and Holmes aren’t exactly household names, so far the same level of disdain and/or public dismay hasn’t really attached. Instead, the public has seemed on the whole intrigued and supportive, with many media outlets gushing about how lovey-dovey the couple has seemed, and fans combing through their on-air history looking for signs about how they really felt. So why the comparative lack of judgment?
The first significant thing setting the Robach/Holmes cheating scandal apart from the typical 2022 drama is the mode of discovery. The couple’s affair reportedly lasted for close to six months before the scandal broke. Both Robach and Holmes married their respective partners in 2010, but once the affair allegedly began in March, rumor has it that the couple only had eyes for each other.
The jig was up when the Daily Mail “obtained” extensive photos of the couple dining together in New York, perhaps captured by some eagle-eyed fan ... or by a private investigator hired for that very purpose. Speculation has focused on the jilted spouses as the culprits behind the big reveal, which seems plausible at the very least — but the point is, whoever took those photos knew they had a bombshell and knew just which big old-school tabloid media outlet to hand it to. Not only is the Daily Mail one of the most popular news outlets in the world, it’s one of the most unabashedly sensationalist — the perfect place to park an old-school exposé about the kind of celebrities whose private lives are usually kept firmly buttoned up.
So the tabloid nature is part of why this scandal feels different. Because we all learned about it at the same time — through a splashy news reveal, including pictures of a “playful squeeze from behind” butt grab — we’re all on the same page about what happened and what the details were. The sheer number of pictures (65!) published alongside the allegations paints a pretty clear picture of the couple, so that’s not up for debate either: Plain and simple, they got caught.
This alone might have been enough in a different age to be seen as damning. But no matter how you slice it, the couple look adorably happy together — that picture of the two of them laughing at a bar is priceless — and in this case, that seems to have gone a long way toward ameliorating whatever negative effects their affair might have on public opinion. We also have to consider that their GMA fanbase is already prone to enjoying seeing them together because their professional roles involve selling us their onscreen chemistry as show hosts. We shouldn’t be surprised when they a) do in fact sell us on their relationship, and b) sell their relationship so well that they sell themselves on it. Even avowed non-fans have arrived to the party, with many people in the popcorn gallery of the internet enjoying the couple’s offline antics despite never watching the show.
(As an aside, this couple’s relationship trajectory may have boosted fandoms everywhere, whose members now have one more reason to believe that their favorite onscreen ’ships could sizzle over into sexy real-life relationships. A win!)
It’s important to note this is not all fun and games and it’s likely that there are hurt parties here, namely Robach’s husband, actor Andrew Shue, and Holmes’s wife, lawyer Marilee Fiebig.
People reported on December 1, the day after the story broke, that the couple didn’t start seeing one another until after they’d both separated informally from their spouses. But while this news may have lessened the harm of the affair for many of their fans, it is, of course, damage control after the fact. It’s unlikely we’ll ever learn how accurate this version of the story is. (The spouses have yet to make any public statements, but Shue has deleted photos of Robach from his Instagram.)
Currently, this one-sided narrative is a plus for Robach and Holmes, but it could also backfire; already, more allegations have surfaced that Holmes had multiple extramarital relationships with multiple GMA staffers over the years, including a three-year relationship with a producer. That’s hardly the stuff of happily ever after, and it could significantly change the way we discuss the affair, shifting it from a story about soul mates finding each other on set to a cautionary tale about serial sexual entanglements in the workplace.
The other major factor here is perhaps harder to parse but equally important: Robach and Holmes are still, above all else, journalists first — their public role isn’t to entertain, despite any flirting they do on set. They haven’t cultivated the same type of perceived connection with their fans that many other celebrities have to develop as a matter of personal branding: Their roles are defined by what they do while they’re in the hot seat of live network broadcasting, which is a pretty limited and contained window through which to build parasocial relationships with their fans.
That enforced distancing is a saving grace for this particular scandal, but that’s also why a Daily Mail drop with not two, not three, but dozens of photos of the secret couple is particularly juicy. We’re not supposed to see anchors behaving badly! In fact, we’re not really supposed to see anchors anywhere but at their desk; this type of gossip is a rare glimpse behind the curtain.
The paradox here is that of course we are: We’re so accustomed to on-air flirting between morning show anchors that we practically expect them to tease their relationship but never deliver. In other words, it’s a kind of journalist asymptote: Always keep your on-air subtext heady and omnipresent, titillating viewers, forever approaching reality but never actually getting there. Ultimately, they are journalists, not entertainers, and the moment they cross that line, it’s a serious workplace relationship issue. All true, but not uncomplicated.
This is a fine tightrope to walk, and GMA’s ultimate decision to part ways with Robach and Holmes speaks to the complexity around the issue. Still, if gossip is to be believed, there may be additional issues at play, which might include Holmes’s other alleged affairs and intrashow rivalries with fellow anchors, as well as any contractual issues involved. Heck, it could also be that the network was simply unprepared for the sudden uptick in the public’s interest in the drama — probably many more people than actually watch Good Morning America 3, the couple’s paradoxically mid-afternoon show.
But that, in and of itself, kind of speaks to the innate appeal of a good scandal, and why 2022 witnessed a huge resurgence in gossip as a popular medium for discussion and debate. As long as no one else was hurt and the damage to the parties involved is fairly minimal, this is just a look at a flirty couple that many are rooting for — dropped into our laps out of nowhere as a treat.
And who wants to complain about that?
Update, January 30, 12:50 pm ET: This story was originally published on December 7, 2022, and has been updated to include Robach and Holmes’s departure from the ABC network.